Studying Birds, With a Drone’s Help: Drone technology, developed for warfare, is now being used to study the natural world. In Colorado, sandhill cranes are counted with a small drone called the Raven.
Monte Vista National Wildlife Refuge, Colo. — An electric whir filled the air of this high desert valley as Jeff Sloan, a cartographer for the United States Geological Survey, hurled a small remote-controlled airplane into the sky. The plane, a four-and-a-half-pound AeroVironment Raven, dipped; then its plastic propeller whined and pulled it into the sky.
There, at an altitude of 400 feet, the Raven skimmed back and forth, taking thousands of high-resolution photographs over a wetland teeming with ducks, geese and sandhill cranes.
The Raven, with its 55-inch wingspan, looks like one of those radio-controlled planes beloved of hobbyists. But its sophisticated video uplink and computer controls give it away as a small unmanned aerial system, better known as a drone. Drone technology, which has become a staple of military operations, is now drawing scientists with its ability to provide increasingly cheaper, safer and more accurate and detailed assessments of the natural world.
“This is really cutting edge for us,” said Jim Dubovsky, a migratory-bird biologist with the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, which is responsible for the health of more than a thousand bird species.
Designed to monitor enemy positions from afar, the early Ravens, from about 2005, which cost $250,000 per system, were slated for destruction when an Army colonel thought they might be better used for scientific research and were donated to the Geological Survey. They were retrofitted for civilian life with new cameras and other gauges. Their first noncombat mission was counting sandhill cranes.
You may know America by its cars. Sure, they suck up gas and promote suburban sprawl. But they also help drive the economy, and drive families from home to school to the soccer field. Cars also help spark another thing: imaginations.
Paul Ingrassia, who won a Pulitzer Prize at The Wall Street Journal for his reports from Detroit, has written a book about cars that may not include all the cherished classics or engineering marvels, but have earned a place in America’s scrapbook.
His new book, Engines of Change: A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars, explores how the automobile industry defined — and revolutionized — trends in American culture. Ingrassia notes it was difficult to narrow down the list to 15, but in the end, he chose to feature cars that had a “definable impact” on Americans.
“When I looked at modern American culture, I sort of viewed it as this unending tug of war between the practical and the pretentious, between the ordinary and the ostentatious,” he tells NPR’s Scott Simon.
“And a lot of these forces that are reflected in society as a whole are actually reflected and symbolized and captured by different automobiles over the century-plus of America’s automotive history.”
On what the Chevy Corvette represented in America during the 1950s
The Chevrolet Corvette was introduced by General Motors in 1953 as a concept vehicle.
“The ‘Vette was actually introduced in 1953, and it was a remarkable watershed year in American history. If you think about it, it was the year that Elvis started recording music, it was the year that Hugh Hefner started Playboy, it was the year the Korean War finally ended. And you had this generation of Americans that had for the past quarter-century really grown up knowing the privation of the Great Depression, and the hardship and death and dislocation of war, but all of a sudden in 1953 it was peace, it was prosperity, and a generation of Americans really wanted to let loose. And here comes this car that, you know, is really designed for letting loose and living it up.”
Early 60′s VW Beetle
On how the Volkswagen Beetle — Adolf Hitler’s pet car — became an icon for the peace, love and granola culture
“This car was invented by Ferdinand Porsche, but it was sponsored by Adolf Hitler. Just as pre-war production was about to begin, the war broke out, so production was suspended. After the war, it was saved by a British army officer who fell in love with the car and got the factory going again. American GIs drove Beetles, they brought them back, and it just sort of took off slowly, and more and more people bought it. What really happened, though, the intervening thing that happened here was that in the America of the ’50s when, you know, the big tail-fin era, the Beetle was a way to show your disdain for that American conspicuous consumption culture.”
The Ford 1964 Mustang is listed as one of the most influential cars of the past 50 years.
On the Mustang of the baby boomer generation
“The remarkable thing about the Mustang, which came out in the spring of 1964, was that you could configure it pretty much any way you wanted. It was developed by Lee Iacocca, Hal Sperlich and a fellow named Don Frey at Ford. And what this car did was it caught the baby boomers just as they were coming of age, and really captivated them, partly because in its most basic form, the Mustang was a very inexpensive car, only $2,300 — about the price of a new fender today, if you will.
“Really, what the Mustang did — until that time, it’s hard to believe now that two-car families were a rarity back then, and the Mustang, the great thing about it was, you know, a family could have a full-size station wagon, plus a sporty little car that mom or dad could drive around. So it really fostered two-car ownership in a major, major way.”
On the status of the Prius
“First of all, it’s a marvel of technology. But what really made the Prius take off was that Toyota gave it a distinctive shape. So unlike every other hybrid car out there on the road, you can instantly tell when someone’s driving a Prius. So it really let people sort of wear their greenness on their sleeve.”
On the future of the automobile industry
“There’s been a lot of change in recent years. But the truth is, is that there’s a lot of technological change coming, and it’s really being pushed by high gasoline prices. And all we can say is that something’s [going to] change in the future, but that change will probably be delayed for a while, as long as they keep making regular gasoline engines more and more efficient, and also cleaner, by the way.” LISTEN TO THE STORY………
For many people, computers have all but eliminated the need for paper file storage. The Dyvel Table by Silva/Bradshaw does away with drawers altogether. More Photos »
PHILIPPE STARCK was in town last week, ostensibly to introduce the Zik wireless headphones he designed for the French company Parrot. But Mr. Starck, who had just flown in from Paris, seemed more interested in holding forth on the future of design.
“What’s the future of design?” he asked rhetorically. “There is no future. When the product becomes bionic, in the end there is no product.”
The digital age, Mr. Starck said, has created a process of “dematerialization,” in which products like the Zik headphones are simultaneously shrinking and becoming smarter. “It’s the elegance of the minimum,” he said.
The end result? Eventually, he announced, we’ll all be implanted with microchips, and we’ll be the product.
Of course, that could take a while. As technology rapidly remakes most parts of our lives, the furniture industry remains largely slow-moving and low-tech. For many retailers, midcentury furniture designed 60 years ago still qualifies as “modern.”
Even so, in recent years a number of furniture designers have been struggling to adapt — in ways big and small, subtle and not so subtle — to new forms of technology and the proliferation of devices like the iPad, e-readers and ever-thinner flat-screen TVs.
In a way, they have no choice.
“The rate of technological change has gotten so fast that we need to inform the design to reflect it,” said Ryan Anderson, director of future technology for Herman Miller.
The companies are accused of collaborating to raise e-book prices. By Ankita Rao
E-book sales in the U.S. are up 117 percent since 2010
The Justice Department may sue Apple and five major publishing houses for allegedly collaborating to hike up the price of e-books.
The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed sources familiar with the matter, reports that federal officials have already warned the companies—including Simon & Schuster and Macmillan—that a lawsuit is potentially forthcoming, and that several of the publishers are holding talks in hopes of avoiding what could be a publicized and costly court battle.
Under a traditional book selling model, publishers had previously sold books for half the cover price, allowing retailers to set their own store price. But around the time Apple introduced its first iPad in 2010, the company moved to an “agency” model, where publishers decide the book price and Apple takes a 30-percent cut. As part of that move, Apple also reportedly stipulated that publishers couldn’t let rival retailers like Amazon sell the same book for less, in effect making the agency model the new standard for much of the industry.
Justice Department lawyers say that Apple and the publishers violated federal antitrust laws by enacting their e-book plan, sources tell the Journal. The publishers, meanwhile, deny they acted jointly to hike up the prices.
The Washington Post reports that the European Union is dealing with their own e-book scuffle against the same publishers. Anti-trust officials performed unannounced raids at the companies last March.
This week the state of Nevada finalized new rules that will make it possible for robotic self-driving cars to receive their own special driving permits. It’s not quite driver’s licenses for robots — but it’s close.
The other day I went for a spin in a robotic car. This car has an $80,000 cone-shaped laser mounted on its roof. There are radars on the front, back and sides. Detailed maps help it navigate.
Do people notice it’s a self-driving car and gawk?
“We get a lot of thumbs up,” says Anthony Levandowski, one of the leaders of Google’s self-driving car project. “People drive by and then they wave. I wish they would keep their eyes on the road.”
Levandowski is in the passenger seat with a laptop showing him what the car can see. Chris Urmson is behind the wheel. But his hands are in his lap and the steering wheel is gently turning back and forth, tracing the contours of California’s busy Highway 85.
“And it can adjust the speed. If there is a particularly tight corner, it will slow down for that,” Urmson says. “It adjusts speed to stay out of blind spots of other vehicles. It tries to match speed with traffic.”
Urmson has been working on this technology for close to a decade. His first car managed to travel just 11 miles on a dusty road. Google’s vehicle is a giant leap forward.
This week thousands of women gathered in Portland, Ore., for the Grace Hopper Celebration, the world’s largest technical conference for women and computing. High-tech companies are hiring, but there aren’t nearly enough women to meet the demand.
Kate Schmalzried, a graduate student at Stanford, recalls one of her very first classes at the university — Computer Science 106A.
“That was really a good introduction to women in tech — there weren’t many women in the class,” she says, chuckling. “I distinctly remember being the only girl in my section.”
It’s no secret that beginning in middle school, young women often lose interest in math and science. So it’s not surprising that relatively few women sign up for computer courses in college. When they do, they are often at a disadvantage.
When Steve Jobs was 6 years old, his young next door neighbor found out he was adopted. “That means your parents abandoned you and didn’t want you,” she told him.
Jobs ran into his home, where his adoptive parents reassured him that he was theirs and that they wanted him.
“[They said] ‘You were special, we chose you out, you were chosen,” says biographer Walter Isaacson. “And that helped give [Jobs] a sense of being special. … For Steve Jobs, he felt throughout his life that he was on a journey — and he often said, ‘The journey was the reward.’ But that journey involved resolving conflicts about … his role in this world: why he was here and what it was all about.”
When Jobs died on Oct. 5 from complications of pancreatic cancer, many people felt a sense of personal loss for the Apple co-founder and former CEO. Jobs played a key role in the creation of the Macintosh, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, the iPad — innovative devices and technologies that people have integrated into their daily lives.
As in most other big American cities, it would be hard to walk 100 feet in Washington and not slam into somebody who’s using something that Apple created — an iPhone or an iPad or a Macbook Pro. And so it’s staggering to contemplate just how little of Steve Jobs’s genius ever permeated the nation’s politics, and how much he understood about modern America that those who govern it still don’t.
This was the underlying point of “think different” — that our choices were no longer dictated by the whims of huge companies or the offerings at the local mall. This was the point of a computer that enabled you to customize virtually every setting, no matter how inconsequential, so that no two users had the exact same experience. This was the essential insight behind devices driven by a universe of new apps, downloaded in seconds depending on your lifestyle and interests.
But should we really characterize the intense consumer devotion to the iPhone as an addiction? A recent experiment that I carried out using neuroimaging technology suggests that drug-related terms like “addiction” and “fix” aren’t as scientifically accurate as a word we use to describe our most cherished personal relationships. That word is “love.”
As a branding consultant, I have followed Apple from its early days as a cult brand to its position today as one of the most valuable, widely admired companies on earth. A few years back, I conducted an experiment to examine the similarities between some of the world’s strongest brands and the world’s greatest religions. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) tests, my team looked at subjects’ brain activity as they viewed consumer images involving brands like Apple and Harley-Davidson and religious images like rosary beads and a photo of the pope. We found that the brain activity was uncannily similar when viewing both types of imagery.
A drone takes its first flight at Edwards Air Force Base in California in February. In the near future, drones could be used outside of the military for things like traffic helicopters or flying jumbo jets July 30, 2011
Every week it seems there are reports about U.S. drones — unmanned, remote-controlled aerial vehicles — tracking down suspected terrorists in remote, unreachable areas of Yemen, Somalia, Libya or Pakistan. Drone technology is becoming increasingly affordable and accessible, with new potential for everyday use in the United States — and new worries for national security.
Uses At Home
Shane Harris, journalist and author of The Watchers: The Rise of America’s Surveillance State, tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon there are several potential near-term uses for drones. The Customs and Border Protection unit of Homeland Security, for example, is experimenting with drones the size of small birds for monitoring the border.
Harris says drones have also been used in natural disaster situations, including at the Fukushima plant after the earthquake in Japan. Drones the size of spiders could inspect houses during hostage situations. He says drones are also likely to be used in mass farming to replace crop dusters or even herd cattle — even traffic helicopters could also be replaced.
The technology could theoretically also fly jumbo jets, Harris says, allowing companies like UPS and FedEx to use drones instead of people to fly their planes.
Millions of people around the world are carrying smartphones and computer tablets that keep them constantly connected to the Internet. There are now more than 400,000 apps in Apple’s online store — and 250,000 in Google’s Android market — that allow their users to do hundreds of everyday tasks, all from the comfort of their handheld devices.
Constantly having access to these hundreds of thousands of applications has far-reaching implications for our society, says technology writer Brian X. Chen.
“Millions of us are carrying these devices that have a constant Internet connection and also access to hundreds of thousands of applications of very smart interfaces tailored to suit our everyday needs,” he tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies. “If you think of that phenomenon [of being constantly connected], everything has to change: the way we do policing, the way we do education, [and] the way that we might treat medicine.”
Not too long ago, theorists fretted that the Internet was a place where anonymity thrived.
Now, it seems, it is the place where anonymity dies.
A commuter in the New York area who verbally tangled with a conductor last Tuesday — and defended herself by asking “Do you know what schools I’ve been to and how well-educated I am?” — was publicly identified after a fellow rider posted a cellphone video of the encounter on YouTube. The woman, who had gone to N.Y.U., was ridiculed by a cadre of bloggers, one of whom termed it the latest episode of “Name and Shame on the Web.”
Women who were online pen pals of former Representative Anthony D. Weiner similarly learned how quickly Internet users can sniff out all the details of a person’s online life. So did the men who set fire to cars and looted stores in the wake of Vancouver’s Stanley Cup defeat last week when they were identified, tagged by acquaintances online.
When the automobile first emerged at the end of the 19th century, there were two types of cars on the road: gasoline-powered cars and electric cars. And at first, it was unclear which type would attract more drivers.
“Electric cars had some early advantages,” says science writer Seth Fletcher. “Gas cars were loud and dirty and nasty, and they had to be started with a hand-crank, which could sometimes backfire and break your arm. And electric cars were clean and quiet and civilized and they worked well in the city.”
But the gasoline-powered car slowly improved. And once people started driving longer distances, it quickly won the battle of the roadways.
“If you were out in the country and you ran out of charge [with an electric car], you were stuck,” Fletcher says. “If you were driving a gas car, you could stop and get a tin of gasoline from the general store and fill up in a matter of minutes. That [recharging] problem has actually plagued the electric car ever since. If you want to take electricity on the road with you, you have to have a way to store it. And we’ve always needed better batteries.”
Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars, and the New Lithium Economy
By Seth Fletcher
Hardcover, 272 pages
Hill and Wang
List Price: $26
Fletcher traces the battle to create a better, long-lasting battery in Bottled Lightning: Superbatteries, Electric Cars and the New Lithium Economy. Fletcher tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies that lithium, the material of choice for battery manufacturers, has the potential to transform the automotive industry, power grids and the environment.
Apple‘s computers have been able to avoid most serious hacking attacks, but that era may be over. As Steve Jobs and his colleagues prepared for this week’s developers conference, the company was also taking steps to stop a malware “phishing” program.
The ploy, says technology columnist Rich Jaroslovsky of Bloomberg News, uses an infected website to install a piece of software on Apple computers. The software then pops up a new window, with an urgent message about a security vulnerability.
The iPad is great for activities like watching movies, surfing the Web, playing video games or reading digital magazines and newspapers. The rap against the iPad is that it is not as useful as a computer for creating.
But with the right tools — and the ability to control the urge to play one last game of Angry Birds — the iPad can also be a hefty workhorse. Inexpensive apps and third-party peripherals make the iPad an excellent device for photographers, artists, writers and bloggers to create original content. (It can still help those forced to do more mundane tasks.)Photography
Every time a reader asks me a basic question, struggles with a computer or lets a cellphone keep ringing at a performance, I have the same thought: There ought to be a license to use technology.
I’m not trying to insult America’s clueless; exactly the opposite, in fact. How is the average person supposed to know the essentials of their phones, cameras and computers? There’s no government leaflet, no mandatory middle-school class, no state agency that teaches you some core curriculum. Instead, we muddle along, picking up scattershot techniques as we go. We wind up with enormous holes in our knowledge.
Morning Edition asked me to do a story about how technology has shaped generational shifts in financial literacy. I didn’t want to do it, for reasons that will become clear shortly. But first, let’s take the case of Sarah Marczynski and her father, Robert. Sarah, 23, graduated from the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, last week.
“I think about the time that I started to get money, either through baby-sitting or a job or whatever,” she says, “maybe that was the first time that I realized that the way that my parents handled money — or certain aspects — was not the best way.”
“Ouch!” her father interrupts.
“I know — sorry, Dad.”
“This is funny and so accurate. I think Zoe is talking about me & my wife… I’m the one who buries cash in the peanut butter jar out back… ” JR
It’s common wisdom that the computer you can hold in the palm of your hand today is as powerful as a computer from years ago that filled an entire room.
But now Jack Dongarra, one of the computer scientists who keeps track of the world’s 500 fastest computers, has figured out just how fast that computer in your palm really is.
A hidden file on the Apple iPhone 4 and iPad 3G has been found to store location information.
This privacy glitch was discovered by two programmers, Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden, who presented their findings at the location-centric O’ReillyWhere 2.0 conference in San Francisco.