Wednesday, December 30, 2015

EXTREME WEATHER: Powerful Storm Frank Hits The United Kingdom - Brings More Flooding To Disaster-Ravaged Areas; Mass Evacuation Of Homes; Widespread Power Cuts! [PHOTOS + VIDEO]

Satellite image shows Storm Frank approaching Britain. Arctic 'flip' on the way?© NASA

December 30, 2015 - UNITED KINGDOM - Storm Frank has battered parts of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving more severe floods in its wake.

Scotland bore the brunt of the bad weather with hundreds of homes evacuated in the Borders towns of Dumfries, Hawick and Peebles.

Hundreds of homes are without power in Yorkshire. Two severe flood warnings are in place in Scotland and dozens of flood warnings remain in place UK-wide.

Experts said the worst of the rain had passed but more flooding was likely.

In Dumfries and Galloway, the River Nith has burst its banks causing flooding in the town of Dumfries. A severe flood warning, indicating danger to life, has been issued for the Whitesands area. The villages of Moffat and Carsphairn have been cut off and fire crews have been rescuing people from properties by boat.

A police helicopter photographed the extent of the flooding in York on 27 December.© UK Independent

Waves caused by Storm Frank hit Porthcawl in South Wales

Villages in Dumfries and Galloway have been overwhelmed with the amount of rain. Paul Lyttle

Side streets in Dumfries were seriously affected from early afternoon

Power cuts
The River Tweed in Peebles also has a severe flood warning in place and more than 300 homes have been evacuated in Hawick.

Emergency services responded to reports of a missing kayaker on the River Findhorn in Moray, while in south Ayrshire 12 passengers had to be airlifted from a bus stuck in flood water near to Dailly Cemetery.

More than 100 people evacuated from their homes in Ballater in Aberdeenshire are spending the night at Victoria Barracks which are usually used to house security personnel who guard the Queen when she stays at nearby Balmoral Castle.

In Northern Ireland, thousands of homes have experienced power cuts, air passengers were delayed and fallen trees caused problems on the roads.

In other developments:
In Devon, a delivery driver smashed through the window of a car to save the lives of two elderly people trapped in rising floodwater in Sparkwell, Devon.

Meanwhile, in North Yorkshire, soldiers evacuated homes near a bridge in Tadcaster after it collapsed on Tuesday evening, prompting fears of flooding and a possible gas explosion.

The town's 18th-century stone bridge over River Wharf collapsed on Tuesday, causing a nearby gas pipe to rupture.

Richard Sweeting, a member of the town council, said the community was finding it difficult to manage.

"The impact has been absolutely terrible because it's divided Tadcaster east and west. The bridge was the main thoroughfare to connect the whole town. The people in the west cannot get to the medical centre or to our supermarket," he said.

In Croston, which was hit by floods on Boxing Day, an RAF Chinook helicopter delivered 400 tonnes of sandbags on Tuesday in a bid to shore up the nearby River Douglas in preparation for Wednesday's storm.

Image credit: Getty

The RAF has been involved in repairing damaged river banks in the village of Croston in Lancashire ahead of Storm Frank's arrival

Gas workers check flood-hit businesses in the North Yorkshire market town of Tadcaster

Meanwhile, police in York said it was "extremely disappointing" that thieves had broken into homes submerged in flood water. They said dry goods had reportedly been stolen from outside homes, tools taken from sheds and a back door forced open.

North Yorkshire Police's acting Supt Mark Grange said: "It is impossible to comprehend why anyone would want to bring further suffering to those who are already in a very vulnerable situation."

Environment Agency head Sir Philip Dilley returned to the UK after cutting short his family holiday in Barbados to visit some of the flood-hit communities.

 WATCH: UK Floods - Rescue boats in action in York.

He said he had been "in very close contact" with senior agency staff throughout his Christmas break.

"Everybody can't be everywhere at the same time," he said, when asked about his whereabouts during the floods.

"I think we've been very effective and efficient in what we've been doing. There's obviously some lessons to learn."

On Tuesday, Communities Secretary Greg Clark announced £50m extra funding to help households and businesses affected by flooding in northern England. The government says it has now pledged more than £100m. - BBC.

MONUMENTAL DELUGE: State Of Emergency In Missouri - Three Major Rivers Are Above Flood Capacity! [PHOTOS + VIDEOS]

Submerged roads and houses are seen after several days of heavy rain led to flooding, in an aerial view over Union, Missouri December 29, 2015.© Kate Munsch / Reuters

December 30, 2015 - MISSOURI, UNITED STATES - Missouri is in a state of emergency as flooding continues with record water levels expected over the coming days.

Seventeen million people in the US are currently living in areas with flood warnings, with 400 river gauges nationwide over their flood capacity.

Missouri is one of the worst affected areas with three major rivers, the Missouri, the Meramec and the Mississippi all above the flood stage. The St. Louis Office of the National Weather Service said Missouri will have "major to historic river flooding through early next week."

The Mississippi River is currently over 13 meters above the flood stage and is expected to continue to rise, peaking at what is expected to be a new record level on December 31.

Sections of Interstate 44 were shut down as parts of the road became flooded.

Scenes from towns along the Mississippi this New Years. This river is not supposed to flood in December
Twitter: Bill McKibben

Twitter: Bill McKibben

Hwy. 141 and beyond it the completely shut down Interstate 44.
Twitter: Brett A. Blume

Washed out Meramec River railroad bridge off Highway 141 at Valley Park.
Twitter: stevegiegerich

Five soldiers were killed at the weekend when the car they were in was swept into a river after driving onto a flooded roadway, according to CNN. At least 20 people in total have died in the state due to storm-related incidents.

Areas along the Mississippi River have been ordered to evacuate and the National Guard has been activated in the state to assist. In the neighboring state of Illinois a prison on the Mississippi had to be partially evacuated when staff warned of minor flooding in some cells.
WATCH: State of emergency issued in Missouri.

The US is experiencing one of its worst months of weather on record, with some areas not seeing a break in rainfall for several weeks, with many pointing the finger at El Nino.

The phenomenon occurs every two to seven years when a warming of the eastern Pacific leads to more frequent and intense storms.

A reported 69 tornadoes touched down in the US in the month of December alone, well above the average of 24 for the month

Forty-nine people were killed in the past week in the country in storm-related deaths. - RT.

EXTREME WEATHER ANOMALIES: Unusual Snow Blizzard Goliath Engulfs Texas, Oklahoma And New Mexico - At Least 23 People Killed; About 33 MILLION Under Severe Weather Warnings; Tens Of Thousands Without Power; Three Feet Of Snow In Bonita Lake, New Mexico; Hundreds Of Weather-Related Accidents As Infrastructure Collapse! [PHOTOS + VIDEOS]

December 30, 2015 - UNITED STATES - The unusual blizzard snow storm Goliath engulfed parts of the Southwest and southern Plains Sunday.

Extreme weather across the country killed at least 23 and brought blizzard conditions to areas. New Mexico's governor declared a state of emergency. About 33 million people were under some sort of winter weather warning tied directly to the storm.

Winter storm Goliath in New Mexico

At least 3 feet of snow was recorded near Bonito Lake, while at least 2 feet fell near Edgewood, Sedillo and San Antonito. Numerous road closures in the state: Interstate 40 was closed for 390 miles in New Mexico from Albaquerque to the Texas/Okalahoma border, U.S. Highway 82 closed from mile marker 17 to mile marker 191 in the state. Police officers in Albuquerque said they responded to 178 weather-related accidents by Saturday night, about 58 of which involved injuries. Snow drifts were already as high as 8 feet in Clovis.

At least 4,500 customers had lost power in Clovis. Palace of Governors and the New Mexico Museum of Art decided to close early because of poor driving conditions created by the weather.

Winter storm Goliath in Oklahoma

As the storm moved into western Oklahoma Sunday, the state department of transportation cautioned drivers of icy roads and bridges, from Beaver County, south to Harmon and Tillman Counties, east to Garvin County and north to Grant Count. Conditions were also getting worse along I-35 north of Oklahoma City and I-40 west of Oklahoma City.

WATCH: Winter Storm Goliath.

People in Altus have been asked to conserve water through Monday after a power failure at the Tom Steed Reservoir. An ice storm warning is in affect for the area and travel is discouraged.

Winter storm Goliath in Texas

Sunday night, the Lubbock, Texas, airport recorded 8.8 inches of snowfall, as Goliath continued to impact the state.

Officials were warning people to stay off roads in the Texas Panhandle, as vicious winds and heavy snow pounded the area. The I-40 closure continued from the New Mexico-Texas border east to Amarillo. Whiteout conditions were reported. Schools and businesses are closed Monday across the Panhandle, including in Lubbock, Amarillo and Midland/Odessa.

There were multiple reports of people stranded in vehicles in Hockley County as well as Lubbock County. Whiteout conditions all over the place and it's going to continue. Crews are trying as best they can to keep streets clear, but howling winds is making it near impossible. - Strange Sounds.

WEATHER PHENOMENON: Megacryometeor - Beach Ball-Sized Ice Ball Smashes Through Florida Roof?!

December 30, 2015 - FLORIDA, UNITED STATES - A piece of ice the size of a basketball fell through the roof of a Naples home -- missing one man by just a few feet.

A Sunday morning sound from something you'd never expect.

"It happened so fast you really couldn't see anything," said homeowner Gary Wilson. "The room was filled with dust, and there was debris all over the floor. There were roof shingles in my lap."

But Wilson and his friend could see the damage. The two men believe the ice ball must have weighed at least 25 pounds before it flew through their roof and shattered into pieces, only missing Wilson by just a few feet.

"I just sat here wondering what was going on," said Wilson.

They called 9-1-1. Wilson said he was worried about the safety of the planes overhead, which ABC7 confirmed were flying in the area at the time.

"My first concern was that maybe there was an airplane that wasn't properly functioning."

The ice could have fallen from a plane, but the homeowners have another theory.

WATCH: Mystery from the sky.

"I discovered that there is a phenomenon called megacryometeors that are formed in the upper atmosphere," said Wilson's friend, Joe. "The fact that it is clear ice and not blue ice indicates it did not come from the airplane's lavatories."

They are essentially large hailstones.

An aviation pilot with the Collier County Sheriff's Office collected a sample of the ice to send to the Federal Aviation Administration for further evaluation. Its origin is a mystery to these homeowners but according to Wilson -- luckily -- "it probably won't strike twice."

No one inside the home was hurt, including the four dogs. We did contact the FAA, but at this time, we have not heard back from them. - WZVN-TV.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: More Signs Of Magnetic Polar Migration - Heavy Snowfall In The Summer In Peru; Has The Cold Air From The North Pole Crossed The Equator?!

December 30, 2015 - PERU - Surprises inhabitants.

Heavy snowfall of about 10 centimeters thick covered Chonta population centers today and Astobamba Pucapampa district of Santa Ana, in the province of Castrovirreyna, Huancavelica region, surprising its inhabitants.

The COER and Regional Government urge the Huancavelica population to take precautions, keep warm and avoid sudden changes in temperature, especially in populations in situations of high vulnerability either by their social status (poverty and extreme poverty), children under 5 years and older adults.

Thanks to Argiris Diamantis for this link

"Heavy snowfall in Peru, south of the equator, where it is summer now. Could this mean that cold air from the North Pole has crossed the equator?" asks Argiris. - Ice Age Now.

TERMINATOR NOW: The Rise Of The Machines - Russia's Ministry Of Defense Sets Its First Ever ROBOTIZATION Conference For 2016; Meet NADINE, The World's Most Human-Like Robot; Disney Introduces Wall-Climbing Robot VertiGo; Chatbots Set To Replace Human Friends; Australia Plans Fully Automated Vegetable Farms By 2025; DARPA's New Military Drone Could MORPH Destroyers Into Aircraft Carriers; Driverless Robot Revolution Threatens Mass Cull Of Transport Jobs; Advanced Facial Recognition Tools Coming Soon To Smartphones; And Google's Boston Dynamics Use Animal-Robots Instead Of Reindeer To Pull Santa's Sleigh!

FILE IMAGE © Frazer Harrison / AFP

December 30, 2015 - TECHNOLOGY - Here are several stories that richly illustrated the staggering pace in the development of robotics and artificial intelligence.

Russian MoD sets its 1st-ever robotization conference for 2016

The Russian Ministry of Defense has announced their first scientific conference on robotization, which will be held outside Moscow in February, 2016.

The conference, dubbed “Robotization of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation”, is set to gather a whole host of senior representatives from the military and security agencies, as well as delegates from the Russian Academy of Sciences and military plant engineers.

An exhibition on the sidelines of the conference will also boast advanced development robotics.

The conference will take place at Patriot Park in Kubinka, Moscow Region, in February of next year.

The Russian Ministry of Defense often uses Patriot Park in Kubinka as a platform for scientific discussions and demonstrations of high-tech military equipment. In September of 2016 the park will host the military-technical forum Army-2016, which will showcase modern military equipment and vehicles not only at exhibition but also in use. - RT.

Meet Nadine, the world's most human-like robot

The world's most human-like robot has begun work as a university receptionist as scientists predict the new technology will eventually provide childcare and offer friendship to lonely elderly people. With her soft skin and flowing brunette hair, Nadine does not only meet and greet visitors, smile, make eye contact and shake hands, but she can even recognise past guests and spark up conversation based on previous chats. Unlike conventional robots, Nadine has her own personality, mood and emotions. She can be happy or sad, depending on the topic.

Nadine with Prof Nadia Thalmann. 

Powered by intelligent software similar to Apple's Siri or Microsoft's Cortana, she is the brainchild of scientists at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and is based on her creator Prof Nadia Thalmann. Prof Thalmann, the director of the Institute for Media Innovation who led the development of said robots such as Nadine are poised to become more visible in offices and homes in future.

“Robotics technologies have advanced significantly over the past few decades and are already being used in manufacturing and logistics,” she said. “As countries worldwide face challenges of an aging population, social robots can be one solution to address the shrinking workforce, become personal companions for children and the elderly at home, and even serve as a platform for healthcare services in future.

Nadine with Prof Nadia Thalmann.

"Over the past four years, our team at NTU have been fostering cross-disciplinary research in social robotics technologies -- involving engineering, computer science, linguistics, psychology and other fields -- to transform a virtual human, from within a computer, into a physical being that is able to observe and interact with other humans. "This is somewhat like a real companion that is always with you and conscious of what is happening. So in future, these socially intelligent robots could be like C-3PO, the iconic golden droid from Star Wars, with knowledge of language and etiquette."

The University also unveiled its new tele-presence robot named EDGAR which has a rear-projecting screen for its face and two highly articulated arms. By standing in front of a specialised webcam, a user can control EDGAR remotely from anywhere in the world. The user's face and expressions will be displayed on the robot's face in real time, while the robot mimics the person's upper body movements.

EDGAR can also deliver speeches by autonomously acting out a script. With an integrated webcam, he automatically tracks the people he meets to engage them in conversation, giving them informative and witty replies to their questions. Such social robots are ideal for use at public venues, such as tourist attractions and shopping centres, as they can offer practical information to visitors.

Assoc Prof Gerald Seet from the School of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering NTU, has spent the last three years developing EDGAR. "EDGAR is a real demonstration of how telepresence and social robots can be used for business and education," added Prof Seet.

Edgar the robot

"Telepresence provides an additional dimension to mobility. The user may project his or her physical presence at one or more locations simultaneously, meaning that geography is no longer an obstacle. "In future, a renowned educator giving lectures or classes to large groups of people in different locations at the same time could become commonplace. Or you could attend classes or business meetings all over the world using robot proxies, saving time and travel costs." Given that some companies have expressed interest in the robot technologies, the next step for these NTU scientists is to look at how they can partner with industry to bring them to the market. - Telegraph.

Disney introduces wall-climbing robot VertiGo

Using two tiltable propellers, a four-wheeled robot, made in part by a Disney research lab, can transition from horizontal movement along the ground to vertical climbing on a wall. VertiGo was created through a collaboration between Disney Research Zürich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zürich, or ETH. The robot's dual, maneuverable propellers give the VertiGo its thrust, while one pair of wheels provides steering capabilities.

The ground-to-wall transition is achieved when the rear propeller pushes the robot forward while the front propeller thrusts upward, flipping VertiGo up a wall. Once vertical, the force of air created by the propellers presses VertiGo firmly against the wall, preventing it from tumbling off, while slightly tilting the propellers can give it either forwards or backwards thrust. The propellers enable the robot, made partly with 3D-printed components, to climb walls with a variety of features unlike climbing robots that have relied on adhesion or suction, as was the case with Disney Research's less-versatile robot known as Paraswift.

WATCH: VertiGo - Disney's wall-climbing robot.

"The robot is able to move on a wall quickly and with agility," wrote Disney Research in its announcement of VertiGo. Paul Beardsley, leader of Disney Research Zürich's Vision and Sensing division, told IEEE Spectrum that VertiGo could be useful to Disney for "entertainment effects" in addition to the robot's potential autonomous capabilities.

Without indicating Disney's exact aims, Beardsley said "one can imagine that robots with lighting effects could be useful for entertainment effects or for wall games." He added that the "ground-wall transition" feature of VertiGo is useful in that it can alleviate need for time-consuming manual attention. "If the robot can make those transitions automatically, then you are a step in the direction of autonomous deployment, and that makes the technology more powerful." - RT.

Chatbots to replace friends

Credit: Thinkstock
Artificial intelligence is coming to a messaging app near you. Google has been working on a messaging-based chat bot for a year, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper described the service as a Google Now-like virtual assistant that you could send messages to and get the answers back as messages.

It's not clear whether this service would be available within Google's Hangouts or Messenger service, whether it could be available on other platforms, such as over SMS, or whether it would be a new messaging service. One source told the Journal that Google would open up its chatbot as an extensible platform, which means other companies could build special-purpose chatbots based on Google's data.
The Journal had no information about a launch date or name for the service, but did say the project is being headed by longtime Googler, Nick Fox.

An A.I. chatbot makes sense for Google. Consumers are increasingly going mobile and searching (pun intended) for an alternative to search. Current alternatives, such as Google's own Google Now or its competitors -- Siri, Cortana, Alexa and others -- all suffer from imperfect voice recognition. And in their state of evolution, they can be unsatisfying to use.

John Underkoffler, the CEO of Oblong Industries (and creator of the Minority Report and Iron Man user interfaces), told me recently that "we haven't built a good feedback system yet" (for voice assistants) that keeps you informed in real time about how well the system is understanding you. Virtual assistants also require a conscious decision to stop doing the current task and actively seek out the virtual assistant, which is a reflex many users haven't developed.

Meanwhile, millions of online users, who used to seek out data on search engines like Google Search, and more recently on social networks like Facebook, are now moving to messaging apps, such as Facebook's WhatsApp or Facebook Messenger, Snapchat, Viber, Telegram, WeChat and many others. The habit or impulse to reach out to people on messaging apps, and to respond to incoming messages through notifications, is growing stronger.

Google doesn't have the most popular social network or messaging apps, but it does have the best and most popular search engine. Also: Many people consider Google Now to be the best virtual assistant. Building A.I. virtual assistance into a messaging platform makes a world of sense for Google. It helps the company with both their search engine exodus problem and the messaging app nonpopularity problem. Of course, the new Google chatbot solves Google's problems only if it succeeds. To succeed, Google needs to win users from a wide range of alternatives, including and especially Facebook's.

M is for 'Made Out Of People'

Facebook launched a new service on its mobile Messenger app called "M" (the code-name was Moneypenny). M is a chatbot designed to do things for you. Trouble is, A.I. is imperfect. No chatbot has yet passed the Turing test uncontroversially. So Facebook M performs a neat (if expensive) trick: Humans fill in where A.I. fails.

When you ask M whether people are involved, it replies: "I’m A.I., but humans train me." That claim is simply not true. Humans directly answer some of the queries. So some of M is A.I., and, yes, humans train this A.I., but many queries are answered by people. This has been proved by multiple journalists testing the system for human involvement.

In any event, this reveals that Facebook is willing to pay what must be a massive amount of money for real people to help answer M queries, while denying it all the while. Chat-based A.I. as an alternative to search -- or, for that matter, virtual assistants, customer service, and more -- could become a major, important way for people to use the Internet. Companies are desperate to show that computers can convincingly respond as people would. They grasp intuitively that the public wants exactly that: A fake human.

Cheating on the Turing test by inserting humans is Facebook's stop-gap solution. But all chatbot makers, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and many others, are working hard on acing the test -- on creating a chatbot that always convincingly plays a humanlike role in our lives.

Google itself even created a somewhat philosophical A.I. engine, which emerged in the summer. Google researchers published earlier this year a research paper on Arxiv about a machine learning-based proof-of-concept chatbot they created that can discuss Big Questions, such as: "What's the meaning of life?" That sounds profound, until you learn that the answers have been gleaned from a database of movie dialog. The chatbot answers the Big Questions, but with Hollywood's answers. Basing answers on existing dialog seems to be the winning approach to the problem of making chatbots seem human. At least, that's been Microsoft's experience.

X is for XiaoIce
Microsoft researchers in China have been developing a chatbot in China (and in Chinese) called XiaoIce, which is reportedly used by some 40 million people on their smartphones. XiaoIce is different from the Siris of the world because it's more of a friend than a personal assistant. It can hold conversations, tell jokes, suggest products to buy and do other things. The New York Times even reported that about 25% of users have at some point told XiaoIce "I love you." Unlike Google's research project, which gleans responses from movie dialog, XiaoIce gets them from social media in China. So when you ask XiaoIce. "What's the meaning of life?" the A.I. scans a database of people who have posed that question online, and chooses one of the popular responses to provide to the user.

The disturbing reality is that XiaoIce is not only basing its replies on social media chatter, it's replacing social media and messaging for some users in some circumstances. And therein lies the dystopian risk with messaging-based chatbots.

Why messaging apps are both a great and horrible place for A.I. chatbots

I think it's clear that the future of chatbots will combine both personal assistance and conversational functions. Chatbots will replace both search engines and social networking. Messaging apps are a great place to place an A.I. chatbot because we already spend so much time in those apps. We've accepted the bare-bones, text-only UI, which eliminates some of the uncertainties of virtual assistants that rely on voice recognition and spoken replies.

But messaging chatbots also come with risks. Because human beings are complex creatures plagued by cognitive biases, irrational thinking and emotional needs, the line between messaging with a friend and messaging with A.I. will be fine to nonexistent for some people. Chatbot users will find gratification in their XiaoIce-like chatbots for the same reason people love dogs. Chatbots will make people feel like they're interacting with another person, a real friend. But unlike real humans, who can be self-centered and detached, chatbots will probably have dog-like loyalty and selflessness. They will always be there for you and will always have time for you. The combination of intelligence, loyalty and faithfulness is irresistible to the human mind.

So the risk with messaging chatbots is that they could facilitate a preference for maintaining a relationship with A.I., rather than with other humans, at least for some people. Now that Google is getting ready to release a messaging-based chatbot into the world, the idea of messaging-based chatbots will move from the fringes into the mainstream. And that will be the beginning of our long, complicated and fraught relationship with machines that talk to us. - Computer World.

Australia plans fully automated vegetable farms by 2025 

Top robotics researchers say Australia could see fully automated vegetable farms by 2025 with the ability to automate the entire production process for some crop commodities.

Professor Salah Sukkarieh, from the Australian Centre for Field Robotics at the University of Sydney, said there was potential for fully automated solutions to be developed for certain crops when it came to seeding, spraying or harvesting.

AUSVEG deputy chief executive Andrew White said there was potential to have a fleet of robots and automated vehicles working in conjunction with each other. - Sunraysia Daily.

DARPA’s new military drone could morph destroyers into aircraft carriers  


The US military’s advanced research agency has announced a project to build a prototype drone that can land on and take off a destroyer at sea. The drone is designed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions, as well as airstrikes. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced on Tuesday it had awarded Northrop Grumman Corporation a $93 million contract to build a full-scale prototype drone for initial ground-based testing.

The prototype drone, or unmanned air system (UAS), will be a tailsitting, flying-wind aircraft with twin counter-rotating, nose mounted propellers. The propellers would lift the aircraft from a ship deck, orient it for horizontal flight and provide propulsion to complete a mission. On return, the propellers would reorient the craft and lower it to the ship deck. It is designed to fit securely inside the ship when not in use. DARPA said if ground-based testing proves successful, it would lead to an at-sea demonstration of takeoff, transition to and from a horizontal flight, and landing on a test platform with a deck size similar to what’s seen on a destroyer.

The joint project, called Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN), is being helmed by DARPA and the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and is designed to combine land- and sea-based approaches to support airborne assets in 21st century warfare. The first two phases of the drone project, preliminary design and risk reduction, are complete, with phase 3 being the creation of a demonstrator model. The name TERN was coined after the long-distance migratory seabird.

“Current technologies…have their limitations. Helicopters are relatively limited in their distance and flight time. Fixed-wing manned and unmanned aircraft can fly farther and longer but require either aircraft carriers or large, fixed land bases with runways often longer than a mile,” wrote Dr. Daniel Patt, DARPA’s program manager. “Moreover, establishing these bases or deploying carriers requires substantial financial, diplomatic and security commitments that are incompatible with rapid response.”

The Navy has wished for an aircraft capable of vertical take-off since World War II, in order “to provide air support for fleets.” The first helicopters showed the Navy the potential value of such an asset. The TERN demonstrator resembles a fighter the Navy designed in the 1950s – the Convair XFY-1 Pogo.

hat model had successful demonstrators but never got beyond the prototype stage because the Navy started focusing on faster jet aircraft, and realized pilots would need too much training to land the Pogo on moving ships in rough seas.“ONR’s and DARPA’s partnership on Tern continues to make rapid progress toward creating a new class of unmanned air system combining shipboard takeoff and landing capabilities, enhanced speed and endurance, and sophisticated supervised autonomy,” said Gil Graff, deputy program manager for TERN at ONR. “If successful, Tern could open up exciting future capabilities for Navy small-deck surface combatants and US Marine Corps air expeditionary operation. - RT.

Driverless robot revolution threatens mass cull of transport jobs 

Road ready? Driverless cars within 10 years, UK must prepare, say MPs
Government plans to introduce driverless buses as part of a digital revolution could see Britain lead the way in new technology, but could also put tens of thousands of people out of work. Culture and Digital Economy minister Ed Vaizey said a five-year digital strategy currently being drawn up will propose that robotic buses be launched across the country.

The plans will be part of a wider policy to force government departments to embrace the digital age in the same way private companies have. A Whitehall official told the Times it was a “cross-government” program. “It is about how we push the boundaries and make sure every bit of government is digital and policy is more digital.”

Speaking to the Times, Vaizey said the impact of the plans on people’s lives would be “profound” and cited positive outcomes such as improved healthcare from wearable smart technology. However critics such as computer entrepreneur and author Martin Ford warn that if the introduction of automation in the economy is not handled carefully, it could lead to mass unemployment.

In his recent book, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future,” Ford argues such a surge in unemployment could have disastrous consequences on the global economy. London’s transportation system alone employees 27,000 bus drivers, according to Unite the Union, many of whom could be pushed out of work.

Britain’s digital sector accounted for 7.5 percent of the economy (£113 billion) in 2013, just ahead of Germany. Vaizey said the government wants the UK to lead the way with the new technology. “We want the UK to be synonymous with digital, a place where technology transforms day-to-day life,” he said.

“The potential impact is profound. It might mean that the best educators from around the world are made accessible to all – with virtual reality sets bringing Nobel laureates into the classroom. That we can build better houses, faster. “That more power is given to the patient, and the care we provide for our elderly and sick is improved and made more affordable. “That we use driverless robotic buses in rural communities or help people to find parking places using GPS technology,” he added. - RT.

Advanced Facial Recognition tools coming soon to smartphones 

One potential application for facial recognition software is the ability to detect a distracted or drowsy driver in real-time. (Courtesy of Carnegie Mellon University)

Chances are, you’re already familiar with facial recognition software, even if you’ve never spent time in an artificial intelligence lab. The algorithm that Facebook uses for tagging photos, for example, is a version of facial recognition software that can identify faces with a 97.25 percent accuracy.

The problem with most of today’s facial recognition software, however, is that it’s computationally very intensive and difficult to use for more than just matching simple photos. If you could speed up the process of recognizing faces, add the ability to track facial features and make it so easy to use that it could be used as a smartphone app by anyone – then it might open up a number of important new opportunities.

That’s the goal of AI researchers at Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Sensing Laboratory. Starting in Feb. 2016, they will make available their advanced software facial image analysis software to fellow researchers. The software, known as IntraFace, is fast and efficient enough that it can be installed as a smartphone app.

WATCH: IntraFace.

For now, in order to give a preview of what to expect, the researchers have made available free demonstration smartphone apps, which show how IntraFace can identify facial features and detect emotions. These can be downloaded from the website for the Human Sensing Laboratory, from Apple’s App Store, or from Google Play.

The project’s lead researcher, Fernando De la Torre, associate research professor in the robotics department of Carnegie Mellon University, says that he is already starting to see enormous interest within the AI field for IntraFace. “Now it’s time to develop new applications for this technology. We have a few of our own, but we believe there are lots of people who may have even better ideas once they get their hands on it.” - Washington Post.

Google's Boston Dynamics use animal-robots instead of reindeer to pull Santa's sleigh

Who needs reindeer when you’ve got animal robots? Google spin-off Boston Dynamics have been offering some festive cheer ahead of Christmas by getting their very own robotic four-legged friends to pull Santa’s sleigh. Residents of Waltham, Massachusetts have become used to strange robotic animals and terminators taking to the landscape over the last few years.

WATCH: Happy Holidays from Boston Dynamics.

However, the Boston Dynamics’ designers came up with a new idea to get the public in the mood for the festivities by giving their robots a run out.Spot, well in fact there are three of them, is a trimmed down electric version of BigDog and was unveiled in February. It weighs about 160lbs and runs on an electric engine, making the robot much quieter than its predecessors. - RT.

WEATHER ANOMALIES: Moscow Goes Mild - Winter Temperatures Break 33-Year-Old Warmth Record!

December 30, 2015 - MOSCOW, RUSSIA - Winters in Russia are usually not for the faint of heart. From temperatures buried in the negatives to cities grinding to a halt due to snowfall, it’s essential you’re winter-ready.

This year though, it’s panned out a little differently.

People may not be basking in sunshine but with Monday temperatures in Moscow and St. Petersburg at 9 Celsius (48.2 Fahrenheit), it’s certainly milder than people are used to.

Social media has been alight with imagery that wouldn’t look out of place in spring time Russia, with trees blossoming and normally snow-laden landscapes now green.

With average Moscow temperatures for December 2014 around -4 Celsius, Muscovites enjoyed warmer weather on Monday morning than the likes of New York (9C) and even Rome (8C), where Italians were practically freezing while eating their gelato.

On Monday, Moscow temperatures broke the 33-year-old warmth record.

The milder winter temperatures come following a record breaking 25C in September, the highest in 90 years.

While some parts of Russia are certainly enjoying fewer snow-filled days, not everyone is as lucky.

Places like Tyumen Region are enduring their expectedly cold temperatures and snow-covered lands, although it does result in some nice, albeit cold, sunsets. - RT.

INFRASTRUCTURE COLLAPSE: The Effects Of Magnetic Polar Migration - The Latest Incidents Of Plane Crashes Across The Globe! [PHOTOS + VIDEO]

Remains of the plane that crashed into a building in downtown Anchorage early Tuesday morning.

December 30, 2015 - EARTH - Here are the latest incidents of plane crashes across the planet over the last few days.

Plane crashes into building in downtown Anchorage, 1 reported dead

A small plane has flown into a commercial building in Anchorage, Alaska. Although the building appeared to be unoccupied at the time of the crash, at least one person has been killed, the fire department reported.

The pilot’s death has been confirmed, but authorities do not know how many people were on board the craft when it crashed into the Brady Building, a 9,000-square-foot office building. The plane struck about four stories from the ground, the Alaska Dispatch News reported.

The Brady Building contains the Alaska Departments of Law and Corrections and the District Attorney's Office.Pieces from the plane then hit an electrical transformer on the outside of a second building, Anchorage Fire Department Battalion Chief Alex Boyd told KTUU. Authorities were forced to shut off power to the area.

The crash occurred at 6:19 a.m. local time on Tuesday, and the Brady Building was fully engulfed in flames within three minutes, Anchorage Police spokeswoman Anita Shell told the Alaska Dispatch News.

The fire was quickly contained, KTVA reported."I seen the plane coming in and it did a total complete turn and then boom" Thomas Connell, who witnessed the crash, told the Anchorage-based newspaper.

A chaotic and scary scene in downtown Anchorage.

"Obviously we have high winds in the area, but we're also looking beyond that," says NTSB's Clint Johnson

At least 1 dead in fiery plane crash with downtown building Tuesday

"It flew over us twice and then crashed," Connell said. "It was just way low, and then it started sinking on in."

Mike Coumbe, who lives a few blocks away, also witnessed the plane going down. He said it appeared to have Civil Air Patrol markings.

"I heard it circling and I knew it was having problems," Coumbe told the Alaska Dispatch News. "I heard the plane and tried to see the plane and I heard it hit it just stopped."

The National Transportation Safety Board’s Clint Johnson confirmed that the plane was a Civil Air Patrol flight, but told reporters that the flight appeared to be unsanctioned.

The Civilian Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the US Air Force, with three primary missions, aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services, according to its website.

The plane is believed to be a Cessna 172 or 180 with a single occupant, Johnson said. A flight plan hadn’t been filed.

Anchorage police “made contact with Civil Air Patrol management," Johnson said. "There were no sanctioned flights scheduled at this time."

The crash occurred approximately two miles from Merrill Field, a municipal commercial airport just east of downtown Anchorage. It is also about halfway between Ted Stevens International Airport and Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, which is home to both an Air Force base and an Army post.

The Alaska Wing of the Civil Air Patrol has three units based in the Anchorage area, one of which ‒ the Polaris Composite Squadron ‒ is out of Merrill Field, according to its website. - RT.

Man dies in hospital after small plane crashes in Mascouche, Canada

Police responded to the crash at the side of Highway 640 near the Mascouche Airport Monday evening. (Radio-Canada)

Provincial police say the 40-year-old man who died from injuries sustained in the crash of a small plane at Mascouche on Monday is a resident of Laval.

Police would not identify the man or the nine-year-old boy who was accompanying him.

The boy survived the crash and is expected to recover.

Transportation Safety Board spokeswoman Julie Leroux said the Mooney M20K plane crashed at 5:27 p.m. Monday at the side of Highway 640 by the Mascouche Airport, located about 20 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

The plane's flight path originated in the United States, but Leroux could not confirm where.

She said TSB investigators are looking at data from the flight and factors like weather, maintenance and pilot training.

More details are expected Wednesday. - CBC.

One dead in Tiger Moth crash in Gold Coast, Australia

The pilot of a vintage light plane that crashed on the Gold Coast survived the impact that killed his 58-year-old passenger on Monday morning.

Ryan Campbell, 21, has been taken to Princess Alexandra Hospital in a critical condition after being trapped by the legs in the wreckage of the bi-plane.

Passenger, Gary Turnbull, died at the scene.

His daughter is believed to have watched on from the airport hangar as the tragedy unfolded.

Senior Sergeant Greg Brakes told ABC News at the airfield the plane was believed to have crashed shortly after it took off from an airstrip at Norwell, near Pimpama on the Gold Coast just before 9.30am.

Emergency services work to free a person trapped in the wreckage of a light plane crash on the Gold Coast. Photo: Nine News

Emergency services at the scene of a fatal plane crash on the Gold Coast. Photo: RACQ Care Flight Rescue

"I know that the plane does some joy flights - I'm not sure if this was a paid-for joy flight or something else," he told the broadcaster.

He said the pilot was believed to have alerted emergency services to the crash.

"As a result, a short search was conducted before we located the plane," he said.

"Police, fire officers and [Queensland Ambulance Service] attended and located one male person deceased in the plane, and an injured person."

He said the pilot was semi-conscious when authorities arrived. - Brisbane Times.

Coal County plane crash in Des Moines, Iowa

A plane traveling from Des Moines, Iowa to the Dallas metroplex crashed in Coal County Tuesday night.

It happened around 9 p.m. near Highway 3 between Tupelo and Coalgate.

We're the SR 22 Cirrus lost power and the pilot tried to land at the Coalgate Airport, but lost altitude and crashed into a pasture.

The planes parachute deployed and the pilot on board wasn't injured. The sheriff's office says the FAA is investigating. - KXII.

Small plane crashes in Watertown, Wisconsin - pilot taken to the hospital

Small plane crashes in Watertown

Jefferson County sheriff’s officials on Sunday, December 27th were called out to the scene of a plane crash in Watertown.

Sheriff’s officials say the small plane landed on Aliceton Drive near Caesar Road around 5:00 p.m.

We’re told the pilot, a 67-year-old man from Lake Forest, Illinois, was taken to the hospital for treatment of his injuries.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office says it appears the aircraft left the Watertown Airport shortly before 5 p.m., heading to Kenosha airport. Shortly after takeoff the aircraft was experiencing engine problems.

Officials say the pilot was able to make contact with Air Traffic Control and advise that he was having engine failure and had to make an emergency landing.

After the crash, the pilot was able to get out of the aircraft on his own. He sustained an injury to one of his ankles and did not appear to have any life threatening injuries. He was transported to Aurora Hospital in Waukesha for treatment.

No one on the ground was hurt.

We’re told the plane suffered substantial damage. - Fox6Now.

MONUMENTAL EARTH CHANGES: Global Food & Water Crisis - Drought Has Caused The Great Salt Lake In Utah To Drop To HISTORIC Low Levels!

A gage to measure water levels of the Great Salt Lake stands in a dry bed at Lakeside, Utah, on Monday, Nov. 23, 2015. For the first time since it was opened in 1984, water has stopped flowing through the Great Salt Lake causeway breach, an area that allows water to travel between the southern and northern parts of the lake.
(Photo: Mike Freeman)

December 30, 2015 - UTAH, UNITED STATES - The north arm of the Great Salt Lake has reached its lowest levels for the second consecutive year, triggering state officials to implement portions of a lakewide management plan to ensure its continued economic and ecological health.

The November measurement logged the elevation at 4,191.6 feet, 1 foot lower than last year's record low recorded by water watchers.

Hydrologists, scientists and others involved in monitoring the status of the lake note that since the Union Pacific Railroad Causeway breach opened in 1984 as a flood control mechanism, water is no longer freely flowing between the southern and northern arms of the lake.

Utah's entrenched drought has already presented an array of complicating challenges for the Great Salt Lake and its users, with lawmakers approving an emergency appropriation early this year to pay to dredge the Great Salt Lake Marina, which has been rendered useless because of the silt and sludge.

A lower lake could also impact air quality along the Wasatch Front, in addition to economic impacts, officials said.

Depending on the behavior of this season's snowpack, authorities fear the south arm of the world's fourth largest terminal lake could also dip to a historic low — it sits only 1 foot above a previous low recorded 52 years ago.

"There is a chance the south arm of the Great Salt Lake could reach a historic low in 2016, but it depends on the amount of precipitation we get through the winter and spring months," said Cory Angeroth, scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey. "The condition of the current mountain snowpack is definitely a positive for the lake and hopefully the storms will keep coming."

The problems are more than just low lake levels.

 Water flows through the Great Salt Lake breach at Lakeside, Utah, on May 25, 2011, when lake levels were high due to above average snowfall in the Wasatch and Uinta
mountains. The Great Salt Lake breach is an area that allows water to travel between the southern and northern parts of the lake. (Photo: Mike Freeman)

Erosion has chewed away at the railroad's 20-mile causeway, leading to the risk it might collapse. Initially, the railroad wanted to close off two rock-filled culverts, but a study of the water and salt exchange in the ecosystem led to final design of a 150-foot bridge. Construction began this fall, in partnership with multiple state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Because the lake's size and health is so tied to the historic fluctuation of its elevation, state and federal agencies, along with other partners, developed a Great Salt Lake Comprehensive Management Plan in 2013 to direct how and to what extent its resources are utilized and what protective actions can be put into place to ensure its long-term health.

As much as five times saltier than the ocean and with a maximum depth of only 35 feet, the lake is the Great Basin "hub" in North America for migratory birds — supporting as many as 5 million shorebirds on a major north-south route called the Pacific Flyway.

Lynn de Freitas, executive director of Friends of the Great Salt Lake, said its clear that the lake's ecosystem is taking a hit from the years of drought, with islands that are no longer islands and exposed lake beds creating difficulties for certain breeds of nesting birds.

"Gunnison Island has been experiencing the pinch of being landlocked for sometime," de Freitas said, adding she's pleased state agencies are taking serious note of the lake's declining levels.

The lake also supports eight companies that mine it for salt, with about 2.5 million tons that are extracted on an annual basis.

Because 95 percent of the fresh water that enters the Great Salt Lake comes in from the south arm and the causeway breach is no longer facilitating any exchange between the two segments, Angeroth said the water in the north arm will continue to diminish over the next few months.

"The north arm is cut off, sitting up there by itself and is evaporating away," he said. "The north arm is at saturation when it comes to salt, holding about as much salt as it can get."

Satellite photo from August 2003 after five years of drought, reaching near-record lows. Note the difference in colors between the northern and southern portions of the lake, the result of a railroad causeway.
Location Utah, United States
Coordinates 41°10′N 112°35′W / 41.167°N 112.583°W
Type Endorheic, hypersaline, generally 27% salinity
Primary inflows Bear, Jordan, Weber rivers
Catchment area 21,500 sq mi (55,685 km²)
Basin countries United States

Max. length 75 mi (120 km)
Max. width 28 mi (45 km)
Surface area 1,700 sq mi (4,400 km²)
Average depth 16 ft (4.9 m), when lake is at average level
Max. depth 33 ft (10 m) average, high of 45 ft (14 m) in 1987, low of 24 ft (7.3 m) in 1963
Water volume 15,338,693.6 acre·ft (18.92 km)
Surface elevation historical average of 4,200 feet (1,283 m), 4,196.6 feet (1,279 m) as of 2006 August 24

Islands 8-15 (variable, see Islands)
Settlements Salt Lake and Ogden metropolitan areas.
Source: Wikipedia

Once the railroad gets the new bridge in at the causeway — which is expected to be done by late spring or early summer — Angeroth said the south arm's elevation will decline, the north arm will begin to fill up and there will be some equalization.

"We will be able to re-establish moving salt from the north arm into the south arm."

The lake's management plan provides a matrix of protective actions that authorities begin to take once lake levels either dip to low or enter a stage that poses a risk of flooding.

As the lake has continued to drop because of the drought, the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands has taken a number of steps to minimize impacts, such as boosting law enforcement patrols on the lake bed and posting closure notices to specifically protect nesting birds on Egg Island.

There are also new studies being carried out to better understand the lake's role in the creation of ozone — a pollutant at the heart of summertime air quality issues — and the lake's meteorological influences.

Laura Ault, the agency's sovereign lands program manager, said the state does not want to take anything for granted when it comes to the lake's health because it is intertwined with the region's quality of life. "A healthy lake means thriving industry, which benefits the state's economy," Ault said. " A healthy lake also results in more abundant water resources upstream, flourishing wildlife, recreational opportunities, improved ecosystems and better air quality. We're concerned about low lake levels because it can negatively impact the Wasatch Front's overall health." - KSL.