Stuff You Should Know

Kickstarting Space Exploration?

Crowdfunding is becoming a very popular alternative to finding traditional investors. Individuals and companies with projects or products ask the public at large people for money, usually through crowdfunding websites like Kickstarter. Project creators set up an account, then choose a deadline and a minimum fund-raising goal. Projects must meet their goals in their chosen time frame to receive any money pledged. Artistic pursuits such as recording music and publishing books are common crowdfunded projects, as is development for a new games gadget. A recent endeavor that is getting a lot of attention is billed as the ARKYD: A Space Telescope for Everyone.

The project is sponsored by Planetary Resources, the company responsible for building every robotic lander that NASA has placed on Mars in the last fifteen years, including Opportunity, Curiosity, and Spirit. The company knows that space exploration is something that many people are passionate about but only a few get to experience. The ARKYD telescope is a technologically advanced, orbiting space telescope that can be scheduled for public use. As with other crowdfunding programs, different pledge levels provide rewards. ARKYD backers may have the chance to send a photo of themselves into space, allowing  the ARKYD telescope to upload and capture that image with the Earth in the background. Higher pledge levels may grant individuals to point the telescope  at any celestial object (except the sun), have a photo taken, and sent to their desktop. For $10,000, you can have an asteroid named after you.

Dig Deeper–Would you support this project it you could? Follow the progress of the Kickstarter campaign by going to the ARKYD Kickstarter page. Find out if they reached their goals and their next plans.

Cars that Can Drive Themselves 

cars driving on a highway

Photo Credit: Photodisc/Punchstock
In the not-so-distant future, highways like this one may be filled with robotically-controlled cars. Are you ready for that?

With all of the new features added to new cars every year, it was only a matter of time before automakers came up with a way for cars to drive themselves. The Society of Automotive Engineers predicts that the public could begin to see them in showrooms by 2025. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently encouraged states to wait before creating laws regarding licensing and regulation. (California, Nevada and Florida are the only three states with laws permitting driverless cars.) While they are not opposed to the approaching technological advancement, the NHTSA is concerned about possible legal challenges surrounding defective designs and negligence.

So exactly what are self-driving cars? Well, the NHTSA has come up with five different levels of self-driving technology:

  • Level 0 (No Automation) – The driver has complete control over the vehicle.
  • Level 1 (Function-specific Automation) – This includes anti-lock brakes.
  • Level 2 (Combined Function) – This includes two functions working together to aid the driver, like cruise control and lane-centering.
  • Level 3 (Limited Self-Driving Automation) – The driver is required for occasional control, but can surrender all safety-critical controls in certain circumstances.
  • Level 4 (Full Self-driving Automation) – The vehicle can be unoccupied and perform all necessary safety measures.

Google is currently developing a Level 4 driverless car. It has accumulated over 300,000 autonomous-driving miles, many of them around San Francisco, known for its steep streets and hairpin turns. While they have no plans to develop the technology for commercial use at this time, they are hoping to market their data to automakers.

What Do You Think? Would you like to have a self-driving car? Why or why not? Make a list of the benefits and challenges. How likely do you think you will be able to own one in your lifetime?

Violence Spikes in Iraq

It has been more than a year since the United States officially ended its military involvement in Iraq. In recent months, however, the country is again experiencing a rise in violence. Almost 2,000 people were killed in the past two months–the highest number since 2007. The conflict between the Sunnis and the Shiites, two Islamic religious groups, could bring a sharper outbreak in their continuing civil war.. When the U.S. first entered the Iraq War, the Sunnis (led by Saddam Hussein) were in power. When forces removed Hussein, control shifted to the Shiites.

When U.S. troops officially left Iraq in December 2011, armed Sunni groups soon surged into the void. Most of the violence is taking place in the capital city of Baghdad. Mosques are a main target. The civil war in neighboring Syria is further complicating tensions in the region. In Syria, Sunni rebels and al Qaeda forces are determined to dismantle Bashar Assad and his government. Many Iraqis are taking precautions, like closing their businesses early in the evening and adding extra security measures.

Dig Deeper–Follow the news regarding this story. What do experts believe might put an end to or lessen the violence?

Punk is Back!

With each generation comes a renewed nostalgia for one that has come before. Punk, a counter-culture from the mid-seventies to the early eighties, is the latest such trend. Later this summer, the movie CBGB, which describes the famed music club, will open in movie theaters this Fall. Right now the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art has opened a new exhibit that will run through August called PUNK: Chaos to Couture. This art exhibit examines Punk’s impact of high fashion in both New York City and in London. The do-it-yourself attitude of punk is combined with the made-to-measure deliberateness of haute couture.

The MOMA Punk exhibition is spread across seven galleries. It features such “punk heroes” as singers Patti Smith, Richard Hell, the band Blondie, producer Malcolm McClaren and designer Vivienne Westwood. One installation, called D.I.Y. Hardware, explores the use of safety pins, spikes, chains, zippers, and razor blades. Every year, the Met holds an exclusive gala (casually known as the Fashion Oscars). This year, many celebrities showed off their punk-best, including Madonna, Miley Cyrus, Sarah Jessica Parker and Beyonce’.

What Do You Think? How much do you know about punk rock? Find out if any of the bands you have punk influences. Are there any nostalgic eras that you like as much as or better than trends of today? Why or why not?