Historic Earth-space handshake is a step towards remote planetary exploration

For the first time in history, an astronaut in space has shak hands with a scientist on Earth, thanks to a remote system that could eventually be used to explore planets using robots.

Yesterday researchers from the European Space Agency (ESA) successfully managed to use space-to-ground remote controls and receive force feedback while communicating with the International Space Station.

Astronaut Terry Virts used a joystick onboard the space station that allowed him to feel an object that was hundreds of miles away – the object in question was the hand of a researcher back on Earth.

The joystick can move forwards or backwards and its twin in the other location mimics its action.

The advancement may only sound like a small step, but it’s the first in a long path that can significantly enhance space exploration.

ESA says its long-term vision is to send astronauts to orbit far-off planets and then be able to control robots that are on the surface from their spacecraft.

“In the future, we want to use robotic systems to carry out human-like tasks in places where humans can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to go (usually if it is unhealthy or inaccessible to go there),” said ESA researchers writing their version of events.

“In order to do this, we need to find out which computer algorithms and which robotic hardware is required and optimal to do that.”

The test was also important for the quality of communications networks as each signal sent had to travel from the ISS to another satellite that was orbiting Earth, then to the mission control in the USA and finally to the ESA’s own control centre.

The astronaut and the ground grew were able to communicate by the live video stream, which also had instructions implemented over the screen saying the direction the joystick should be pushed in. They also communicated by hand signals.

Despite the success, the crew did have some problems connecting to the systems and almost ran out of time to complete the experiment.

“We have a signal! We just connected to our Haptics-1 system for the first time and verified the connection of the link between space and ground! It works,” the team behind the project said. 

“However, crew still needs to re-install the software on the tablet to perform the full experiment! Stay tuned… we have 1 hour left.. time is getting tight. But we’ll manage!”

André Schiele, who controlled the remote control on the ground, said that the test was successful and as result of many years of work by a lot of people .

“The system worked even though the Space Station was flying over 5,000km away,” he said.

“It felt as though Terry was extending his arm down from space to shake my hand.”

The next step is to conduct blind tests on humans to see if we can tell the difference between objects made of foam.

This will let the researchers know if it is possible to identify the qualities of an object while ‘touching’ it from a remote location.

Wanted man captured thanks to facial recognition

A Chinese man who was wanted by police for “economic crimes” – which can include anything from tax evasion to the theft of public property – was arrested at a music concert in China after facial recognition technology spotted him inside the venue.

Source: Abacus News

SpaceX president commits to city-to-city rocket travel

SpaceX president and chief operating officer Gwynne Shotwell has reiterated the company’s plans to make city-to-city travel — on Earth — using a rocket that’s designed for outer space a reality. Shotwell says the tech will be operational “within a decade, for sure.”

Source: Recode

Businessman wins battle with Google over 'right to be forgotten'

A businessman fighting for the "right to be forgotten" has won a UK High Court action against Google.. The businessman served six months’ in prison for “conspiracy to carry out surveillance”, and the judge agreed to an “appropriate delisting order".

Source: Press Gazette

UK launched cyber attack on Islamic State

The UK has conducted a "major offensive cyber campaign" against the Islamic State group, the director of the intelligence agency GCHQ, Jeremy Fleming, has revealed. The operation hindered the group's ability to co-ordinate attacks and suppressed its propaganda.

Source: BBC

Goldman Sachs consider whether curing patients is bad for business

Goldman Sachs analysts have attempted to tackle the question of whether pioneering "gene therapy" treatment will be bad for business in the long run. "Is curing patients a sustainable business model?" analysts ask in a report entitled "The Genome Revolution."

Source: CNBC

Four-armed robot performing surgery in the UK

A £1.5m "robotic" surgeon, controlled using a computer console, is being used to shorten the time patients spend recovering after operations. The da Vinci Xi machine is the only one in the country being used for upper gastrointestinal surgery.

Source: BBC

Virgin Galactic rocket planes go past the speed of sound

Virgin Galactic completed its first powered flight in nearly four years when Richard Branson's space company launched its Unity spacecraft, which reached supersonic speeds before safely landing. “We’ve been working towards this moment for a long time,” Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides said in an email to Quartz.

Source: Quartz

Google employees protest being in "the business of war"

Thousands of Google employees, including dozens of senior engineers, have signed a letter protesting the company’s involvement in a Pentagon program that uses AI to interpret video imagery and could be used to improve the targeting of drone strikes. The letter, which is circulating inside Google, has garnered more than 3,100 signatures

Source: New York Times

Computer system transcribes words users “speak silently”

MIT researchers have developed a computer interface that transcribes words that the user verbalises internally but does not actually speak aloud. The wearable device picks up neuromuscular signals in the jaw and face that are triggered by internal verbalisations — saying words “in your head” — but are undetectable to the human eye.

Source: MIT News

Drones could be used to penalise bad farming

A report by a coalition of environmental campaigners is arguing squadrons of drones should be deployed to locate and penalise farmers who let soil run off their fields. Their report says drones can help to spot bad farming, which is said to cost more than £1.2bn a year by clogging rivers and contributing to floods.

Source: BBC

Californian company unveil space hotel

Orion Span, a California company, has unveiled its Aurora Station, a commercial space station that would house a luxury hotel. The idea is to put the craft in low-earth orbit, about 200 miles up, with a stay at the hotel likely to cost $9.5 million for a 12-day trip, but you can reserve a spot now with an $80,000 deposit.

UK mobile operators pay close to £1.4bn for 5G

An auction of frequencies for the next generation of mobile phone networks has raised £1.36bn, says regulator Ofcom. Vodafone, EE, O2 and Three all won the bandwidth needed for the future 5G mobile internet services, which are not expected to be launched until 2020.

Source: BBC