Hands-free on the road?: It looks like the route to driverless cars is clear. Google is to start building its own self-driving cars, rather than modifying vehicles built by other manufacturers. It’ll have a stop-go button but no controls.
30 May 2014
Google’s driverless car project was officially launched in 2010. Since then it says its test vehicles have completed more than a million kilometres on public roads. They’ve progressed from relatively simple driving on the Californian freeway to more complicated manoeuvring in urban areas.
So far, Google has used a fleet of ordinary cars, which have been converted to carry self-driving technology. But now it wants to take the process a stage further by producing a purpose-built machine. It’s planning to create a fleet of about a hundred fully autonomous electric vehicles capable of carrying two people at up to 40 km per hour without any input from a human driver.
The ultimate aim is to get rid of the controls altogether, although early versions will still need to have a steering wheel and pedals.
Google believes it will be able to launch a pilot scheme using the new cars within the next two years. But the internet giant is far from being the only company working on self-driving technology. A number of major manufacturers have their own test programmes, among them Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW.
‘Biggest dinosaur ever’ discovered: Fossilised bones of a dinosaur believed to be the largest creature ever to walk the Earth have been found in Argentina, palaeontologists say. Based on its huge thigh bones, it measured 40m long and 20m tall.
19 May 2014
These creatures have yet to be given a name, but they belong to a group known as Titanosaurs. They had long necks and tails and are claimed by those who discovered them to have been the largest creatures ever to have walked the Earth. At full stretch, they were the height of a seven-storey building and weighed more than ten full-grown elephants. Yet they were probably not fearsome, but mild-mannered vegetarians.
The giant dinosaurs lived 100 million years ago, in what is now Patagonia. Dr Bill Sellers, a palaeontologist at the University of Manchester, says it’s a very exciting discovery:
“This is an amazing find because they’ve got so many dinosaurs there. I mean, this is seven individuals and these things are enormous! And actually it’s really important because we don’t know very much about these. We actually have very very few complete skeletons, and it looks like they’ve got quite a lot of bones here. So I think we will be able to piece together what’s a real animal rather than a sort of composite.”
So far more than 200 bones have been found. The discovery should increase our understanding of how these magnificent creatures evolved.
Galapagos environmental emergency: The government in Ecuador has declared an emergency in the Galapagos islands. A ship carrying petrol which got stuck on the rocks last week may still carry a threat to the island group’s plants and animals.
16 May 2014
The petrol tanker became stranded off the island of San Cristobal on Friday. But despite having emptied the ship’s cargo, the authorities fear that some remaining pollutants, like motor oil, could spill over and cause environmental damage.
They said they’re working to remove the vessel. This is not the first ship accident in the Galapagos. In 2001, another stranded petrol tanker spilled fuel and decimated marine life.
The Galapagos are home to unique animals such as the giant tortoise, the marine iguana and the flightless cormorant. The archipelago is also known for its endemic finches, which were studied in the 1830s by the British scientist Charles Darwin. He went on to publish On the Origin of Species, his revolutionary book on evolution.
Middle East virus possibly spread by camels: Saudi Arabia has issued its strongest warning so far over the possible connection between camels and a virus that has killed more than one hundred people in the country. The virus, known as the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, has infected nearly five hundred people in Saudi Arabia.
12 May 2014
Saudis who handle camels have been told to wear protective clothing – masks and gloves. In a statement, the Ministry of Agriculture advised people to avoid contact with the animals if they can and to drink only boiled camel milk.
The Ministry is responding to increasing concern from health experts that camels are the likeliest carriers of the SARS-like virus, MERS, which has spread across much of the Middle East, but is at its most virulent in Saudi Arabia.
The camel remains a key part of traditional Saudi life. Some farmers have scoffed at the warnings, with one posting a video of himself hugging and kissing his camels, asking one to sneeze into his face.
Electronics ‘affect bird navigation’: Electrical devices may disrupt the migration of some birds, a study suggests. A German team has found that electromagnetic fields produced by equipment and AM radio signals affect the animals’ navigational systems. The study is published in the journal Nature.
9 May 2014
Some birds perform remarkable feats of navigation, migrating halfway around the world. And it’s thought that a built-in compass, which senses the Earth’s magnetic field, helps them to find their way.
But this latest study suggests that low frequency waves produced by devices plugged into the mains electricity, could be interfering with this ‘inner satnav‘. Scientists found that migratory birds exposed to this electromagnetic noise lost all sense of direction. But when the field was blocked out, they found their bearings again.
Researchers believe electrical interference could be a particular problem when birds fly over urban areas. They think the birds are forced to switch to back-up navigational systems, staying on course using the sun and stars instead.
Twins meet after 78 years apart: Twin sisters from Aldershot in the UK have met in the United States after spending 78 years apart. Elizabeth Hamel and Ann Hunt found each other after the longest period of separation ever recorded for twins.
2 May 2014
It was an emotional reunion.
Elizabeth Hamel and Ann Hunt, twins:
Oh, how lovely to see you in the flesh.
Ann grew up never knowing she had a twin. Elizabeth stayed with her mother, who was in domestic service and could afford to bring up only one child. It wasn’t until last year, with the women in their late 70s, that Ann discovered she had a twin sister, now living in America.
You’re meeting someone in the flesh for the first time, and you know that you’ve been in the womb together for eight months.
The sisters have agreed to take part in a research programme looking into the lives of reunited twins. Dr Nancy Segal is the director of the Twin Studies Center at California State University.
Dr Nancy Segal:
We want to get a comprehensive overview of their lives, their abilities, their interests and really put it all together as an important case study, because this is the world’s longest-separated pair of twins.
Ann and Elizabeth plan to spend some time together. They have two lifetimes of memories to share, and new families to get to know.
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