SciTech Briefs

Credit: Paola Mathus/ Credit: Paola Mathus/

Fatal Tesla car crash with Autopilot on pinned on human error

A year and a half ago, a man called Joshua Brown died behind the wheel of a Tesla while using the Autopilot feature. A truck merging into his lane was not seen by the software, hitting the Model T in the side and killing Brown instantly.

The car doesn’t become completely autonomous when its turned on. Autopilot handles steering and speed during highway driving (which can become monotonous).

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ruled that the crash was caused by human error — or Brown’s negligence. Tesla labels the feature as beta, which means it’s still testing. The automaker made sure to alert drivers of this, and had them agree to usage terms before upgrading to it.

It’s for this very reason that the crash is being pinned on Brown; even though the car was semi-autonomous, Brown was required to still monitor the road.
An even newer investigation has turned the tables, though. The National Transportation Society Board has ruled that Tesla is at fault for selling software that can be misused to easily. One cannot entirely fault drivers for believing Autopilot requires little to no human oversight.

Source: Wired

MIT lab combines several vaccines in one single injection

MIT has recently developed a solution. Pediatricians will soon be able to deliver several vaccines at once to children. Each vaccine will then be activated in the body after the right amount of time.

Each vaccine is contained in a micro-capsule made of PGA, a biocompatible polymers. The magic of PLGA is that it can be designed to break down after a specific amount of time. The technology was tested on mice; the capsules were designed to break down after nine, 20, and 41 days. It worked.

The study is yet to prove whether this nanotechnology works over extended periods of time. Body temperature may be warm enough to affect the PLGA, so more month-long studies have to be carried out.

This technology will be especially helpful in developing countries. Children there who don’t have access to a nearby doctor at all times could receive a single injection to cover them for up to two years of infancy.

Team leader Robert Lang said, “This could have a significant impact on patients everywhere, and especially in the developing world where patient compliance is particularly poor.” Getting patients to come back for more shots in a timely manner is always difficult, especially in developing countries.This technology could solve this.

Source: Engadget

Structural coloring is an alternative to chemical pigments

In a recent study, scientists have been researching how small balls made of melanin can be structured to create color. Melanin is a pigment found in skin and hair that is responsible for complexion and color.

These balls, although black initially, can be modified to scatter light at different wavelengths to produce different colors. When light reaches them, depending on the diameter of the melanin ball and the spacing between the individual nanoparticles, specific colors can be rendered.

This technology uses nano-scale texturing to generate color. The very mechanism is also found in bird feathers and butterfly wings.
Researchers have been finding alternatives to chemical pigments as a a means of dyeing objects because chemical pigments lose their color as soon as the chemical compound breaks down.

We can expect more durable paints. They won’t fade over time, lasting for decades potentially. We can also expect true color, something that is more challenging with traditional paint. Artists could also have access to a wider spectrum of color.

The use of melanin is innovative, especially because it’s a biomaterial. Biotechnology is a field that will rapidly expand over the next decades.

Source: Science News

California’s internet privacy bill stalled without any votes

California legislators tried and failed to pass a bill to restore internet privacy. Earlier this year, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and Congress killed internet privacy with internet service providers (ISPs).

The counter bill has been placed in an “inactive file” without any votes. The bill would have required ISPs to receive consent from their customers before sharing their personal, private information with third-parties. At the moment, this is not the case.

Major ISPs like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast were against the bill, of course. Much of their revenue comes from selling user information to advertisers — something that would be stifled if this bill was passed. Google and Facebook were also against it because they were unsure how the bill would affect business and the consumer experience.

The bill isn’t entirely done for. Many people are for it, because they don’t want their private information shared without their consent. With more public outcry, the bill can still be taken off the shelf and brought to Congress once more.

Source: The Verge