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Patent combines self-driving vehicles and drones

Self-driving drones and vehicles
A diagram accompanying Amazon’s patent application shows how a self-driving ground vehicle and a self-flying drone would work together to make a package delivery. (Amazon Illustration via USPTO)

For a long time, Amazon has been looking into applications for self-driving vehicles — and testing fleets of self-flying drones for making package deliveries. So it only makes sense that the Seattle-based online retailing giant would meld those vehicles for a warehouse-to-doorstep delivery system virtually untouched by human hands.

In a patent published today, Amazon inventors Hilliard Bruce Siegel and Ethan Evans describe a system that has autonomous ground vehicles transport packages to a customer’s neighborhood — perhaps even the street in front of the customer’s door — and coordinate the doorstep delivery with a drone.

Both types of robo-carriers would be in contact wirelessly with a central computer network that would manage the operation. The ground vehicle could be directed to head over to a fulfillment center, pick up shipments and plot a course for deliveries. Drones could flit back and forth to drop off packages and charge up at the vehicle.

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OK Go and Blue Origin team up on art contest

OK Go in zero-G
OK Go’s zero-gravity art contest follows up on a music video that the group performed during a zero-gravity airplane flight. (OK Go Photo)

Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture is joining forces with the music-video masters at OK Go to give students a chance to send art experiments into outer space on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital spaceship.

The “Art in Space” contest follows up on OK Go’s viral “Upside Down & Inside Out” video, which splashed paint all over the interior of an airplane during a zero-gravity parabolic airplane flight.

“Now we want you to try, but in actual space!” the music group says in today’s contest announcement.

Winners won’t be able to get quite as wild and crazy as OK Go did: Their experiments will have to be confined inside a 4-by-4-by-8-inch box that would be packed aboard an upcoming New Shepard test flight in West Texas. They can weigh no more than 1.1 pounds, and explosives are frowned upon.

Despite the limitations, teams will have wide leeway to design a payload that produces art in microgravity.

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Scientists spot planet orbiting Spock’s home star

Planet at HD 26965
An artist’s conception shows a super-Earth in orbit around HD 26965, which is Mr. Spock’s home star in “Star Trek” lore. (University of Florida Illustration)

Has the planet Vulcan been found? Vulcan’s most famous fictional inhabitant, Mr. Spock of “Star Trek” fame, would certainly raise an eyebrow if he heard that astronomers have detected a potentially habitable super-Earth orbiting the star that’s associated with him.

The world orbits a sunlike star that’s a mere 16 light-years away, known as HD 26965 or 40 Eridani A, according to the team behind the Dharma Planet Survey.

In the current Star Trek canon, 40 Eridani A is the star that harbors Spock’s home planet. Some early references pointed to a different star, known as Epsilon Eridani(which is also thought to host at least one exoplanet). But in a 1991 essay, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and a group of astronomers argued that 40 Eridani A, the brightest star in a triple-star system, was a better fit because its 4 billion years of existence provided a wider window for pointy-eared intelligent life to evolve.

The latest findings suggest Roddenberry made the right choice: The planet found at 40 Eridani A is roughly twice Earth’s size, completes an orbit around its parent star every 42 Earth days, and lies just inside the star’s optimal habitable zone, said University of Florida astronomer Jian Ge.

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$15.1 billion Emirates jet deal boosts Boeing

Emirates 787 Dreamliner
Emirates Airline says it is ordering 40 Boeing 787-10 Dreamliners. (Emirates Airline Photo)

The Boeing Co. and Emirates Airline wowed the 2017 Dubai Airshow today with a commitment for the purchase of 40 787-10 Dreamliners, valued at $15.1 billion at current list prices.

The planes will be delivered starting in 2022, said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman and CEO of Emirates Airline and Group.

Observers said the orders came as a surprise, especially considering that Airbus has been negotiating with Emirates for a large order of jets.

The Associated Press quoted Sheikh Ahmed as saying the 787 was “the best option … given its maintenance and so on.” Emirates may still announce an order for Airbus’ larger A380 jets later in the week.

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Mission to a comet ends with bittersweet bang

Rosetta cartoon
The Rosetta probe inspired a series of kid-friendly cartoons. (Credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency’s Rosetta probe today descended to a mission-ending impact on the comet that it followed for more than two years.

The car-sized probe continued to transmit data as it dove toward the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, 446 million miles from Earth. When the data stream flatlined, scientists and engineers at ESA’s mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, knew it was all over.

The end was greeted at 1:19 p.m. CEST (4:19 a.m. PT) with a prolonged “Ohhh,” followed by applause and hugs.

“This is it,” said Rosetta mission manager Patrick Martin. “I can announce the full success of this historic descent of Rosetta toward 67P, and I declare hereby the mission operations ended for Rosetta. … Farewell, Rosetta. You’ve done the job.”

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Round-the-world solar plane lands in California

Image: Solar Impulse 2 plane and Golden Gate Bridge
Solar Impulse 2 flies over San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. (Credit: Solar Impulse)

Two and a half days after setting out from Hawaii, pilot Bertrand Piccard made a picture-postcard arrival in California tonight aboard the fuel-free Solar Impulse 2 airplane.

“Thank you for your welcome!” he told well-wishers who gathered at Moffett Airfield in Mountain View, Calif.

The landing at 11:45 p.m. PT was marked by a bit of turbulence, but nothing Piccard couldn’t handle. “The touchdown is a little bit stronger than I would have expected,” he acknowledged.

This week’s 2,400-mile nonstop trek was the second-longest leg of what’s expected to be a 22,000-mile round-the-world flight, the first ever done with a solar-powered aircraft.

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BioViva makes progress in anti-aging quest

Image: Telomeres
Telomeres, highlighted in green, serve as protective DNA caps for the cell’s chromosomes. (Illustration courtesy of BioViva USA)

The way BioViva founder Elizabeth Parrish sees it, biological aging is a disease – and she’s willing to bet her life on a cure.

Last fall, the 45-year-old Seattle-area woman underwent an experimental type of gene therapy aimed at addressing some of the big effects of aging, including loss of muscle mass and a shortening of the chromosomes’ telomeres. The procedure was reportedly done in Colombia, to get around U.S. regulations.

The idea of having gene therapy done on yourself raised eyebrows in the biotech community, but Parrish was unfazed.

“I 100 percent believe that it will work, or else I wouldn’t have done it,” Parrish told GeekWire during an interview in February. “I didn’t try to flame out in glory. The research shows that it should absolutely work.”

Now BioViva is reporting that it does seem to work, at least on Parrish’s telomeres. And that’s likely to fuel a debate over the widening scientific quest for greater longevity – conducted not only by BioViva, but by other ventures such as Human Longevity Inc. This week, Human Longevity announced a 10-year deal with AstraZeneca to analyze 500,000 DNA samples for anti-aging clues.

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Stephen Hawking hails gravitational wave find

Image: Stephen Hawking
British physicist Stephen Hawking, who has theorized about black holes for decades, congratulated the scientists behind the first-ever detection of gravitational waves. (Credit: NASA)

British physicist Stephen Hawking says the detection of gravitational waves provides a completely new way of looking at the universe, and is at least as important as thedetection of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider.

The results reported by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory mark the first-ever observations of a black hole merger, and the first of what’s expected to be many observations of gravitational waves. “The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy,” Hawking told the BBC after LIGO’s announcement on Feb. 11.

The waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, set off in the course of gravitational interactions. Their existence was predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity a century ago, but until now, no instruments were sensitive enough to detect them.

LIGO uses two sets of L-shaped detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. Each detector takes advantage of finely tuned, cross-interfering lasers to register distortions in spacetime that are tinier than one ten-thousandth of the size of a proton.

In addition to confirming a key claim of general relativity, LIGO’s readings provide the best evidence to date that black holes actually exist.

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Will driverless cars have their own lanes?

Image: Driverless car
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University demonstrate a driverless car in 2014. (CMU photo)

“No human drivers wanted”: That just might be the road sign for the high-speed highway transit lanes of the future, if artificial intelligence and driverless cars turn out the way Microsoft Research’s Eric Horvitz expects.

The managing director of Microsoft Research’s Redmond lab sketched out his vision of the future today at MIT’s EmTech conference in Cambridge, Mass., which highlights emerging technologies in computing, biomedicine and other fields. Part of that vision is the creation of “hyper lanes” that would smooth the way for autonomous vehicles, and potentially leave those pesky human drivers behind.

“The Hyperlane idea is just a personal observation Eric’s had recently while driving his Tesla around Seattle,” Travis Reed, a spokesman for Microsoft Research, said in an email to GeekWire.

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Meteor-less in Seattle? Five Perseid places

Mount Rainier and meteors
Photographer Jeff Berkes captured this picture of a Perseid meteor flashing over Mount Rainier’s right flank in 2013 with the Milky Way filling the night sky. (Credit: Jeff Berkes Photography)

The Perseids are traditionally among the most popular meteor showers of the year, and Seattle is traditionally one of the worst places to watch for meteors. Fortunately, the weather and the stars could align for a potentially good show this week — and we have five options that will help you make the most of this summertime skywatching tradition.

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