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Democrats

NJ Legislator Proposes Fine For Walking While Phone-Distracted (philly.com) 194

schwit1 writes: A bill proposed this week by Assemblywoman Pamela R. Lampitt (D., Camden) would impose a fine of up to $50 and possibly 15 days in jail for pedestrians caught using their cellphones without hands-free devices while walking on public sidewalks and along roadways. If the bill becomes law, 'petextrians' — people who text while walking — would face the same penalties as jaywalkers in New Jersey. From the article: Researchers say distracted walkers are more likely to ignore traffic lights or fail to look both ways before crossing the street. ... Lampitt said she wants that message to hit home in New Jersey for pedestrians and motorists who could easily be distracted while looking at mobile devices. Her bill, however, faces an uncertain future in the Legislature. It has not been posted for a vote and Lampitt acknowledged she might have a tough time getting it passed." Distracted pedestrians surely pose some risks, but they don't budge the needle compared to overbearing officialdom.
Japan

Area Around Chernobyl Plant To Become a Nuclear Dump (japantimes.co.jp) 178

mdsolar quotes a report from The Japan Times: A heavily contaminated area within a 10-kilometer radius of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine will be used to store nuclear waste materials, the chief of a state agency managing the wider exclusion zone said in an interview. "People cannot live in the land seriously contaminated for another 500 years, so we are planning to make it into an industrial complex," said Vitalii Petruk, the head of the State Agency of Ukraine on Exclusion Zone Management. The zone is 30-km radius from the site of the 1986 nuclear accident -- the world's worst nuclear disaster. "We are thinking of making land that is less contaminated a buffer zone to protect a residential area from radioactive materials," he said. Petruk added, "We are considering building a facility for alternative energy such as solar panels" so as to utilize the remaining electricity infrastructure including power grids for the Chernobyl nuclear power plant there.
Transportation

Why Buses Need To Be More Dangerous 400

HughPickens.com writes: Is there such a thing as being too safe? Jeff Kaufman writes that buses are much safer than cars, by about a factor of 67 but buses are not very popular and one of the main reasons is that if you look at situations where people who can afford private transit take mass transit instead, speed is the main factor. According to Kauffman, we should look at ways to make buses faster so more people will ride them, even if this means making them somewhat more dangerous. Kauffman presents some ideas, roughly in order from "we should definitely do this" to "this is crazy, but it would probably still reduce deaths overall when you take into account that more people would ride the bus": Suggestions include not to require buses to stop and open their doors at railroad crossings, allow the driver to start while someone is still at the front paying, allow buses to drive 25mph on the shoulder of the highway in traffic jams where the main lanes are averaging below 10mph, and leave (city) bus doors open, allowing people to get on and off any time at their own risk. "If we made buses more dangerous by the same percentage that motorcycles are more dangerous than cars," concludes Kauffman, "they would still be more than twice as safe as cars."
Government

DC Metro Closes For Emergency Safety Inspection (nbcwashington.com) 110

McGruber writes with NBC's report that Washington, DC's Metrorail system has been completely shut down for at least 29 hours, so crews can check 600 underground jumper cables: A problem with those jumper cables caused a fire at the McPherson Square station early Monday and was also the cause of a fatal smoke incident in January, 2015, that killed one person and injured others. The safety checks could have been delayed until the weekend or conducted at night over about six days, officials said. But if the system were kept open, a public announcement about the risk would have to be made. That would have put passengers, and Metro, in the awkward position of publicly acknowledging that it was operating despite being aware of a potentially deadly safety problem. Metro also would have been liable in the case of any crashes or calamities. The shutdown prompted the Washington Post to publish an editorial titled It's official: Metro is a national embarrassment."
Japan

32,000 Workers At Fukushima No. 1 Got High Radiation Dose, Tepco Data Show (japantimes.co.jp) 215

mdsolar writes: A total of 32,760 workers at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant had an annual radiation dose exceeding 5 millisieverts as of the end of January, according to an analysis of Tokyo Electric Power Co. data. A reading of 5 millisieverts is one of the thresholds of whether nuclear plant workers suffering from leukemia can be eligible for compensation benefits for work-related injuries and illnesses. Of those workers, 174 had a cumulative radiation dose of more than 100 millisieverts, a level considered to raise the risk of dying after developing cancer by 0.5 percent. Most of the exposure appears to have stemmed from work just after the start of the crisis on March 11, 2011. The highest reading was 678.8 millisieverts.
EU

Record-Breaking 11000ft Flight Sparks Criticism In Pilot Community 233

An anonymous reader writes: In an attempt to break the world 'how high can you fly a consumer drone' record, an anonymous person from the Netherlands flew a Phantom 2 Quadcopter to a height of up to 3.4 km. That is more than 3 km above the maximum European Union legal height of 120 meters, which has applied since July 1, 2015 to hobby drones. Undoubtedly he set a new record of sorts, which also led to substantial discussions among the drone pilot community on the safe use of drones. At a height of 3.4 kilometers or 11000 feet you can indeed run into regular air traffic, or cause a lot of damage in case of a crash. Fortunately not in this flight -- but the battery had only 4% capacity at the moment of landing.
Power

NRC Engineers Urge Shutdown of Nuclear Plants If Design Flaw Not Fixed (utilitydive.com) 164

mdsolar writes: A group of engineers in the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission say they have identified a design flaw in nearly all nuclear reactors in the country that should result in their mandatory shutdown unless operators fix the problem, Reuters reports. In late February, the engineers petitioned the NRC to order immediate enforcement actions to correct the design flaw, which they say could result in damage to cooling systems and ultimately lead to an emergency situation. The filing asks the agency to respond by March 21 and is a part of a standard NRC process, according to the news outlet. The filing stems from an incident in January 2012, when Exelon's Byron 2 unit in Illinois experienced an automatic reactor trip from full power after an undervoltage condition was detected. The unit was shut down for a week, in what is known as an open phase condition created by an unbalanced voltage. The NRC engineers say such an event could cause an electrical short, reducing the abilituy of cooling systems to operate.
Input Devices

Robots May Soon Put Surgery Into the Hands of Non-Surgeons (computerworld.com) 82

Lucas123 writes: By 2020, surgical robotics sales are expected to almost double to $6.4 billion, at the same time robots are becoming easier to use. One new robot is so easy to use that even med students can achieve proficiency with a few tries, according to Umamaheswar Duvvuri, director of head and neck surgery at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The robot, a snake-like endoscope that can be directed into any shape through the relative orientations of its linkages, requires only one incision, reducing the number from several involved in typical laparoscopic procedures. Older, and more popular surgical robotic systems, such as the da Vinci Surgical System, are now being tested by physicians who are at controls more than 1,000 miles away. Probably a lot of the same misgivings that people have about autonomous cars apply here, too.
AI

Skydio's Forthcoming Consumer Drones Can Sense and Avoid Obstacles (technologyreview.com) 18

moon_unit2 writes: DJI's new Phantom 4 drone may be able to stop if there's an obstacles directly in front of it, but MIT Technology Review has a story about a much more sophisticated self-flying drone, from a startup called Skydio (basically using high-speed visual SLAM, which is no mean feat in such a tiny package). The company's prototype uses several video cameras to navigate around obstacles at high speeds through busy airspace. The technology could make consumer drones much harder to crash, and it could let drones do more complex surveillance tasks. Skydio, founded last year, has so far raised $25 million in funding in a round led by Andreessen Horowitz and Accel Partners.
AI

AAA: 75% Of Drivers Say They Wouldn't Feel Safe In An Autonomous Vehicle (consumerist.com) 519

kheldan writes: While technology companies and car manufacturers alike are rushing to test their own autonomous vehicles, the average American driver doesn't feel quite comfortable with the idea of riding in a driverless car just yet, according to the results of a recent AAA survey. AAA's survey of 1,800 drivers found that 75% of current drivers say they wouldn't feel safe in a self-driving vehicle. But it's worth noting that 60% of those surveyed said they would like access to some kind of self-driving feature, such as self-parking, lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control or automatic emergency braking the next time they buy a new car.
Robotics

People Will Follow a Robot In an Emergency - Even If It's Wrong (gatech.edu) 172

An anonymous reader writes: Imagine a future where instead of siting through fire alarms with your fingers in your ears, a robot come comes to greet you and guide you out of the building. Researchers at Georgia Tech created an emergency guidance robot and then looked at whether or not people would follow the robot during an emergency. 'The research was designed to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise in case of fire or other emergency. But the researchers were surprised to find that the test subjects followed the robot's instructions – even when the machine's behavior should not have inspired trust.' The robot first guided people to a meeting room. In some conditions the robot broke along the way to the meeting room. Then, unbeknownst to the subjects, the researchers filled the hallway with smoke and set off the fire alarms. Given the option of going out the way they came or following the robot down an unknown hall, nearly all followed the robot.
Google

Google Self-Driving Car Might Have Caused First Crash In Autonomous Mode (roboticstrends.com) 410

An anonymous reader writes: While driving in autonomous mode, a Google self-driving car was involved in an accident with a public bus in California on Valentine's Day, according to an accident report filed with the California DMV.The accident report, signed by Chris Urmson, says the Google self-driving car was trying to get around some sandbags on a street when its left front struck the bus' right side. The car was going 2 mph, while the bus was going 15 mph.Google said its car's safety driver thought the bus would yield. No injuries were reported. If it's determined the Google self-driving car was at fault, it would be the first time one of its cars caused an accident while in autonomous mode.
Earth

A New Algorithm Could Protect Ships From 'Rogue Waves' (cio.com) 62

itwbennett writes: MIT researchers have developed a tool they say can predict so-called rogue waves, giant waves that seem to appear out of nowhere and can cause devastation to ships unlucky enough to be struck by them. The researchers found that certain wave groups end up 'focusing' or exchanging energy in a way that eventually leads to a rogue wave. The tool they developed uses an algorithm that sifts through data from surrounding waves and computes a probability that a particular wave group will turn into a rogue wave within the next few minutes.
Government

Drones Under 2kg May Be Set Free Under Forthcoming FAA Rules (suasnews.com) 103

garymortimer writes: The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is establishing an aviation rulemaking committee with industry stakeholders to develop recommendations for a regulatory framework that would allow certain UAS to be operated over people who are not directly involved in the operation of the aircraft. The FAA is taking this action to provide a more flexible, performance-based approach for these operations than what was considered for Micro UAS. The committee will begin its work in March and issue its final report to the FAA on April 1.
Transportation

UK Pilots' Union Calls For Laser Pointers To Be Classed As Offensive Weapons (theguardian.com) 275

An anonymous reader writes: The body that represents airline pilots in the UK has called for handheld laser pointers to be classed as offensive weapons, after a Virgin Atlantic flight to the U.S. was forced to return to Heathrow when its co-pilot was dazzled by a laser during takeoff. The British Airline Pilots Association (Balpa) said aircraft were being "attacked" by the devices "at an alarming rate and with lasers with ever-increasing strength." It said the problem was becoming "more and more urgent."

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