Feds turn up the heat in fight against drones interfering in wildfires – CNBC

On Sunday, firefighters battling the Sand Fire in Southern California had to shut down aerial firefighting operations for about 30 minutes after an unauthorized drone entered airspace that the FAA put under temporary restriction due to the active wildfire.

As of Tuesday morning, the Sand Fire in the northwestern portion of the Angeles National Forest had burned more than 37,500 acres, with containment at 10 percent. Authorities have said at least 18 homes have been lost and one person killed as a result of the blaze.

California officials have put significant resources on the ground and air fighting the Sand Fire, which was first reported Friday and is burning in an area with heavy brush and dry conditions worsened by the state’s ongoing drought. Nearly 3,000 personnel are fighting the blaze and more than 20 firefighting aircraft are being used.

“Our effort to protect the property can be impacted by UAS’s and drones in that area,” Angeles National Forest Fire Chief Robert Garcia said during a Sand Fire press update Monday. “If you fly, we can’t, and that does have an impact on our aerial assault.”

According to fire officials, the drones are a hazard because they can get into an engine of a jet aircraft fighting a wildfire or strike a propeller-driven aircraft such as a heli-tanker. Aerial firefighting aircraft tend to fly low over fires and in the same general airspace as hobbyist drones.

Twenty-one drones were spotted at the scenes of wildfires nationwide in 2014-2015, and aircraft were grounded six times. And there have been at least two occasions when firefighting aircraft have had to take evasive actions to avert a collision with drones.

In this year alone, at least 15 unauthorized UAVs have been reported to affect aerial firefighting operations in California and other states, according to the Interior Department.

Earlier this month, a Placer County man was arrested in Northern California for allegedly piloting his hobby drone in June over the Trailhead Fire north of Sacramento. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said at the time of the arrest that the incursion forced aerial firefighting assets for a time to be grounded.

He was charged one misdemeanor count of interfering with firefighting operations and found after posting a video on social media. The fine for the misdemeanor is $1,000.

In the case of the Sand Fire drone intrusion, the person responsible for that unauthorized UAV flight could face stiffer penalties since the incursion was in a fire zone under FAA flight restrictions, according to Cal Fire spokesperson Lynne Tolmachoff. On top of criminal prosecution, civil penalties can reach $27,500.

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We Finally Know Why Jet Lag Is Much Worse Flying East

We Finally Know Why Jet Lag Is Much Worse Flying East
Image: Getty

Jet lag is objectively terrible. It grants no immunity and bends to no form of treatment, unless “consuming an entire bottle of liquor and popping a few Ambien” is considered treatment. (It’s not.) But according to conventional wisdom, some kinds of jet lag are worse than others—traveling east, for example, is harder on the sleep cycle than traveling west. As it turns out, conventional wisdom is largely correct.

According to a new study published in the journal Chaos from researchers at the University of Maryland, our natural circadian rhythm actually clocks in around 24.5 hours—a little more than a day. This extra slice of time makes it easier to travel in a direction that lengthens the day—west—than to travel in a direction that shortens the day—east.

Our circadian rhythm is regulated by brain cells located in the suprachiasmatic nucleus, which is found in the hypothalamus. In normal conditions, these cells move in a synchronized pattern controlled by regular exposure to light. During travel, however, this exposure is thrown off—which results in jet lag.

To test the conditions associated with jet lag, researchers used a mathematical model to simulate what happens to these brain cells during travel. The model produced results that matched up with the conventionally held east-west dichotomy: It would take a person a little less than four days to recover from a trip in which they passed westward through three time zones; six time zones takes about six days; and nine time zones takes roughly eight days.

For those traveling east, however, the recovery periods were longer: three time zones takes a bit more than four days; six time zones takes about eight days; and nine time zones eats up 12 days. (Don’t go to Australia, probably!)

But given that everyone has a different internal clock—some of us run on fewer than 24 hours, some of us run on more—each person recovers from jet lag differently. “Our model suggests that the difference between a person’s natural period and 24 hours controls how they experience jet lag,” study author Michelle Girvan, an associate professor of physics at the University of Maryland, said in a statement.

Whatever, Michelle. Jet lag sucks, time is a flat circle, and even Ambien can’t save us.

[Chaos via CNN]

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Mall security bot knocks down toddler, breaks Asimov’s first law of robotics

Robots might be cheaper to employ than humans, but it seems they still need to work on their people skills. Last week, a robot security guard at the Stanford Shopping Center in Silicon Valley knocked down a toddler while on duty and then apparently just kept on driving. A report from local news channel ABC7 says the bot hit 16-month-old Harwin Cheng, knocking him to the floor.

Cheng was not seriously hurt by the incident, but we’re still going to chalk this up as a violation of Isaac Asimov’s first law of robotics: "A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm." Here’s ABC7‘s story:

It amuses shoppers of all ages, but last Thursday, 16-month-old Harwin Cheng had a frightening collision with the robot. "The robot hit my son’s head and he fell down facing down on the floor and the robot did not stop and it kept moving forward," Harwin’s mom Tiffany Teng said.

Harwin’s parents say the robot ran over his right foot, causing it to swell, but luckily the child didn’t suffer any broken bones. Harwin also got a scrape on his leg from the incident. "He was crying like crazy and he never cries. He seldom cries," Teng said.

The robot in question was the Knightscope K5, a five-foot, 300-pound machine that began trials in the mall last year. The robot trundles about on wheels and uses an array of sensors and cameras to monitor its environment. Human security guards can direct it to certain locations to see what’s going on, and the bot is supposed to report any unusual activity to a central guard station. The robot’s creators describe it as possessing a "commanding physical presence" combined with "advanced technology."

The k5 costs just $6.25 an hour to employ — less than minimum wage

It’s not clear exactly what happened with Harwin Cheng, and Knightscope has yet to issue any statement on the matter or respond to requests for comment from The Verge. And while it seems the incident with Cheng was minor, Knightscope obviously wouldn’t want something like this to happen again. Even though the K5 only costs $6.25 an hour to employ (that’s lower than minimum wage), no-one’s going to hire a robot that runs into children.

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