European Flying Car Company Receives $10 Million Investment

Flying cars have been zipping through our science fiction films and TV shows for decades, but in the real world they’ve yet to take off. It’s not that the technology isn’t there—flying cars that utilize vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) technology have been a possibility for years. But there are many roadblocks, like safety and cost, that have prevented them from becoming mainstream. Despite all the barriers, at least one group of venture capitalists still believes that flying cars are the future. As TechCrunch reports, the venture firm Atomico is investing €10 million (about $10.7 million) in a German vertical take-off and landing plane developer called Lilium Aviation.

Lilium cites several reasons why their concept will succeed where others have fizzled out. Their vehicles will be relatively cheap, for one, with the cost of a commuter trip comparable to that of an Uber ride. They also claim that their product will be safer and more energy-efficient than other VTOL passenger drones in development.

When they’re commercial-ready, the electric-fan powered pods will be presented as an alternative to helicopters and conventional planes. The aircraft will eventually have a range of 185 miles and reach speeds of 185 MPH. Lilium writes on their website:

“What if the way you thought about distances radically changed? Imagine, you could have breakfast in Munich, go shopping in Milano and enjoy dinner in Marseille […] Commuters will use VTOL aircrafts to land directly on landing pads extending from their balconies, on rooftops and assigned landing areas. No need to wait for the bus, no need to conform with plane and train schedules.”

Founded in 2015, this latest investment marks a major step forward for the company. After expanding their team of specialists and engineers with the new funds, they plan to begin full-scale test flights within the next year.

[h/t TechCrunch]

Watch an Antarctic Minke Whale Feed in a First-of-Its-Kind Video

New research from the World Wildlife Fund is giving us a rare glimpse into the world of the mysterious minke whale. The WWF worked with Australian Antarctic researchers to tag minke whales with cameras for the first time, watching where and how the animals feed.

The camera attaches to the whale's body with suction cups. In the case of the video below, the camera accidentally slid down the side of the minke whale's body, providing an unexpected look at the way its throat moves as it feeds.

Minke whales are one of the smallest baleen whales, but they're still pretty substantial animals, growing 30 to 35 feet long and weighing up to 20,000 pounds. Unlike other baleen whales, though, they're small enough to maneuver in tight spaces like within sea ice, a helpful adaptation for living in Antarctic waters. They feed by lunging through the sea, gulping huge amounts of water along with krill and small fish, and then filtering the mix through their baleen.

The WWF video shows just how quickly the minke can process this treat-laden water. The whale could lunge, process, and lunge again every 10 seconds. "He was like a Pac-Man continuously feeding," Ari Friedlaender, the lead scientist on the project, described in a press statement.

The video research, conducted under the International Whaling Commission's Southern Ocean Research Partnership, is part of WWF's efforts to protect critical feeding areas for whales in the region.

If that's not enough whale for you, you can also watch the full 13-minute research video below:

AI Could Help Scientists Detect Earthquakes More Effectively

Thanks in part to the rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, earthquakes are becoming more frequent in the U.S. Even though it doesn't fall on a fault line, Oklahoma, where gas and oil drilling activity doubled between 2010 and 2013, is now a major earthquake hot spot. As our landscape shifts (literally), our earthquake-detecting technology must evolve to keep up with it. Now, a team of researchers is changing the game with a new system that uses AI to identify seismic activity, Futurism reports.

The team, led by deep learning researcher Thibaut Perol, published the study detailing their new neural network in the journal Science Advances. Dubbed ConvNetQuake, it uses an algorithm to analyze the measurements of ground movements, a.k.a. seismograms, and determines which are small earthquakes and which are just noise. Seismic noise describes the vibrations that are almost constantly running through the ground, either due to wind, traffic, or other activity at surface level. It's sometimes hard to tell the difference between noise and legitimate quakes, which is why most detection methods focus on medium and large earthquakes instead of smaller ones.

But better understanding natural and manmade earthquakes means studying them at every level. With ConvNetQuake, that could soon become a reality. After testing the system in Oklahoma, the team reports it detected 17 times more earthquakes than what was recorded by the Oklahoma Geological Survey earthquake catalog.

That level of performance is more than just good news for seismologists studying quakes caused by humans. The technology could be built into current earthquake detection methods set up to alert the public to dangerous disasters. California alone is home to 400 seismic stations waiting for "The Big One." On a smaller scale, there's an app that uses a smartphone's accelerometers to detect tremors and alert the user directly. If earthquake detection methods could sense big earthquakes right as they were beginning using AI, that could afford people more potentially life-saving moments to prepare.

[h/t Futurism]


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