New NASA Plan for Mars Is Moderately-Terrifying-Sounding, Also, Completely-Awesome: Robotic. Bees.

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Mars: It’s far. Costs money to explore. And right now, we’ve got a rover just sitting there doing nothing. So NASA’s got a new plan for mapping out Mars: Robotic bees. 

Exploring potential habitats that are tens of millions of kilometers away with the use of a 3,893 kg (8,583 lb) rover is slow, unwieldy, and pricy — NASA’s estimates exhausted its funding reserves with the nearly $ 2.5 billion rover. But a team of researchers at the University of Huntsville, Alabama recently came up with an alternative that, on paper, sounds like the way we all die at the hands of SkyNet: “Marsbees.”

It’s actually not-at-all terrifying, and kind of incredible. See here:

Image Credit: C. Kang

You get the idea: Marsbees would be a swarm of “bumblebee size” flapping robots that could cover a far greater distance (with a lot less effort) than a rover could. But that doesn’t mean a rover would be left out: a rover would serve as a recharge station and main communications hub for the bees.

One of the Marsbees primary objectives would be to take air samples for the detection of methane emissions (since the Martian atmosphere is mostly made of carbon dioxide, detecting other gases like methane or carbon monoxide is potentially a sign of life, and thus, incredibly exciting). The Curiosity rover previously found extremely low levels of methane on the surface of Mars, but their presence was mostly chalked up to seasonal patterns, not biological processes.

The idea was one of 25 shortlisted proposals submitted to NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. Other proposals on the shortlist include shapeshifting robots that can roll up into a ball and roll on the surface of Titan, and balloon platforms navigating extreme terrains.

“Our preliminary numerical results suggest that a bumblebee with a cicada wing can generate sufficient lift to hover in the Martian atmosphere,” writes Chang-kwon Kang, Assistant Professor at the Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering of The University of Alabama in Huntsville in a NASA blog post. Since the Mars environment is so thin (only one hundredth to one thousandth that of sea level atmospheric pressure on Earth), there’s not much air for wings to push a flapping robot along. But luckily, gravitational pull is only a third on Mars. NASA scientists are hoping to take advantage of this, and are planning to recoup wasted energy with a sophisticated energy harvesting mechanism.

The advantages of having a rover like Curiosity be swarmed by robo-bees are plenty: a swarm of mobile flapping robots would be far more flexible, and resilient — a single bee getting swept up in a dust storm, in other words, wouldn’t be a big deal. Navigating the rocky, and mountainous surface would also be easier exploring the planet by air. Multiple bees could also form a network of sensors, improving the accuracy of their findings.

The Huntsville team is proposing to link up with a Japanese team of researchers to make the Marsbee a reality, and given the fact that the Japanese team has already developed a hummingbird Micro-Air Vehicle that’s “one of only a few robotic flappers in the world that can fly on Earth,” the swarm might be a reality sooner than you think.

Which means more Mars, potentially, for us. Or at least information about it. Elsewhere, sorry, melissophobiacs: Your apocolypse is more inevitable than ever before. Enjoy that.

The post New NASA Plan for Mars Is Moderately-Terrifying-Sounding, Also, Completely-Awesome: Robotic. Bees. appeared first on Futurism.

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iOS 11.3 now available for iPhone and iPad, watchOS 4.3 also released

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iPhone X hands-on

Apple said that iOS 11.3 would launch to the public this spring, and a little more than one week after spring began, the update has arrived.

iOS 11.3 is now available for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. The update brings with it several new features, including four new Animoji: a dragon, a bear, a skull, and a lion. Also included is ARKit 1.5, which will enable better augmented reality experiences.

iOS 11.3 new Animoji

Another major upgrade included with iOS 11.3 is Battery Health. With this feature, iOS will tell you whether or not your phone’s battery is at maximum capacity and its peak performance capability. It’ll also be able to tell you if your phone’s performance is being slowed due to the age of the battery, and if it is, it’ll allow you to disable that performance throttling, though your phone could end up unexpectedly shutting down as a result.

Other notable features in the iOS 11.3 update include Business Chat for Messages, which will let you talk to businesses inside the Messages app and order products, as well as a Health Records feature that’ll combine all of your health data in one place and will send you notifications about lab results, medications, and more. It will only work with hospitals and clinics that participate in the app, though.

You can download iOS 11.3 by going into Settings > General > Software Update on your iOS device.

Also released today is watchOS 4.3, which brings with it support for portrait Nighstand mode, the ability to control music playing on an iPhone to be controlled with the Music app on the Apple Watch, a new charging animation, and more. Apple today released tvOS 11.3 for the Apple TV, too.

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Huawei also announces the affordable Y7 Prime 2018 with 18:9 screen, dual rear cameras

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It’s a big day for Huawei, as the Chinese company has unveiled a trio of high-end flagship smartphones, namely the P20, P20 Pro, and Mate RS. While those (especially the last two) focus on packing as many top of the line features as possible, Huawei’s also thinking about the youths who can’t afford any P20 whatsoever, not even the P20 Lite. And so it has created the Y7 Prime 2018, an affordable model that has young people everywhere in its marketing materials. Like any handset worthy of having “2018” in its name, it too comes with a tall 18:9 touchscreen (5.99″ in size), though with…

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Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 also gets MIUI 9.5

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Yesterday the Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 started getting the Global MIUI 9.5. Today another member of the Redmi Note family got lucky – the Redmi Note 3 is getting the very same package. The new version is bringing mostly security updates and bug fixes, along with some minor UI updates. The MIUI version is V9.5.1.0.MHOMIEK and is around 425 MB in size. The update has a security patch dating January 1, 2018, but the whole thing is running on the same Android 6.0.1 Marshmallow. The Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 is one of 30 devices that will get MIUI 9.5 over the next month. Thanks, Adnan Awes,…

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Badass Sci-Fi Writer Ursula K. Le Guin Also Has a Critic-Approved Album

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Movie soundtracks are cool. Know what’s really cool? Book soundtracks. For great books, written by groundbreaking authors, who also participated in the making of the soundtracks, which are genuinely, truly great, and also, sounded like nothing you’ve ever heard before. And if you’ve never heard of such a thing, that’s because it rarely happens.

Except: In 1985, science-fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin published a novel called Always Coming Home. That would have been enough to satisfy her fans, you’d think, but as an added bonus, she bundled the book with an album on cassette: Music and Poetry of the Kesh.

Le Guin passed away in January at the age of 88, but her legacy lives on — this week, the label Freedom To Spend reissued that album in two extremely convenient formats, CD and vinyl.

In Always Coming Home, Le Guin introduces readers to the Kesh, a fictional tribe living in Northern California in the distant future, centuries from now. To immerse the reader in the world of these imagined people, Le Guin composed the book as a multimedia work, filled with poems, plays, illustrations, and even recipes.

But Le Guin wanted readers to literally “hear the music” of the culture she had created. For that, she enlisted the help of composer Todd Barton to create Music and Poetry of the Kesh. Like the freewheeling book from which it draws inspiration, the album isn’t restricted to any one genre or even traditional instrumentation. It provides the soundtrack to the Kesh culture through ambient field recordings, homemade instruments, and spoken-word poetry.

Music and Poetry of the Kesh draws from the past to tell the story of our potential future. And for listeners new and old, it sounds just as remarkable today as it did three decades ago, when it was first released — if it can score a coveted Best New Reissue rating from notoriously harsh music criticism site Pitchfork, odds are, it’s probably good enough for you. And if nothing else, remember: It’s a book soundtrack. ‘Justifies the price of admission alone.

The post Badass Sci-Fi Writer Ursula K. Le Guin Also Has a Critic-Approved Album appeared first on Futurism.

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AT&T Samsung Galaxy S8+ also gets Oreo

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AT&T started pushing Android Oreo to the Galaxy S8 units on its network two days ago and now the Galaxy S8+ is also getting a taste of the new OS. The company issued a support page on the software update to Oreo 8.0, revealing what is new in the package. Samsung Galaxy S8+ The build number R16NW.G955USQU2CRB9 is 1.51 GB in size and along with the new OS that has notification dots, autofill and better picture-in-picture mode, it also comes with February 1 security patch. There is also Samsung Experience 9.0 that was recently introduced along with the Galaxy S9. You should…

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Fitbit Versa is a new $200 smartwatch, Fitbit Ace for kids also revealed

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Fitbit Versa official

Smartwatches don’t seem to have gained major traction with consumers quite yet, but some companies continue to release new hardware in hopes of catching the public’s interest. Today Fitbit did just that.

The Fitbit Versa is a new smartwatch with a focus on fitness, which shouldn’t come as a surprise with Fitbit’s history in wearable devices. The Versa boasts features like continuous heart rate tracking, automatic activity and sleep tracking, and more than 15 exercise modes. There are also on-screen personal workouts from the Fitbit Coach feature, support for using your smartphone’s GPS, and swim tracking with water resistance up to 50 meters.

The Versa can also help you with other aspects of your life. Move reminders will help you to stay active throughout your day and the Guided Breathing Session will give you moments throughout the day to relax and focus on your breathing. Fitbit is also launching its new female health tracking with the Versa, which lets you log periods, track your cycle, and gauge ovulation.

Fitbit Versa on wrist

Fitbit has also baked some more smartwatch-y features into the Versa. There are notifications for calls, calendar alerts, texts, and apps, and quick replies to messages for Android are coming soon. You can download your music onto the Versa or sync Pandora stations, and you can use Fitbit Pay to make payments with your watch (only in special edition). There are also apps from companies like Starbucks, AccuWeather, Yelp, Nest, and Flipboard.

When it comes to hardware features, the Fitbit Versa has a color touchscreen, optical heart rate monitor, ambient light sensor, vibration motor, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a battery that’s rate to last 4 days.

The Fitbit Versa is compatible with devices running Android 4.3 or higher, Windows 10 devices, iPhone 4S and later, and iPad (3rd gen.) and later.

Fitbit is now taking pre-orders for the Versa ahead of its April launch. Pricing starts at $ 199.95 for a black, gray, or rose gold aluminum case. The Fitbit Versa Special Edition will include Fitbit Pay and will be priced at $ 229.95.

Fitbit Ace

Fitbit today also introduced the Fitbit Ace, a wearable for children. The Ace has activity and sleep tracking, reminders to move, and motivations to help kids be active at least 60 minutes per day. The band is adjustable and the whole device is showerproof to help protect it from splashes and spills. Fitbit says the Ace’s battery will last up to 5 days on a single charge.

The Fitbit Ace is now available for pre-order at a price of $ 99.95. It’ll ship in late May.

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ecobee Switch+ with HomeKit also an Alexa smart speaker

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ecobee began taking pre-orders for the Switch+ today. This smart-home light switch includes HomeKit support so it can be remotely controlled with an iPhone. But it goes beyond that: with Amazon’s Alexa built in, this wall switch acts as a smart speaker all on its own. Users can do more than verbally order the lights […]

(via Cult of Mac – Tech and culture through an Apple lens)

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Report: President Obama nearing content deal with Netflix, but Apple is also interested

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Thus far, Apple has inked deals with some major entertainment names for its original video platform. A new report form The New York Times today highlights another potential effort, this time involving former president Barack Obama…

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The Caavo remote can unify your TV experience, but also maybe it will fail

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Many years ago, in a moment of candid honesty, Nilay Patel described how his childhood was somehow defined and irrevocably ruined by an attempt to set up and use an IR blaster. It might also have had something to do with being a Packers fan? I can’t remember clearly, it was so long ago. The important takeaway was that IR blasters are in some way disastrous and evil.

It’s 2018. Nilay is now my boss, and seems relatively chill for someone who struggled so mightily with a glorified TV remote in his past.

And so it was with great interest last month that I read Nilay’s review of Caavo: the IR blaster to end all IR blasters. It uses machine vision! It has eight HDMI inputs! It’s an absurd amount of engineering and workarounds to make a…

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