Matt’s Favorites: Space Fence Is Down, Self-Driving Cars Approach, And Much More.
So what’s the latest as we hit Hump Day what feels like a day early? (Hey, that’s because it is a day early.) Well, check out these dandies from all over the Intertubes…
* Google’s self-driving car initiative is moving into a new phase: reality. Three years after first showing the world what it was up to — rolling out a Toyota Prius with laser-scanning hardware awkwardly perched on the roof — Google is moving its big idea out of the lab and into the real world.
* The Space Fence is down. That’s the message we get from the SatWatch site, following up on our report last month that the U.S. Air Force was poised to shut down the radar system that tracks thousands of objects orbiting Earth. It had been in operation since 1961. The Space Fence — also known by its formal name, the Air Force Space Surveillance System — consists of three transmitters and six receivers that stretch across the southern U.S., using radio waves to paint a picture of a slice of space. The items it detected ranged from satellites and debris to meteors. Shutting down the system will save around $14 million annually, the Air Force Space Command said last month. The agency hopes to install a new version of the fence using technology that it says will be more accurate.
* It’s finally official. CNet reports that Apple has sent invitation to the press for an event on Sept. 10. The tech giant is widely expected to announce its next-generation iPhone and, possibly, a cheaper model.
* And here’s the latest iPhone 5S rumor roundup.
* Also, Apple has won 41 new patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, including one that could eventually deliver Kinect-like functionality to Macs. According to Patently Apple, which obtained a copy of the patents Apple was awarded on Tuesday, the company has won intellectual property that will allow it to transfer user input from a keyboard and mouse to sensors that would be placed around a display.
* And a tip of the hat and a bow of the head to science fiction giant Frederik Pohl, who died over the holiday weekend at age 93.
* And here’s a sad: NASA veteran Chris Kraft on the recent decline of the space agency.
* Ew: Researchers who dug up King Richard III’s skeleton say they appear to have discovered another problem the hunchback monarch had during his brief and violent reign: parasitic worms in his guts that grew up to a foot long.
* Maybe those e-cigarettes aren’t quite the safe alternative they claim to be. A woman in Atlanta, Georgia says she plugged hers in to charge it — and it exploded and sent four-foot flames across her home.
* About 12,900 years ago, a massive asteroid or comet landed in Quebec, Canada. Shortly thereafter, the climate drastically changed around the globe, kicking off a period commonly called the Big Freeze. Now, scientists out of Dartmouth College say the two events are linked.
* The Hubble Space Telescope has captured what scientists are describing as a “cosmic caterpillar” nearly 6 trillion miles long slinking through deepspace. The celestial critter in the new Hubble telescope photo is actually a cloud of gas stretching one light-year (10 trillion kilometers) across, scientists say. This cloud is in the process of collapsing down under its own gravity to give birth to a star — but it’s a race against time, because the established bright stars in its vicinity are fighting this process.
* The Mars One mission seeks to send the initial colonists on the Red Planet by 2023. Anyone over the age of 18 is eligible to apply, and NASA has seen a flood of applications. In August, dozens of those applicants convened in Washington, D.C., to meet their potential future neighbors. At the “Million Martian Meeting,” four would-be colonists ranging from age 24 to 45 answered questions from the audience.
* The Oculus Rift is taking its time to perfect for the consumer market, but if you’re after a virtual-reality or augmented-reality experience, one product will provide a solution that uses your smartphone as the display. Called vrAse, it’s a 3D-printed headset by Edinburgh, Scotland-based Louise Bankhead. Your smartphone slides into the front, providing the display. The idea is seeking crowdfunding.
* If companies like Samsung and HTC were hesitant to build Windows Phones before, they’re likely now reconsidering it altogether. Microsoft on Tuesday revealed plans to buy Nokia’s device and services division for $7.2 billion. The company views the deal as its way to gain more traction in a smartphone market currently dominated by Apple and Samsung. It’s also a way for Microsoft to become more Apple-like, controlling both hardware and software. While the move could help Microsoft in mobile, it also could upset the software maker’s other Windows Phone partners and push them away from the platform.
* Gimme a break: Google has announced that the upcoming version of its Android mobile operating system will be called KitKat, licensing the name from Nestle. Android chief Sundar Pichai, in a Google+ post, revealed that Android has passed 1 billion activations and noted the KitKat branding of Android 4.4. This is the first time that Google had gone with a branded name for Android, which in the past have been generics like “Eclair” and “Jelly Bean.”
* Amazon officially announced its second-generation Paperwhite Tuesday afternoon after the company mistakenly released details earlier Tuesday.
* Future authentication methods need to be a lot harder to hack. That’s the idea behind the Nymifrom startup Bionym. Instead of passwords, Nymi relies on your heartbeat. The Nymi is worn as a bracelet. It monitors your cardiac rhythm, a unique signature for each person. It is constantly authenticating your identity as it wirelessly interacts with devices.
* In a world where airlines lose your luggage, one man couldn’t stand it anymore. No, this isn’t a movie. In a real-life instance of the little guy challenging a giant corporation, Twitter user Hasan Syed has taken on British Airways by buying a promoted tweet to complain about his father’s lost luggage.
* The Japanese government announced Tuesday that it will spend $470 million on a subterranean ice wall and other steps in a desperate bid to stop leaks of radioactive water from the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant after repeated failures by the plant’s operator. The decision is widely seen as an attempt to show that the nuclear accident won’t be a safety concern just days before the International Olympic Committee chooses among Tokyo, Istanbul and Madrid as the host of the 2020 Olympics.
* The U.S. Navy has acknowledged that hundreds of marine mammals will die during bomb testing and heavy sonar use, CBS DC reports. The Navy determined over 340 dolphins and whales will die between 2014 and 2019 as a result of these training procedures.