Apple slapped with patent suit over Siri’s natural language abilities

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Non-practicing entity Portal Communications on Thursday filed suit against Apple for alleged infringement of three patents related to natural language voice and audio query systems, technology similar to that of the company’s Siri virtual assistant.
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Apple Explains How HomePod Leaving White Rings On Wooden Surfaces Is Natural

In a support document for HomePod, Apple covers the issue whereby white rings may appear on some wooden surfaces. The company explains why this might happen and how this is nothing new.

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Russia Is Drilling the Arctic for Liquefied Natural Gas

Polar ice is melting, and the Arctic region, from North America to Russia, reveals its hidden treasures. With thinner ice and new open pathways to the deep north, drilling previously inaccessible parts of the planet has never been a more attractive pursuit.

The world’s biggest economies are joining the race to assert their power over the Arctic’s fossil fuel resources, whether by claiming new territories or building new infrastructure in harsh environments.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s latest move in this direction is a colossal plant that will extract liquefied natural gas (LNG), helping Russia become the world’s biggest exporter of the chilled fuel ahead of Qatar, which currently leads the market. The plant, worth $ 27 billion, is located in the remote Yamal Peninsula above the Arctic circle and was realized in partnership with France’s Total and China’s CNPC.

By the start of 2019, the plant will extract 16.5 million tonnes per year.

The project’s deputy director Dmitry Monakov said that producing LNG in permafrost was easier than in warmer climes: “Nature itself helps us to more effectively liquefy gas with the help of such low temperatures,” he told AFP.

Paris Climate Agreement
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“Together we managed to build from scratch a world-class LNG project in extreme conditions to exploit the vast gas resources of the Yamal peninsula,” he said in a company statement. While the peninsula holds massive fossil fuel reserves, it’s covered by ice for most of the year, with temperatures reaching -50° C (-58° F).

Samuel Lussac, an oil and gas specialist at Wood Mackenzie consultancy, told AFP that the next few months will exhibit “whether the plant can operate smoothly in the harsh Arctic environment.”

As the world’s biggest gas exporter, Russia makes huge profits from distributing fossil fuels to Europe, but it is also seeking to strengthen partnerships with new allies such as China, which provided finance for the new LNG plant among other projects.

Analysts at the global think tank Centre for European Policy Studies (CEPS) warn that Russia’s “ostrich approach to phasing out fossil fuels and its denial of the human origins of climate change” could hamper climate action globally. Russia is currently the world’s fourth biggest emitter, and the only major polluter that has yet to ratify the Paris Agreement.

The independent research network Climate Action Tracker (CAT) labels the country’s emission targets “critically insufficient” to meet the Paris Agreement goals. It points out that “the Russian Federation is one of the world’s largest emitters and fossil fuels producers. As a consequence, it has a large mitigation potential, and could play a major role in international climate policy.”

According to the CEPS, Russia’s main trading partners such as China, Germany, Japan, Korea, India, and the Nordic countries hold a great deal of power in nudging the country’s energy policies. “Climate change policies and regulations,” the analysts write, “are now being adopted by most countries, not least out of benign self-interest. In lagging behind now, Russia risks being unprepared for the post-fossil fuel era.”

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Nanoscopic Hyperlensing Made of Natural Crystal Allows Us to See Viruses on the Surface of Cells

Hyperlensing Nano-vision

Research from Vanderbilt University and other participating institutions have devised a new lensing technology that allows scientists to see living cells in their natural environment. The new lens is so powerful that it can allow researchers to spot a small virus on the surface of a living cell. This remarkable resolution is thanks to advances in hyperlensing, a method of creating lenses with the ability to capture objects smaller than the wavelength of light.

In a press release from Vanderbilt, team member Alexander Giles, research physicist at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, said “Controlling and manipulating light at nanoscale dimensions is notoriously difficult and inefficient. Our work provides a new path forward for the next generation of materials and devices.” Prior to this development, it was possible to view objects in the nanoscale without hyperlensing, using technology such as electron-based and atomic-force microscopes. However, the application of these technologies was prohibitive as they could only operate under a high vacuum, they would bombard samples with harmful radiation, or could only be used with freeze-dried cells. Viewing living nanoscale objects in their natural environment is impossible using these techniques.

Image credit: Keith Wood/Vanderbilt University

The laws of physics make it impossible for traditional lenses to resolve objects less than the wavelength of light. With infrared light, this barrier, known as the “diffraction limit,” doesn’t allow imaging to capture objects smaller than roughly 3,250 nanometers. The material devised by this research team is able to capture images of items as tiny as 30 nanometers in size. For perspective, the human hair has a diameter of 80,000 to 100,000 nanometers (nm).

Super Vision

The hyperlens is composed of hexagonal boron nitride (hBN), a naturally occurring crystal. Previous lenses devised with the material have been able to image objects as minuscule as the smallest known bacteria. The new research has led to an tenfold improvement in imaging capability, now equipping scientists with the ability to view many viruses, which can range in size from 20 nm to 400 nm.

In the Footsteps of Zika: The Next Critter-Borne Viruses [INFOGRAPHIC]
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Taking this ability to view small objects in tandem with the harmless nature of the imaging technique, and we can see that with hyperlensing researchers have acquired the ability to view cell processes in their natural environment, which will surely lead to significant advances in medical and biological science. The ability to view processes such as how a virus enters a cell could equip researchers with new avenues to fight them, or see how our immune system works on the cellular level could show us new ways of bolstering its capabilities. The researchers are confident that their findings via hyperlensing can even be improved with more research using larger crystals. “Currently, we have been testing very small flakes of purified hBN,” said Joshua Caldwell, associate professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt University and research lead on the study. “We think that we will see even further improvements with larger crystals.”

The development of imaging has come a long way since the invention of the original microscope in the 17th century. We now have the ability to view the most intricate components of life. The impact this will have on biology and medicine is unknowable at this time, but the prospects are unlimited.

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Google’s ‘Year in Search’ highlights solar eclipse, natural disasters, elections, and technology

Google has a yearly tradition of publishing the most-searched terms and phrases, aptly-named the ‘Year in Search.’ Earlier today, the company revealed the top searches of 2017 with a new video and a detailed Trends page.

The above video highlights many of the top searches over the past year, including North Korea, several natural disasters, the total solar eclipse, the Las Vegas Shooting, and the ‘Me Too’ movement. Google made similar videos for 2016, 2015, 2014, and so on.

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Google’s ‘Year in Search’ highlights solar eclipse, natural disasters, elections, and technology was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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A Power Plant Joining the Grid in 2018 Burns Natural Gas with No Emissions

Trending Renewable

A welcome new energy trend has emerged in recent years: traditional fossil fuels appear to be on the way out, while renewable sources of energy are on the rise.

Popular opinion has shifted toward energy sources with a smaller carbon footprint, and renewable energy is becoming cheaper, more efficient, and more widespread. However, the transition away from fossil fuels is still far from complete. To help ease this transition period, one company has developed a way to burn a fossil fuel — natural gas — to generate electricity without producing any carbon emissions.

The company is NET Power, and their product is the Allam cycle.

Can We Come Back from Climate Change’s Brink?
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In a typical power plant, a fossil fuel such as coal is combusted with ambient air to create heat to boil water. The steam from that water then turns a turbine to produce electricity.

According to NET Power, this process is inefficient, with 30 to 40 percent of the system’s energy lost during the process. It’s also damaging to the environment, producing harmful nitrous oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and, in some cases, spewing sulfur dioxides, mercury, and fine particulate matter into the air as well.

NET Power’s plant is a bit different. It combusts natural gas with oxygen instead of ambient air, which is nearly 80 percent nitrogen. This allows the system to avoid the NOx emissions of traditional plants. The result of the combustion is nearly pure CO2.

This CO2 is heated until it reaches supercritical status, at which point it flows like a liquid but expands like a gas. This supercritical CO2 is then used to drive a turbine to produce electricity. After that, it’s cooled and de-pressurized back to a normal gas and returned to the front of the loop to keep the cycle going.

NET Power
NET Power’s prototype plant, under construction in Houston, Texas. Image Credit: NET Power

Using supercritical CO2 to run the turbine allows NET Power to avoid the energy loss that comes with converting water to steam. Any excess CO2 created by burning the natural gas can be stored underground or sold to the market. Others can use this CO2 for enhanced oil recovery (EOR), a process that involves blasting CO2 underground to free up oil reserves.

“Anybody who says keep [fossil fuels] in the ground is asking the wrong question,” NET Power CEO Bill Brown told NPR. “The question is, are we putting CO2 into the atmosphere? And if the answer is no, then that should be sufficient.”

NET Power has already built a smokestack-free prototype power plant in a small lot in the oil hub and carbon-dioxide-emitting hotspot of Houston. The plant is expected to begin running in 2018 and produce 50 MW of electricity, enough to power more than 40,000 homes. It will produce this emission-free electricity at a cost of 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is comparable to the cost of electricity from natural gas plants today.

If the prototype plant works the way NET Power thinks it will, the company plans to open a 300-megawatt power plant by 2021. That plant could produce emissions-free power for over 200,000 homes.

Carbon Capture, 2.0

Those who say we cannot solve climate change by a swap to renewables alone have long hoped for an alternative like NET Power’s. Rodney Allam, the engineer who pioneered the cycle, is himself a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“I’m not knocking renewables, but they can’t meet future power demands by themselves,” Allam told Science.

As the oft-repeated adage goes, wind and solar only work when the Sun is shining and the wind is blowing. That problem will be alleviated by better energy storage technology, but until that storage is available, natural gas could be a solid interim solution. It produces much less CO2 than coal and can be ramped up or down as renewable contributions fluctuate.

NET Power’s plant takes it one step further by cleaning up the carbon at no added cost. Still, with the cost of renewable energy rapidly falling, some may be hesitant to invest in a technology that relies on fossil fuels and is currently more expensive than the renewables themselves.

However, if NET Power’s prototype plant works as hoped when it fires up in 2018, its success could be enough to motivate the world to give the Allam cycle a shot.

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