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AI Makes Drones Smart, Easy for Photographers

A certified drone pilot and artificial intelligence expert explain how technology innovations are making drones smarter, more capable and easier to fly.

Difficult-to-fly, remote control consumer drones from just a few years ago are being superseded by smart, autonomous aerial robots. Powered by cutting edge computer vision and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies, these new drones can see, think and react to their owner automatically, and experts say this is making drones easier and safer for almost anyone to fly.

Drone innovation is skyrocketing as more sophisticated technologies are making drones smarter and increasingly capable, according to Kara Murphy, a photographer turned drone fanatic and a certified Part 107 pilot licensed to fly small unmanned aircraft (UAS) for commercial uses.

“As someone who started at the very beginning, drone technology has come a long way in a short period of time,” Murphy said.

Murphy, a contributing writer for Drone360 Magazine and a consultant for companies like DroneDeploy, is involved with the annual Flying Robot International Film Festival. She said drones are evolving to give people more control over flying as well as opening new photographic experiences.

A few years ago, battery life was only about six minutes at most. Today, drone batteries can last up to 30 minutes. She’s seeing more drones, like the new DJI Spark, that come equipped with built-in AI for facial recognition and object detection to avoid crashes. The technology allows drones to follow their owner like a welcome aerial paparazzi, avoid objects because they’re context aware and react to simple hand gestures.

“It’s easier to pilot and keep track of drones today,” said Murphy. “They’ve become almost idiot-proof.”

Smart Flying Drones

Spark, the first mini drone released this year by DJI, uses an array of cameras and sensors feeding into AI and deep learning algorithms running on a Movidius Myriad 2 vision processing unit (VPU).

This onboard vision system detects and avoids objects, generates 3D maps, establishes contextual awareness, and even recognizes a pilot’s face and reacts to hand gestures. The vision sensors fitted inside the underbelly of the drone detect and identify what’s below to assist with a safe landing, even on a pilot’s outstretched hand.

“I can signal it to take a selfie from the air, then wave it away or gesture for it to come back home,” said Murphy, describing some of the Spark’s AI-powered automation features.

“The fact that I don’t need a remote to control this drone is mind-blowing. It just shows how far drones have come in a matter of years.”

Murphy said collision or object avoidance, powered by computer vision and intelligent algorithms, is becoming more common in new drones, and it can be a drone lifesaver.

“It is supremely helpful, because sometimes you are flying in narrow spaces, and you’re not sure if you have enough room, so having these sensors is really key to avoid damaging collisions,” she said.

These capabilities make it easier to fly because pilots don’t have to stay glued to a remote control and screen, she said. It allows them to become aware of their surroundings and focus on capturing that perfect shot.

The compact Spark is built with technologies that were previously only available in larger, more expensive drones. In particular, it has chips and software designed specifically for bringing on-device AI to so-called “edge devices,” which includes almost anything that computes and connects to the internet.

Seeing Clearly

The Spark’s Movidius Myriad 2 VPU enables the drone to think, learn, and act quickly and simultaneously, according to Cormac Brick, director of embedded machine intelligence at Movidius, an Intel company.

While central processing units (CPUs) — the brains used in computers or computing devices — can perform a wide variety of workloads, Brick said the VPU is tailored for one very specific vision workload, so it has fast performance using low power.

Cormac Brick shows Spark drone
Cormac Brick points out how built-in AI makes mini drones ideal for getting the best shot.

“The VPU allows the drone to use both traditional geometric vision algorithms and deep learning algorithms so it can be spatially and contextually aware,” he said.

“It enables the device to recognize where it is, where you are, where your hand is, and plot a course to safely hover and then soft land into the palm of your hand.”

As soon as a Spark lifts off from a person’s hand, the cameras immediately look for recognizable features in the environment to build a digital map. All the while, the drone recognizes the user’s face, always keeping that person in frame.

Future of Intelligent Drones

Brick said the Spark indicates how AI is changing the drone market, and he sees the technology getting better all the time.

His team’s just-released Movidius Myriad X is the first VPU with a dedicated neural compute engine, which will allow device makers much more compute performance than what’s currently available. That means drones will become smarter, fly more safely and allow people to capture more footage fully autonomously.

“In the future, you’ll be able to take a drone out of your pocket, throw it up in the air and let it fly around your backyard for the afternoon while you’re having a barbecue,” Brick said.

“An hour later, it could send your phone a 45-second video clip or the 10 best shots so you can share on social media.”

Building AI into drones is helping make them easier and safer to fly, but Brick said the technology has the potential to unlock all kinds of new automated camera and navigation capabilities.

Murphy believes that drone popularity will increase as drones become more autonomous and simpler to use in capturing life’s moments.

“This trend will continue as drones get easier and more fun for people to use,” Murphy said.

5G Networks Are Not Just About Smartphones

Next generation wireless networks are built to connect cars, homes and machines using higher bandwidth and lower latency to power more than just smartphones.

It’s no longer science fiction to see smart homes automatically control lights or alert owners whenever the refrigerator needs restocking. Already in many cities, smart cars drive autonomously, powered by sophisticated, internet-connected computing technologies.

These and other technologies that rely on intelligence from the internet are exactly what technology leaders have in mind as they build 5G, the next generation wireless network set to become available by 2020.

This 5G technology is not just for smartphones, according to Robert Topol, general manager of Intel’s 5G Business and Technology.

He said 5G is designed to be smarter and better performing than current 4G technology, so it can bring communications, computing and artificial intelligence closer to our daily lives.

“5G is not just the next G,” said Topol. “It’s about handling more data, whether it’s from a refrigerator, washing machine, vehicle or flying drone.”

This could blur lines between the spaces we use for work, home and play, he said.

5G networks

It has the potential to bring a new era of interconnectedness, where cars, industrial automation and new augmented and virtual reality experiences will rely on a robust wireless network.

Faster Connection

According to research firm IHS Markit, the number of things connected to the internet will reach 20 billion this year, 30.7 billion in 2020 and more than 75 billion by 2025.

“There will be billions of devices and billions of connected things coming onboard in the next five or six years,” he said. Over time, 5G will make things smarter by connecting them to more computer-powered intelligence.

Topol said 5G is not only about broader broadband, it’s about low latency, reliable communications and handling machine-to-machine communication.

No-Lag Entertainment

New 5G networks will help wirelessly connected devices to stream high quality content, according to Carrie MacGillivray, vice president of IDC’s Mobility and IoT.

“You’ll be able to download even a 4K video in a second or two, as opposed to waiting minutes to download a full movie,” she said.

It could open new entertainment experiences and coverage of live events. The technology is being tested now, but the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is slated to be the first true showcase for 5G technology, said Darrell West, director of the Center for Technology Innovation at the Brookings Institution.

“The Japanese see that as a great opportunity to incorporate new approaches to covering sports events,” said West.

For example, spectators could use their mobile devices to watch an event from different vantages — switching among a player’s camera-mounted helmet, a bird’s eye view from above and a traditional side-on view. When a spectator points a phone at a player, augmented reality (AR) could be used to display a short bio of the player, superimposed on the screen.

“5G will allow a full stereoscopic view, a mix of virtual and augmented reality, and an ability to share that experience with others — whether they are in the next room or halfway around the world,” said Topol.

Smart Health and Safety

New 5G connections could help digital devices deliver high quality medical care in real time at an affordable cost.

Innovative wearable and remote care technologies that connect to wireless networks can benefit from 5G networks. One example might be a soft robotic finger — piloted by the U.K.’s National Health Service at the Centre for Robotic Research at King’s College in London — that physicians can use to remotely examine a patient’s abdomen. MacGillivray said the device allows doctors to palpate tumors and diagnose based on haptic feedback.

healthcare technology
5G networks could help make cutting edge healthcare technology mobile and more accessible.

With the development of autonomous vehicles, safety is an important factor and early applications will leverage new technologies built into 5G. The new networks will help make smart car technology more accessible.

Although some cars are currently semi-autonomous — many high-end models come with automatic braking, a crash-prevention technology that automatically applies the brakes when the car approaches an obstacle at an unsafe speed — such capabilities will expand quickly over the next several years. Automatic braking has already started showing up in less expensive models.

“The network will become faster, the latency less and the machines able to talk to each other more,” said Topol.

That will pave the way for a smarter, connected world.

5G: The Communications Key to Autonomous Driving

As more self-driving cars hit the road in the coming years, sophisticated communications systems will rely on a fast, reliable network that’s capable of being a data superhighway.

Self-driving or autonomous cars are a hot topic, but the road to autonomous driving is curvy and complicated. It’s full of blind turns as engineers, automakers, regulators and data scientists map out a radically different future for automobiles.

That future is fast approaching. In January, the BMW Group, Intel and Mobileye said a fleet of about 40 of their autonomous test vehicles will be on roads by the second half of 2017.  Intel already has a fleet of vehicles roaming the streets of Chandler, Ariz., as well as autonomous driving garages or “labs on wheels” operating in Germany, Oregon and California.

And those test vehicles will help each other learn.

Often when thinking about a self-driving car, it’s easy to consider it a singular thing — like the occasional driverless Google research car on the highway. It’s a cool car out there, but it has seemingly nothing to do with the driving experience of anyone else on the road.

But as more autonomous cars come on the scene, that notion of singularity will change. Autonomous cars cannot exist in vacuum — the more cars on the road, the more developed, safe and sophisticated the autonomous infrastructure will become.

autonomous driving

“Autonomous cars require us to consider many things previously thought impossible,” said Kevin Hattendorf, a director of product marketing in Intel’s Automated Driving Group (ADG). “And a lot of it hinges on a strong communications system.”

While each car is an individual vehicle, it will actually become part of a complex ecosystem where communication — how cars talk to other cars, to road-side infrastructure, the network and finally data centers — is key.

Unlocking the true potential of automated driving requires a reliable, robust and pervasive wireless network. Hattendorf said these requirements are the basis of 5G networks, which are expected to become available starting in 2020, but trails are already underway.

Intel’s GO In-Vehicle Development Platforms for Automated Driving, the first 5G-ready platform for the auto industry, is designed for automakers eager to develop and test a wide range of use cases and applications ahead of 2020.

autonomous vehicle data

What is 5G?

Simply put, 5G is the next “G” or “Generation” of wireless networks. It will let more data move at higher speeds with lower latency and ultra-reliability, and it will be essential in supporting the billions of connected devices —everything from smart buildings to internet-connected wineries.

“The big difference with 5G is that when you start to talk about “autonomy” and factories, cars and hospitals thinking for themselves, they will rely on split-second connectivity to do so – with no room for error,” said Aicha Evans is senior vice president and general manager of the Communication and Devices Group at Intel Corporation, in February just ahead of Mobile World Congress.

Read Intel is Accelerating the 5G Future and Transforming the 5G Network Edge: More Power, Performance and Intelligence.

Autonomous cars, said Hattendorf, will crunch through terabytes of data per car, every day. They rely on a slew of sensors — cameras, lidar and radar — that identify information about the environment around the vehicle. Cameras might see a person, for example, but radar can sense depth, recognizing the difference between a real human and, say, a cardboard cutout of a person.

car on highway

The whole system must work in tandem, and each piece requires a significant amount of compute power and data synthesization. The accumulated collected data enables them to absorb and learn from aggregated experiences and environments.

“All this data is then collected and sent to the data center,” said Hattendorf. The data center intakes all the data and, using deep learning and machine learning protocols and tools, creates the instruction set that is then communicated to the vehicles, teaching them what’s what in the world around them and what should be done, how the cars should react.  Cars start to recognize and differentiate moving objects — a human, a dog, a ball rolling in the street — because they’ve learned from aggregate experiences.

That learning also helps cars understand when an anomaly occurs. If, say, a giraffe starts walking across the street, the car can recognize the anomaly, send the information back to the data center, which can then create a new set of rules.

There are many data-hungry steps along the way. The car requires an in-vehicle compute platform that can respond in real time with an in-vehicle human-machine interface (HMI). It needs a way to connect to other vehicles, to communicate ‘hey, I’ve learned this, you should learn it too’ as well as sending information to the cloud, or data center, where the information can help cars understand everything from upcoming stoplight and recent collision to running dog and galloping giraffe.

How Do We Avoid the Dog?

So much data bouncing around will require a sophisticated communications network that can handle it all. That’s where 5G comes in.

Prakash Kartha, responsible for Strategic Marketing for Connected Cars, said 5G is like the data superhighway for autonomous cars. Current LTE networks, he said, are incapable of handling the job.

It’s a hard thing to think about so much data traveling at massive speeds, so Kartha broke it down.

“Think about a pipe,” he said. “You can have a pipe that’s thin and long, or you can have a pipe that’s thick and short.” Smaller amounts of data can fit through the long pipe, but it’ll take longer to travel. He said if more data is traveling at a much higher frequency via a wider, shorter pipe, more stuff gets through the pipe, but the range will be shorter.

For the car navigating the streets, real-time data (captured via sensors) will dictate operations through the in-vehicle compute platform.

But for long-term learning, said Kartha, cars will upload and download information intermittently in opportunistic bursts and data showers — while at a gas station, parking lot, intersections or at home. That’s when a car will be able to upload huge amounts of data.

Many cars out there in the world are already collecting data over LTE — think Ubers, Google cars, or BMWs.

BMW autonomous car

“But ask yourself — do you have the same connectivity experience today in an LTE-connected car that you have on an iPhone? Now consider the data needs of autonomous driving. The LTE network today is not usable for handling that kind of data,” said Kartha, who works with teams developing new millimeter wave technology that will allow big bursts of data to be transferred quickly.

This is where 5G comes in and it doesn’t stop there. When sensors lack line of sight, or during adverse weather conditions, lower frequency 5G radios will provide, said Kartha, “an added blanket of protection” by communicating (reliably and fast) with nearby vehicles and road-side infrastructure.

What Happens in the Cloud?

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich recently said each autonomous car is expected to generate up 4,000 GB of data per day, every day — that’s the data equivalent of almost 3,000 people. Add to that the estimated 50 billion other “things” expected to be wirelessly connected by 2020 — the “cloud” is going to be overloaded, right?

No, said Hattendorf, quick to point out there’s no single world cloud — but instead data centers will come in different shapes and sizes.

“Companies will have different strategies,” he said. “Some will say, ‘You know what? The data that we collect is going to be so important, I’m going to own it. I’m not going to outsource anything so I’m going to build my own data center.’”

Other companies might have data centers distributed geographically while others, he said, might tap into capabilities provided by a third-party data center.

Regardless, these data centers will need the 5G network to move data, analyze it, create algorithms and send those learnings back to the car.

While widespread adoption of self-driving cars is a ways out, construction of the data superhighway is well underway.

Will Dubai Offer First Passenger Drone for Public Transportation?

Rapid innovation in drone technologies could relieve commuter traffic in smart cities as passenger drone services become available.

For anyone needing a taxi this summer in Dubai, things are looking up. If all goes as planned, the jet-setting city will offer the world’s first autonomous air taxi service.

Combining autonomous driving (AD) and drone technology, the Ehang 184 passenger drone is an autonomous aerial vehicle (AAV) capable of carrying a person weighing less than 220 pounds. With plans to deploy in summer 2017, the AAV is part of Dubai’s smart mobility solutions for reducing traffic congestion.

After passengers step inside, they select a destination listed on a touchscreen device nestled near the seat. The vehicle automatically starts, lifts off and cruises to the set destination then lands smoothly. A ground-based center monitors and controls the entire operation.

Featuring eight propellers, the mega drone reportedly flies for up to 25 minutes at top speeds of 37 mph and reaches a cruising height of 11,500 feet.

According to the Chinese-based manufacturer Ehang, the passenger drone has made more than 200-plus successful (non-crashing) test flights.

This ambitious autonomous public transportation service is just one of many projects that are one step closer to the dream of a flying car.

But it’s not the only passenger drone poised to revolutionize urban airways. Airbus is planning its own autonomous Vahana flyer. German-based e-volo has been testing its Volocopter and says it’s close to receiving certification to fly in 2018. There are other multi-rotor passenger drone designs from Zee Aero and Joby Aviation.

Just how trains and automobiles changed transportation, passenger drones could shape the future of transportation and play a critical role in the evolution of smart cities. By no means has innovation in automobiles and railways come to a halt. Elon Musk’s SpaceX Hyperloop competition has captured the imagination for anyone who love trains. Earlier this year, three university teams (Delft University, MIT and Technical University of Munich) tested their prototype pods on a mile-long, vacuum-sealed SpaceX Hyperloop track.

The SpaceX Hyperloop may or may not evolve into a real transportation technology, but nonetheless it’s inspiring ideas that may completely change what exists today.

This creative spirit may well lead to a future filled with space elevators and teleportation, but for now, jet packs, hoverbikes and flying taxis are well within reach.

While the Hyperloop promises more speed (up to 760 mph), the Dubai passenger drone aims to lift the problems of traffic into the air, which will require a new set of air traffic regulations. If these experiments point to anything, it’s that human ingenuity is earnest about creating better, more efficient ways to travel.

Study: Too Much Hypoglycemia in Diabetic Hospice Patients

This despite guidelines calling for relaxed glycemic control in hospice

When it comes to hospice patients with type 2 diabetes, avoiding hypoglycemia may be more important than strict glycemic control, researchers argued.

In a researcher letter appearing in JAMA Internal Medicine, about 12% of hospice patients with type 2 diabetes residing in nursing home experienced hypoglycemia within 180 days of admission — a glucose reading under 70 mg/dL.

As for severe hypoglycemia — a glucose reading under 50 mg/dL — this was experienced by approximately 5% of hospice patients in nursing homes within 180 days of admission, reported Laura A. Petrillo, MD, of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and colleagues.

The risk was even greater for those receiving insulin: cumulative incidence of 38% for all hypoglycemia and 18% for severe episodes within 180 days of admission, with the peak risk occurring during the initial 20 days. Hyperglycemia incidence was 9% overall; 35% among those on insulin.

“[H]ypoglycemia is not consistent with a goal of comfort, and these data demonstrate suboptimal avoidance of dysglycemia among patients with type 2 diabetes on hospice in nursing homes,” wrote Petrillo and colleagues.

According to the 2016 guidelines from the American Diabetes Association, people with diabetes receiving end-of-life care should relax glycemic control targets and eventually discontinue diabetes medication in order to avoid hypoglycemia, which Petrillo’s group calls a “potentially preventable cause of suffering among hospice patients.”

The retrospective cohort study included 20,329 hospice patients with type 2 diabetes admitted to Veterans Affairs nursing homes between 2006 to 2015. All patients either had an HbA1c over 6.5% or were identified with type 2 diabetes through an ICD-9 code. Patients with type 1 diabetes were excluded from the analysis.

The majority of hospice patients — nearly all of whom were male (98%) — were not being treated with insulin (91.7% no insulin vs. 8.3% on insulin). The most common comorbidities included hypertension (38%), cancer (35%), chronic kidney disease (24%), and chronic pulmonary disease (24%).

Use of an oral glucose lowering medication was relatively low among the total cohort (12%), while oral medication use was more common among patients on insulin (11% no insulin vs. 21% on insulin; P<0.001). Patients on insulin also had higher HbA1c levels at baseline (6.8% no insulin vs. 7.4% on insulin; P<0.001) and experienced more frequent glucose tests while in hospice (0.6 tests per day for vs. 1.7 tests per day on insulin; P<0.001). Only one-fifth of all patients had no HbA1c testing recorded — the majority of whom were not on insulin (21% no insulin vs. 12% on insulin; P<0.001).

The 100-day mortality rate among all patients was 83%, although death within 100 days of admission was significantly lower among patients treated with insulin (85% no insulin vs. 61% on insulin; P<0.001). Patients on insulin also had a longer median length of stay (10 days no insulin vs. 25 days on insulin; P<0.001).

“Patients treated with insulin lived longer and experienced more hyperglycemia than patients not treated with insulin, which suggests that clinicians may be choosing to continue insulin for those hospice patients with a longer life expectancy and more severe diabetes at hospice admission,” the research group noted.

In regards to future research, the group recommended additional studies are required to “establish optimal timing of diabetes medication titration and cessation,” as well as to “characterize the effect of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia on the symptom burden of patients with diabetes on hospice.”

The GMO Agenda Takes a Menacing Leap Forward with EPA’s Silent Approval of Monsanto/Dow’s RNAi Corn

Without much more than a whisper from the mainstream media, Monsanto’s newest Frankenfood has received full EPA approval and will be arriving on dinner plates by the end of the decade. The implications of this are harrowing, to say the least. 

While you may not have made up your mind on the dangers of GMOs, you likely feel entitled to know when you’re consuming a food that is the product of laboratory research. For this reason, I am reporting on Monsanto’s latest food technology, unfortunately, already in the pipeline. And quite silently so. I write this with a certain degree of solemnity, if not also a tinge of regret, because, for three years, I have heard rumblings of Monsanto’s next project – RNA interference technology. It was actually the late Heidi Stevenson, my friend, colleague, and founder of the platform Gaia Health, who first alerted me to the dangers of RNA interference-based tinkering with our food supply when she reported on the near disastrous approval of GMO wheat using RNA interference technology in Australia. Thankfully a few brave scientists and informed public stood up and, together, averted the disaster. But since then, both the dangers and the breakneck speed of development of this technology have gone largely ignored, even among activists deep in the non-GMO movement. In order to truly appreciate the gravity of the situation, and why the EPA’s approval of RNAi corn intended for human consumption, is so concerning, it will first require a little background information on the fascinating topic of non-coding small RNAs, and their formidable relevance to our health.

How Non-Coding, Small RNAs Link Together The Entire Biosphere

One of the most important discoveries of our time is that all plants, including those we use for food and animal feed, contain a wide range of RNA molecules capable of inhibiting gene expression or translation. These non-coding RNA molecules neutralize targeted messenger RNA molecules (mRNAs), which prevents their translation into a protein, i.e. they “silence genes.”

Compelling research has surfaced suggesting that not only do these genome-regulating small RNA molecules exist in our foods, but that they are capable of surviving digestion, and being absorbed into our bodies fully intact where they alter, suppress or silence genes, post-transcriptionally. Moreover, some of these small RNAs — primarily microRNAs (miRNAs) and small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) — are believed to be cross-kingdom mediators of genetic information, making it possible for RNAs in one species impacting many others through both their active and passive exposure to them.

Food therefore is essentially an epigenetic modifier of gene expression, making it a form of information, and not only a source of bodily building blocks and caloric energy, as conventionally understood. As such, any significant changes to food or feed staples within our food chain could have powerful impacts on the physiological fate of those consuming them, essentially rewriting the functionality of our genomic hardware via software like changes in RNA profiles. The entire biosphere, therefore, is held together in a web-like fashion through these molecular RNA messengers, lending a plausible mechanism to the biotic aspect of Lovelock and Margulis’ Gaia theory of Earthas a self-regulating, meta-organism. You can learn more by reading my article Genetic Dark Matter, Return of the Goddess, and the Post-Science Era.

Monsanto and Co Capitalizing on RNA interference Technology

While this discovery will have profound implications for the field of nutrition and medicine, it has also created enormous interest among biotech and agricultural firms, namely, Monsanto and Dow, looking to capitalize on the design of proprietary products using interference (RNAi) technology. In mid June, last month Monsanto received EPA approval for a type of corn genetically altered to produce an RNA-based pesticidal agent (aka, a plant-incorporated protectant (PIP)) which lethally targets a metabolic pathway within the corn rootworm, known within the industry as the “billion dollar bug.” Branded as Smartstax PRO, the newly minted GMO plant produces a small, double-stranded RNA known as DvSnf7 dsRNA which disrupts a critical gene within the rootworm, causing its death. This was added on top of four other “stacked” GMO traits, such as the ability to produce two other pesticidal proteins (Cry1A.105 and Cry2Ab2), as well as survive exposure to both glyphosate (aka Monsanto’s Roundup 2) and Glufosinate (aka Dow’s Libertylink), highly toxic herbicides. Roundup, for instance, has demonstrated carcinogenicity in the parts per trillion range. Yet, the EPA considers it perfectly safe for consumers to ingest many orders of magnitude higher concentrations than that, proving its function as a cheerleader and not a regulator of the industry that controls our food supply.

The Atlantic, one of the only mainstream news outlets to report on the topic, pointed out how surprisingly low key the approval process was:

“The EPA’s decision attracted little attention from the press or even from environmental groups that reliably come out against new genetically modified crops.”

Bill Freese, The Center for Food Safety’s science policy analyst, told the Atlantic he was caught off guard by EPA’s decision to only allow 15 days of public comment, and the fact that it did not post its decision to the Federal Register, as it customary, especially considering how unprecedented the use of a RNAi insecticide in a plant intended for human consumption is. Monsanto anticipates the new corn will be on the market by the end of the decade.

One would imagine that such revolutionary technology would require short and long-term (decades) of safety testing before licensure. Instead, as is often the case with big-ticket market agendas, the product is being rushed to market. There are already significant biases in place within the EPA and USDA in regard to nucleic acids – assumptions that exempt them from cautionary considerations. RNA is considered Generally Accepted As Safe (GRAS), but this is because it is defined and perceived only as a physical substance rather than as the powerful signaling/informational molecule it is. The EPA’s approval of RNAi food crops ignores the fact that it takes a multi-generational timescale to understand the influence of epigenetic modifiers on the genome of a species, much less the human species, whose timescale is orders of magnitude beyond animal models used to establish much of the risk/benefit data used in pre-approval evaluations. RNAi interference technology promises specificity — one RNAi molecule change equals one gene suppressed — but ignores the virtually infinite possibility of unintended, adverse effects in what are incomprehensibly complex biological systems. Indeed, researchers have warned that RNAi can not only profoundly affect gene expression, but that the changes it induces can permanently alter a species through inherited traits 1:

“Once a silencing effect is initiated, the effect may be inherited. The biochemistry of this process varies depending on the organism and remains an area of active research with many unknown aspects. Nevertheless, it is known for example that human cells can maintain the modifications necessary for TGS, creating actual or potential epigenetic inheritance within tissues and organisms (Hawkins et al., 2009). In some cases the dsRNA pathways induce RNA-dependent DNA methylation and chromatin changes (TGS) that persist through reproduction or cell division, and in other cases the cytoplasmic pathways remain active in descendents (Cogoni and Macino, 2000).”

GM Technology and Unintended Consequences

Indeed, critics of RNA interference technology make the point that RNAi technology aims to target the production of a specific protein by identifying the sequence in question. But two or more genes can have sequence homologies. This means, as applies to the use of RNA interference in medicine, a gene that is targeted to turn off a “disease-causing gene” could have a number of off-target effects, one of which would be turning off a gene that is essential to health and vitality.

This is, in fact, what happened October of last year, when Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a leading developer of RNAi drugs, announced it had decided to discontinue revusiran, its lead drug candidate, after an excess of deaths occurred in the experimental drug group versus placebo. This sent shockwaves throughout the overly exuberant RNAi drug industry, reducing their stock 6% on average.

Criticisms of RNAi in the agricultural sector are long-standing among the highly informed. For instance, Jonathan Latham, Ph.D. and Allison Wilson, Ph.D., wrote a seminal paper on the topic over a decade ago titled “Off-target effects of plant transgenic RNAi: three mechanisms lead to distinct toxicological and environmental hazards,” wherein 3 of the primary safety concerns are addressed: 1) Off target effects leading to non-specific down-regulation of plant RNAs 2) Off target effects affecting non-target invertebrates feeding on plant material 3) potential effects on mammals. In mammals, long (>30 bp) perfectly duplexed RNAs (such as are typically produced by plant RNAi transgenes) are Pathogen Associated Molecular Patterns (PAMPS) and are consequently highly potent triggers of innate anti-viral defences. The effects of long dsRNAs on mammalian cellular functions are typically profound and extend to complete inhibition of protein translation and cell death. Nevertheless, the implications of such molecules in  the mammalian diet have hardly been tested.

That’s quite a serious list of concerns. As you can see, concern #3 includes the possibility that these dsRNAs may lead to protein translation and cell death. Clearly if the EPA has declared Monsanto and Dow’s new RNAi corn safe for human consumption, they would need to prove this a non-issue.

Monsanto Falling On Their Own ‘Peer-Reviewed’ Sword

Surprisingly, Monsanto itself has produced one of the most damning papers on the topic yet. Several years ago I stumbled upon a study funded by Monsanto that raised a number of red flags for me. Titled, “Endogenous small RNAs in grain: Semi-quantification and sequence homology to human and animal genes,” researchers employed by Monsanto in their St. Louis, MO, laboratory analyzed the presence of endogenous small RNAs in common food and feed staples — soybeans, corn, rice — discovering that hundreds of these plant RNAs had a perfect 100% complementary match to human genes as well as other mammals.

Why is this significant? Endogenous small RNAs, such as small interfering RNAs (siRNAs) and microRNAs (miRNAs), are effector molecules of RNA interference (RNAi), which is a gene suppression mechanism found in plants, mammals, and other eukaryotes. The implication, therefore, of Monsanto’s finding is that plant RNAs — were they capable of surviving digestion and accumulating in target tissues to physiologically relevant concentrations — are capable of epigenetically silencing hundreds of genes within the human body. Below you will find a list of the RNA/gene matches between rice and the human genome:

Despite the abundance of perfect 100% complementarity matches listed above, Monsanto’s conclusion was a conveniently pollyannish dismissal of the safety implications of these findings, stating that:

“The abundance of endogenous small RNA molecules in grain from safely consumed food and feed crops such as soybean, corn, and rice and the homology of a number of these dietary small RNAs to human and animal genomes and transcriptomes establishes a history of safe consumption for dietary small RNAs.”  

While this may be true for traditionally used plants, it does not follow that genetically modified organisms would necessarily be safe because non-GMO versions are. [The pseudo-scientific conceptual ploy of “substantial equivalency behind traditional and GMO cultivars has been the basis for the approval of GMOs since their inception.] Monsanto’s conclusion relates to the fact that it has invested a great amount of resources into developing proprietary RNAi-based organisms which help it to maintain and further expand its monopolizing control on the global food supply.

Additionally, one of their primary justifications for concluding the safety of endogenous plant RNAs on human health was that: “…there does not appear to be any evidence in the scientific literature suggesting that intact RNA is absorbed following ingestion.” This bold claim has been disproven. The Monsanto paper was written in 2008, 3 years before the groundbreaking discovery of Zhang et al published in the Cell Research, entitled,” Exogenous plant MIR168a specifically targets mammalian LDLRAP1: evidence of cross-kingdom regulation by microRNA,” wherein it was demonstrated that human subjects fed rice containing the microRNA MIR168a have measurable amounts of it present in their blood and tissue, and that it binds to the lipoprotein receptor adapter protein in the liver. More succinctly:

“These findings demonstrate that exogenous plant miRNAs in food can regulate the expression of target genes in mammals.”

Since then, a hotly contested debate has ensued, which is understandable, given the increasingly politicized and financially-motivated nature of scientific debate and findings.

Here’s Monsanto’s conclusion about the safety of RNAi-based food technology:

“Based on this evidence it can be concluded that RNAi-mediated regulation of gene expression in biotechnology-derived crops is as safe for food and feed use as conventional crops that harness RNAi-based gene regulation as one of several ways to achieve new plant traits. The safety of future crops generated through applications of RNAi should thus be evaluated for safety using the existing comparative safety assessment paradigm, which has been developed for biotechnology-derived Crops.”

First of all, the “evidence” they are referring to is based on an axiomatic absurdity: equating the absence of evidence with evidence of absence. In other words, you can’t prove this negative: “that a hazard does not exist” because positivistic proof of anything requires that you demonstrating something, not nothing.

Let’s also not overlook the conflict of interest statement at the end of their paper: “All authors are employees of the Monsanto Company. The  Monsanto Company is an agricultural company that produces,” which speaks to Monsanto’s long history of funding science that denies safety risks of their products, such as the Roundup-Cancer link, which now even the California EPA accepts as fact.

The Heart of the Problem

In a seminal paper published in 2016 in Trends in Microbiology, entitled, “How Our Other Genome Controls Our Epi-Genome,” it is proposed that the very RNAs biotech/agrochemical companies like Monsanto and Dow are tinkering with in our food should be reconsidered as part of the definition of our species versus the conventional view that it is just something informationally inert that we eat and exists “out there.” Using a revised version of Da Vinci’s Vitruvian man, as pictured below, they propose that there are 4 inseparable parts of our species: 1) human cells 2) human microbiota and other bacteria 3) Fungi and Viruses 4) Food.

As you can see, because of the interconnectivity and “social networking” functionalities of RNAs packaged in microvesicles called exosomes, all four parts of this new definition of man become united in an indivisible whole. Because these RNAs packed in edible exosomesepigenetically active, the food we eat “literally talks to our mRNA and DNA,” as I have explained in greater detail here:  “Amazing Food Science Discovery: Edible Plants ‘Talk’ To Animal Cells, Promote Healing.”

As we have seen in Monsanto’s own paper on the topic, foods contain hundreds of small RNAs whose 100% complementarity match with human genes imply they can directly impact, and even silence those genes. This silencing is not necessarily “bad,” but it is clear that we are tinkering with a design that we are only just beginning to understand, much less know how to ascertain the risks of and properly regulate. But, considering that Monsanto’s research reveals how intricately connected the human and the food genomes are are — and furthermore, that post-2008 research has surfaced showing Monsanto was wrong and plant RNAs from food do have direct impacts on human genome/epigenome expression — it is highly irresponsible for them to continue to claim that food manipulation technologies will not have unintended, adverse effects in principle. Sadly, with the EPAs approval of four new RNAi forms of corn already completed, and likely many more on the way, we may be stuck with secondary and much slower forms of recourse: post-marketing, epidemiological surveillance of exposed populations, where patterns of disease can take decades if not generations to surface — and then with so many confounding factors at play, not with any certainty.

That said, I believe education and the awareness it generates is our best bet at countermanding the widespread acceptance of this highly experimental and obviously dangerous form of genetic engineering. As has been the case recently with glyphosate being classified as a carcinogen by the California EPA, and a growing mainstream movement to fight the forced feeding of non-labeled GMO laden products (March Against Monsanto), the tides are turning. Please help us spread this information far and wide.


Heinemann JA, Agapito-Tenfen SZ, Carman JA. A comparative evaluation of the regulation of GM crops or products containing dsRNA and suggested improvements to risk assessments. Environ Int. 2013 May;55:43-55. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2013.02.010. Epub 2013 Mar 20. PubMed PMID: 23523853.

The 25 Biggest Scientific Breakthroughs of 2017

Every week in 2017 seemed to bring new, objectively bad news about environmental degradation, government officials being awful, or video gamesbeing ruined by microtransactions. But it wasn’t all bad news: Very exciting and groundbreaking research was added to the scientific literature this year, reminding us that not everything is moving backward.

The 25 studies below, representing the biggest breakthroughs of the year, represent a wide and eclectic range of research areas. Let these snippets from Inverse’s interviews with researchers offer a sense of just how many scientific fields strode forward in 2017:

  • “It’s a terrible way to define different populations,” a geneticist studying skin color said.
  • “Best-case scenario, some of the advertising is true. Worst-case scenario: very little to none of the advertising is true and people may actually get hurt,” said a psychologist about the problems with mindfulness.
  • “What we showed is that diarrhea is actually really good for you,” said a scientist researching diarrhea.

Without further ado, here are the studies that rocked the science world this year, presented in order of popularity among our readers, though not necessarily importance:

25. Neanderthals Never Would Have Outlived Us

Humans still contain a small percentage of Neanderthal DNA. Even though we know that humans and Neanderthals overlapped for about 15,000 years, scientists aren’t sure how our ancient cousins died out. They’re pretty sure that Neanderthals would have been replaced by humans no matter what. Computer modeling shows that humans migrating out of Africa would have replaced Neanderthals, whether or not they died out from other factors. But while they lived together, Neanderthals left their genetic legacy imprinted in our DNA.

24. Magic Mushrooms Can Help with Depression

Scientists put tripping patients into fMRI machines to observe what their brains did under the influence of psilocybin, the active ingredient in hallucinogenic, “magic,” mushrooms. They found that patients with depression described feeling “reset” after a trip, and brain scans supported this conclusion. Patients who reported feeling better also showed reduced blood flow to parts of the brain associated with depressive symptoms.

23. Teeth From 9.7 Million Years Ago Could Rewrite Human History

Scientists found teeth in Germany that they suspect come from hominins. They date back to before similar human ancestors arose in Africa, suggesting that we may need to rework the entire human evolutionary timeline. Whether it’s a product of convergent evolution or simply related species, these fossils raise more questions about human origins than they answer.

22. Eating Weed and Spicy Food Is Good for Your Gut

More good news from 2017! Researchers found that marijuana and spicy food can ease inflammation in your digestive system, potentially paving the way for new treatments for Type 1 diabetes, colitis, and other gut issues. Capsaicin, the spicy stuff in chili peppers, makes your digestive system produce a type of cannabinoid that can offer protective benefits to your gastrointestinal tract, suggesting that edible marijuana could do the same thing. This is good news for lovers of spicy food and edibles.

21. Dogs Are Genetically Predisposed to Being Good Boys

It’s not all bad news for 2017: Scientists examining dog genetics found that dog genes predispose them to domestication and prosocial behavior. This study is the first to show why, on a molecular level, dogs are _so good). Interestingly, the scientists also found that the same genetic changes that led to domestication also seems to have made dogs less intelligent than wolves.

20. You’re More Likely to View Atheists as Serial Killers

Even though atheism has become more common in modern society, it turns out believing in something might make you seem less like a psychopath, according to a study published this year. People are more likely to believe that a killer in a hypothetical scenario is an atheist instead of a person of faith, according to research published this year. This finding even held true for atheists, perhaps suggesting some internalized stigma leading to unconscious bias. Even Mark Zuckerberg has taken note of this anti-atheist prejudice, announcing his faith a year ago.

19. Human-Pig Chimeras Have a “Safety Switch”

Scientists shocked the world when they announced they’d developed a human-pig chimera, bringing us a step closer to growing human organs inside pigs. But they also soothed our fears of a pig-man apocalypse when they assured us that there is a self-destruct mechanism for human stem cells that accidentally travel to the pig brains. It’s not even clear whether that would lead to enhanced consciousness, but if this safety switch works, we won’t have to worry about it.

18. Psychologists are Growing Skeptical of Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness has become a pop psychology buzzword recently, and psychology professionals are concerned. Fifteen psychologists published a paper this year outlining their concerns that corporate seminars, meditation workshops, and the like are offering psychological benefits that are unproven while ignoring risks. After all, psychological health is not one-size-fits-all.

17. Even Occasional Drinks Can Affect Your Brain Health

We all know that drinking too much can cause chronic health problems, but a massive cohort study of British civil servants found that moderate drinking accelerates cognitive decline. Over 30 years of surveys and health check-ups, the participants who consumed 14 to 21 units of alcohol per week “had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy,” an early warning sign of Alzheimer’s disease. This is a serious buzzkill, since previous research has suggested that moderate drinking could have certain benefits for heart health. Following this cohort of research subjects further will reveal more about their health as they age.

16. Your Face Shows Signs of Class Boundaries

It’s sometimes easy to tell whether someone is wealthy based on their clothes, car, home, and other material things. But this year researchers found that social status may show in your face, too. This doesn’t mean that some people are genetically predisposed to be rich, but rather that being poor can impart subtle, lifelong mood symptoms that observers can see on your face even when you’re wearing a neutral expression. Worryingly, the researchers found that this judgment can impair hireability, which could perpetuate class boundaries.

15. Scientists Identified the Maximum Human Lifespan

Life extension advocates like to say that, with the right supplements and therapies, you’ll be able to live long enough to see science bring about immortality. But more conventional-thinking researchers say this isn’t so. They identified the maximum human lifespan as 115.7 years for women and 114.1 years for men. This area of research is still hotly debated, but the new findings fit pretty closely to what other groups have said.

14. A Supervolcano Could Go Off Way Sooner Than We Think

As if 2017 wasn’t bad enough, statisticians say we’re overdue for a supervolcano eruption. On the basis of geological records, a team of researchers estimated that cataclysmic supervolcano eruptions on Earth occur, on average, every 17,000 years. The last one happened 20 to 30 thousand years ago. You do the math.

13. Geneticists Discovered That Light Skin Variations Originated in Africa

Science has often been used in the service of justifying racism, but scientists shut down outdated notions of genetic differences among humans of different ethnic groups this year. Geneticists found that variants associated with light skin actually originated in Africa, not only disproving the backward notion that people with darker skin are less human, but also calling into question the notion that skin color can be associated with certain ethnic groups.

12. Scientists Find the Oldest Human Skeleton in the Americas

After re-examining a skeleton stolen from a submerged cave in Mexico, scientists determined that it may represent the oldest human remains ever found in the Americas. At 13,000 years old, the 80-percent-complete skeleton suggests that humans came to the Americas thousands of years before the people that were previously thought to be the first Americans.

11. Diarrhea Is Your Body’s Immune System Savior

Diarrhea sucks, but there’s actually a good reason for it. Mice infected with a mouse bacteria similar to E. coli exhibited changes in intestinal cells in a way that seemed to cause diarrhea. Scientists have long suspected that diarrhea was the body’s way of clearing out disease, but this study provided the first solid proof.

10. Redditors’ Dicks Match Up With Dick Size Desires

Many penis-havers worry about whether their penis size will match up with the preferences of penis-likers. In a study conducted by and among redditors, they found that penis sizes matched up pretty well with what their potential partners want. These findings fit with what academic researchers have found, but maybe this citizen science confirmation will be more digestible for redditors.

9. Porn Can Change Your Brain

People who watch a lot of pornography don’t necessarily have an addiction or a psychological condition. But neuroscientists have found that people who struggle with their porn use exhibit brain changes. They react more strongly to reward cues associated with porn, similar in some ways to gambling addicts. It’s not clear whether porn addiction is a real condition, though.

8. Scientists Send Data to and from Space Using Quantum Entanglement

Scientists in China transmitted a quantum state almost a thousand miles into space, much farther than had been done previously. This development brought scientists one step closer to the kind of technology that could enable quantum computing. Quantum entanglement is a burgeoning topic in physics that even Albert Einstein didn’t believe could exist.

7. Human Mini-Brain Organoids Raise Ethical Concerns

Scientists can grow miniature models of human organs, called organoids that allow them to perform research that would be unethical on living. But when scientists reported that human brain organoids grafted onto rat brains had begun to integrate, this raised ethical red flags. If a rat has a partially human brain, should we be doing science on it that we wouldn’t do on a human?

Alex Jones

6. Conspiracy Theorists Think Differently

European social psychologists have shed some light on what makes the nearly half of American conspiracy theorists different from the rest. They exhibit a phenomenon called illusory pattern perception, which makes them see patterns of danger where there is no danger. This is the first scientific evidence linking illusory pattern perception to belief in conspiracy theories.

5. Ancient Humans Knew How to Avoid Incest

We know that incest increases the chances of developing genetic diseases, but it turns out our early human ancestors knew about the risks of incest, too. Geneticists and archaeologists examining 34,000-year-old human remains from Russia found that four people buried together were no closer than second cousins, suggesting that even ancient humans made efforts to avoid inbreeding. Researchers say this probably means these early humans made a purposeful effort to mix outside their family groups, including some semblance of romance, as indicated by the jewelry included in their collective burial.

4. Scientists Discovered Our Black Hole Neighbors

Astronomers using NASA’s NuSTAR X-ray telescope found evidence of two super-massive black holes. At the center of galaxies near the Milky Way, they’re still millions of light-years away, but in relative terms, they’re our next-door neighbors.

3. Long-Term Marijuana Use Changes Your Brain

Marijuana is safe, as far as drugs go, but that doesn’t mean it’s totally free of long-term consequences. In a mouse study, neuroscientists found that long-term marijuana use can lead to abnormally high dopamine levels. This suggests that marijuana could be messing with your brain chemistry more than you thought.

2. Scientists Figured Out That Tattoo Ink Doesn’t Stay Put

That’s right, even though the whole idea of a tattoo is that the ink goes into your skin and never comes out, researchers have found that ink pigment nanoparticles migrate and accumulate in people’s lymph nodes. It makes sense since your lymphatic system gets rid of bad stuff and tattoo ink is essentially a foreign invader.

The Most Mind-Blowing Space Pictures of 2017

In many ways, this year was pretty turbulent here on Earth. One could argue it was objectively terrible. But at the very least, we had some great space images to distract us from the terrors of the world and the existential despair we’re all harboring because of it.

Below are just some of the pictures that gave us joy in 2017.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/ Seán Doran

Jupiter Blues”

This mesmerizing image was originally taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft on October 24, 2017, at 1:24 p.m. Eastern (10:24 a.m. Pacific). At the time, Juno was about 11,747 miles (18,906 kilometers) from Jupiter’s cloud tops. Though all Juno images are available on its JunoCam site, this one was enhanced by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran. The result is nothing short of dazzling. Goddamn it, Jupiter.

Image: NASA

Enceladus Plays Hide-and-Seek With Saturn

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft ended its 13-year-long sojourn in the Saturnian system on September 15, 2017. This image of one of Saturn’s moons, Enceladus, peeking out from behind the planet, was taken on September 13. It’s one of the last images it sent back to Earth, so please SHOW SOME RESPECT and mourn a legend.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Gerald Eichstädt/ Seán Doran

“Jovian Tempest”

Juno really cannot stop flexing. Juno took this image on October 24, 2017, at 1:32 p.m. Eastern (10:32 a.m. Pacific) when it was 6,281 miles (10,108 kilometers) from Jupiter’s cloud tops. This pic proves once again that Jupiter straddles a very thin line between terrifying and beautiful.

Image: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory

“Curling Prominence”

This plasma strand, called a prominence, was observed over the course of 30 hours between December 13 and 14. “We are observing charged particles streaming along magnetic field lines made visible in extreme ultraviolet light,” NASA wrote in a press release.

Image: NASA/GSFC/Solar Dynamics Observatory

Rare Encircling Filament

This image, captured sometime between October 29 and 31, shows a dark filament on the sun that is shaped in a peculiar way. Filaments usually look stringy, but in this case, it looks like a circle. Still, makes for one hell of a photo op.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) captured Martian faults and deposits back in December. They’re kind of trippy, no?

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

Jupiter’s Southern Hemisphere

Holy SHIT, Jupiter. We get it. Stop bragging.

Juno took this magnificent image of the planet’s southern hemisphere on October 24, 2017. It was processed on JunoCam by citizen scientists Gerald Eichstädt and Seán Doran.

Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

“A Farewell to Saturn”

Sigh. It’s hard not to get emotional looking at this magnificent image, which includes Saturn and six of its moons. This mosaic, released back in November, is a perfect tribute to the Cassini mission that ended just a few months earlier.

The 25 Most-Read Inverse Innovation Stories of 2017

As we close out 2017, it’s worth looking back on the stories that shaped the past year. For our readers, these 25 most-read stories were the ones that caught your attention more than any others. Some of these are in-depth features while others are breaking news stories, but all of them had one overriding thing in common: They were what fascinated you most in 2017.

In the world of innovation, there were a handful of topics that pop up repeatedly in our most-read list. It’s safe to say that a lot of you would like a Tesla solar roof and an iPhone 8. Net neutrality began and ended 2017 at the top of everyone’s mind as the slow-motion disaster that was the FCC’s plan to end the free internet unfolded. Throw in A.I., strange-looking buses, eclipse viewing, and all things Elon Musk, and you’ve got a good snapshot of just what the year was in innovation.

Here are the 25 most-read stories Inverse’s innovation section got to share with you in 2017.

25. Artificial Intelligence Can Create Faces Never Before Seen

By Graham Templeton, June 8

When you’re an A.I. researcher at Google, even your days off are filled with neural nets. Mike Tyka is a Google scientist who recently helped create the company’s DeepDream venture, but this week he posted details of a personal project that could someday make DeepDream seem primitive. That famous program works by basically blending together elements of other pictures, and then modifying that collage, but Tyka’s new approach takes the much more difficult and potentially rewarding path: teaching an A.I. to create all-new portraits from scratch… [Read More]

24. iPhone X: Here’s What Comes Inside the Box

By Mike Brown, October 27

The iPhone X is almost here. On Friday, preorders for the $999 smartphone went live on Apple’s website, with eager fans snapping up slots in a matter of minutes. There are still some ways left to get your hands on the device, but with the initial rush over, there’s a bit more time to assess what comes in the box and what you might need to buy on top of that… [Read More]

23. Everything We Know About the Power Outages in SF, NYC, and L.A.

By Cory Scarola, April 21

On Friday morning a trio of concurrent power outages hobbled New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, three of America’s fastest moving cities. Here’s everything we know so far about what happened… [Read More]

22. Tim Cook Just Confirmed the Apple Car Project Is Real

By Mike Brown, June 13

Apple’s car project is official. During a press interview last week, CEO Tim Cook made the shocking announcement, confirming a long-standing rumor that the tech giant has its sights on developing technology to conquer the roads… [Read More]

21. On Net Neutrality, Here’s What AT&T, Verizon, Charter, and Comcast Say

By Paige Leskin, November 25

Net neutrality nears a step closer to its death each day as the Federal Communications Commission’s December 14 vote nears without any barriers in sight. The repeal of these Obama-era internet protections would signal the end of a free and open internet, and the imminent rise of major internet providers that can control access and speed as they see fit, unless Congress steps in. One of the major issues lies in the monopoly that the top internet service providers have on access… [Read More]

20. Colanders and Welding Masks? DIY Ways to View the Total Solar Eclipse

By Grace Lisa Scott, August 18

Looking directly at the sun is incredibly unsafe, and the total solar eclipse on Monday will not be an exception to the rule. Just because the moon will cover the sun’s rays for a short period — and even then, this will only fully occur within the geographical stretch known as the path of totality — it’s no excuse to renege on the eyewear. Emphasis on the word eyewear… [Read More]

19. Elon Musk Slices the Idea of Flying Cars with a “Guillotine” Insult

By Nick Lucchesi, April 28

The first-ever flying car conference got underway earlier this week in Dallas, a two-day affair put on by Uber called the “Uber Elevate Summit,” which was chock-full of panels and a big prediction: By 2020 Uber will be testing out its commuter aircraft. On Friday, Elon Musk seized another opportunity to shoot down the idea before it lifts off… [Read More]

18. How Does the “Mother of All Bombs” Compare to a Nuclear Bomb?

By Yasmin Tayag, April 13

The United States Air Force has dropped the “mother of all bombs” on Afghanistan on Thursday around 7:32 p.m. local time. It was the first time this 21,600-pound bomb — technically known as a GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast Bomb, or MOAB — has been used. While incredibly destructive, the MOAB, hailed as America’s most powerful non-nuclear weapon, doesn’t hold a candle to the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki… [Read More]

17. This Incredible Cel-Shaded Tesla is Straight Out of ‘Borderlands’

By Peter Hess, March 10

Burnie Burns, the founder of Rooster Teeth, wanted to set his Tesla Model S P90D apart from the crowd. And while big-ass chrome rims or a sick spoiler might look cool, they could adversely affect a car’s performance — but turning the entire thing into a cel-shaded two-dimensional video game model wouldn’t slow it down at all. The team at Graphics Guys, a design shop in Austin, Texas, used a combination of matte and gloss vinyl, as well as separately printed accent line decals to create the illusion of a car that lies flat on the page… [Read More]

16. China’s Weird Straddle Bus Has Officially Failed

By Eleanor Cummins, June 28

China’s straddle bus was hailed as the futuristic fix for the world’s largest nation and its correspondingly enormous traffic woes. The elevated electric bus, which was only tested for eight months before developers gave up, could move over the traffic, earning it the moniker of “car-eating bus.” But the vehicle, which has been the subject of skepticism since day one in July 2016, was sent to its retirement home June 21. Its paltry 1,000-foot long track will be removed by the end of the month, according to state media China News… [Read More]

15. Mysterious Tesla Model 3 Photos Spark Advanced Charging Rumors

By Mike Brown, May 3

A Tesla Model 3 has been photographed at a charging station under covers, sparking rumors that the company is planning a more advanced charging system. Set to enter production this July, the $35,000 vehicle has been spotted without any disguises on a number of roads over the past month, making this sighting all the more mysterious. Fans are speculating that the car has been covered to stop people from looking at the computer’s user interface during charging… *[Read More]

14. Elon Musk Named ‘Moon Base Alpha’ After Grooviest Sci-Fi Show Ever

By Alasdair Wilkins, September 29

SpaceX founder Elon Musk has announced that his space exploration plans now include not just Mars but also the moon. Speaking at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Musk revealed the company’s planned next-generation rocket will make it possible to build a moon base — and the name he picked is just his latest homage to beloved science fiction, in this case, the British cult classic Space: 1999… [Read More]

13. Without Net Neutrality, Is It Time To Build Your Own Internet?

By Eileen Guo, December 22

Last week, the Federal Communications Commission went ahead with its deeply unpopular plan to end net neutrality protections, giving internet service providers like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast unprecedented control of our experience online. But what if you and your community could become your own internet service provider? Instead of depending on monopolistic corporations, internet users can take back the net by building their own community-supported internet networks. Mesh networks can help…. [Read More]*

12. SpaceX Must Pay $4 Million for Thousands of Underpaid Employees

By Neel V. Patel, May 11

Elon Musk is infamous for claiming to work up to 100 hours a week — and certainly, with everything he’s up to, it’s not totally unrealistic to believe that might be true. But it’s certainly unreasonable to expect employees to operate the same way — and it looks like Musk is paying for it now. On Wednesday, SpaceX finally closed up a settlement for a class action lawsuit in which thousands of employees alleged the Hawthorne, California-based company did not properly compensate them… [Read More]

11. Here’s How Much One of Tesla’s Amazing Solar Roofs Actually Costs

By Jack Crosbie, August 5

The Tesla Solar Roof is here, and if company CEO Elon Musk has his way, there will be one on most houses within 15 years. But despite its energy efficiency and dazzling looks, clean power doesn’t come cheap — and Tesla’s listed price is a little hazy on some of the details. So how much will it actually cost? Tesla offers one figure for the cost of its proprietary solar roof: $21.85 per square foot, on average. Musk has said the tiles will cost “less than a normal roof.” The problem is Tesla’s messaging and advertising for the roof all factor into 30 years of energy savings from going solar. That makes sense, given three decades is the typical lifetime for a roof, but those aren’t savings a buyer will see on day one, or even day 1,000. And the initial cost is steep… [Read More]

10. Tesla Model 3 Spotted in New Photos, and It Looks Incredible

By Mike Brown, January 12

The hotly-anticipated Tesla Model 3 made an appearance in prototype form last week, as investors gathered at a Gigafactory event where the company confirmed it has started mass production of battery cells. The photos confirm what everyone was hoping: despite being a budget-range car, the Model 3 is going to be stunning when it hits the roads… *[Read More]

9. Here’s Elon Musk’s Plan to Power the U.S. on Solar Energy

By Nick Lucchesi, July 16

Tesla CEO Elon Musk — whose company makes electric cars and has a new solar roof panel division — told more than 30 state governors at the National Governors Association meeting in July exactly how much land is needed to power the entire country on solar energy… *[Read More]

8. Tesla Thieves Just Did Something Almost Unheard of to a Model S

By Jack Crosbie, June 1

On Wednesday, German Police officers stopped a suspicious truck on its way to the Lithuanian border to see what was inside. When they opened the back doors, they found a sight of unspeakable, and relatively unprecedented horror — a hacked apart pile of Tesla Model S parts, including an entire battery pack, on their way to the black market… [Read More]

7. Netflix Leaving Battle for Net Neutrality Shows Why We Need It

By Monica Hunter-Hart, May 31

At Recode’s Code Conference on Wednesday, Netflix’s CEO Reed Hastings seemed to put the final nail in the coffin of his company’s support for net neutrality, which is threatened by the Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) deregulation proposal. Netflix’s withdrawal from the fight for a free internet — of which it used to be a stalwart participant — is disappointing but not surprising, and it’s a reminder of why we need net neutrality: to protect the powerless, not the powerful… [Read More]

6. This iPhone 8 Rendering Makes the iPhone 7 Plus Look Ancient

By Mike Brown, May 31

Apple’s iPhone 8 is set to revolutionize the company’s smartphone line, 10 years after its introduction. A new rendering shows how current rumors of a device with a larger screen, advanced facial recognition features and a hidden fingerprint scanner are building up to an incredible device that looks set to revitalize Apple’s most important product line. On Tuesday, prolific Apple leaker Benjamin Geskin shared some new renderings with iDropNews of how the iPhone 8 will look when compared to the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The result is a device that makes Apple’s current lineup look decidedly ancient, one that ditches the ugly bezels of its predecessors in favor of a sleek, modern design reminiscent of the Samsung Galaxy S8… [Read More]

And, on a not exactly unrelated note…

5. The iPhone 8’s Display Makes the iPhone 7 Look Like an Antique

By Mike Brown, August 22

Apple’s iPhone 8 is shaping up to be an impressive device. A new report published Tuesday claims the company’s upcoming device, expected to launch this fall, will introduce a front-facing “SmartCamera,” a 3D facial recognition system, and an infrared sensor to enable the face scanner to work in the dark. Previous rumors have revealed that Apple wants to pack a 5.8-inch OLED display into a phone the same size as the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, and leaked images of the two side-by-side show just how all this tech makes a stark difference… [Read More]

4. The iPhone 8 Will Be Thicker, But It’s for a Very Good Reason

By Mike Brown, June 8

Apple’s next iPhone could signal the start of a new trend. Measurements for the iPhone 8, leaked Wednesday, show a thicker device than its predecessor. It would be a dramatic move from a company famed for its obsession with thinness, but it could lead to more battery capacity… [Read More]

3. World Subway Map Shows What a Hyperloop-Powered Future May Look Like

By Mike Brown, January 16

The vacuum-sealed hyperloop train system came one step closer to reality last week, when a company working on bringing the transit system to life announced the next step in a global competition. Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One has selected 35 teams as finalists in its global challenge, who will now present regional proposals at three different showcases starting next month… [Read More]

2. Elon Musk’s First Tesla Solar Roof Is Here, and It Looks Amazing

By Mike Brown, August 3

Elon Musk’s house runs on solar. The Tesla CEO made the announcement during Wednesday’s second quarter 2017 earnings call, where he revealed that both himself and Jeffrey B. Straubel, the company’s chief technology officer, have installed solar roof tiles on their houses… [Read More]

1. The Tesla Solar Roof Finally Has a Price

By Dyani Sabin, May 10

On Wednesday, Tesla opened up orders for its long-anticipated solar roof. On average, the Tesla solar roof price $21.85 per square foot, which is less than the cost of a normal roof, even without the energy savings