National / International News

Crashed jet 'belonged to Bin Ladens'

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 20:22
A plane that crashed in Hampshire killing four people is believed to have belonged to Osama Bin Laden's family.

A giant robot that shoots ... T-shirts?

Marketplace - American Public Media - Fri, 2015-07-31 20:21

If the whole idea of creating a new sports entertainment league that will rival the UFC, WWE and NASCAR for sheer dollars, excitement and danger doesn't work out, the MegaBots can always do parties. It turns out that a MegaBot is a really good T-shirt cannon.

MegaBots is a startup, based in Oakland, California, doing the kind of work a lot of kids hope to be doing someday, too: building a 15-foot tall, 15,000-pound fighting robot, and hoping it'll become the centerpiece of a new global entertainment business.

Matt Oehrlein, Gui Cavalcanti and Andrew Stroup, who was later replaced by Brinkley Warren, started the company as a Kickstarter campaign back in 2014. Their goal was to raise $1.8 million, but they managed just over $65,000 — a less than mega haul. That would seem to be the end of it, until earlier this summer when the MegaBots team issued a challenge to a Japanese company called Suidobashi Heavy Industries, which is making its own fighting machines. MegaBots called for a duel, the Japanese accepted, and the company is suddenly back in the spotlight. 

MegaBots raised some private funding and got a sponsorship from AutoDesk, and managed to build its roughly $200,000 prototype, which it has taken on the road to build interest and support.

Cavalcanti said the company will take a two-headed approach to building its brand: venture capital funding for the business of creating a fighting robot league, and a second Kickstarter that will hopefully pay for upgrades to the robot, both structural and decorative (think eagle heads on each shoulder, since the robot is now part of "Team America").

I tracked down the MegaBot at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, where it had been summoned to entertain some august members of the tech community. The bot was baking in the summer heat of the museum's parking lot, and Cavalcanti and Warren said they'd recently learned that the MegaBot could perform a new trick: using its missile-launcher left arm to fire T-shirts into the air.

The MegaBot can certainly draw a crowd — people crowded around for selfies and questions. But skepticism abounded, too: one spectator in a Maker Faire T-shirt pointed out that the device couldn't rightfully be called a "robot," since it has to be piloted by humans. The MegaBot, in fact, requires two pilots: a driver and a gunner.

Warren declares that the presence of humans inside the fighting robots (or, uh, exoskeletons, if we're being specific) adds the crucial element of danger and excitement that will make a fighting league a big draw. It's like NASCAR or hockey, he says. These aren't purely mechanical, remote-controlled gadgets like BattleBots — there are people in there, and the blood lust, as it were, is real.

Critics charge that the MegaBot won't actually do what other high-profile robotics projects have done, which is to spur innovation and development that could further the field overall and lead to breakthroughs that could save lives, make work more efficient or even do a better job cleaning our houses. Instead, noted the Washington Post, MegaBots is merely violent fantasy, leading to a vision of robotics that bristles with guns and will only militarize robotic development.

After a few hours with the MegaBots crew, it's clear that their motives aren't particularly altruistic, and to expect otherwise would be like asking Vince McMahon whether his wrestling empire had led to training breakthroughs for Olympic athletes. It's just not the point.

And after my own brief ride in the gunner's seat, and the opportunity to rapid-fire about 80 T-shirts across a parking lot into the foliage above a group of excited children, I admit that if and when the MegaBots duel actually occurs (the team is hoping for summer of 2016), I'd probably watch it. Sometimes, robots are just fun.

'Progress' but no deal at TPP talks

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 20:13
Twelve Pacific nations fail to agree a regional trade deal which would cover 40% of the world economy, despite talk of "significant progress".

Wanted: A personal assistant to help me wash and dress

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 19:51
A personal assistant to help me wash and dress

Pacific Trade Pact In Limbo As Talks End Without A Deal

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 19:47

Disagreements remain among the 12 countries regarding drug patents, market access and more, and likely will delay congressional debate of any eventual agreement into 2016.

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Watch: 164 Skydivers Fall Into Formation, Breaking World Record

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 19:43

One of the dangers was that parachutes or people could collide. The previous skydiving record was set by 138 people in 2012.

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Chimps In Habeas Corpus Case Will No Longer Be Used For Research

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 19:37

Hercules and Leo were used for researched at Stony Brook University will be retired. They were at the center of a court case that tested whether chimps had the same legal "personhood" as humans.

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MtGox bitcoin chief held in Japan

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 19:34
The founder of MtGox - once the world's biggest Bitcoin exchange - is arrested by Japanese police investigating loss of nearly $400m.

VIDEO: 'Blue moon' as seen around the world

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 18:27
There has been a rare opportunity to witness a unique lunar event in the night sky; a so-called "blue moon".

Professional Wrestling World Mourns Longtime Star 'Rowdy' Roddy Piper

NPR News - Fri, 2015-07-31 17:58

The Canadian entered the WWF as a villain and fought Hulk Hogan and Mr. T in the first Wrestlemania event. The career gave the often-bekilted grappler many chances to show off his bagpipe skills.

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Balls criticises Labour on business

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 17:55
Former shadow chancellor Ed Balls attacks Labour's approach to business under Ed Miliband.

Country singer Lynn Anderson dies

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 17:39
US country singer Lynn Anderson, best known for her 1971 hit (I Never Promised You a) Rose Garden, dies, aged 67.

VIDEO: Skydivers set 'giant flower' record

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 16:47
A new record for the largest ever vertical skydiving formation has been set in Ottawa, Illinois, by 164 flyers who formed the shape of a flower in the sky.

Warning over ash dieback threat

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 16:40
Landowners should prepare for a future in which ash trees have disappeared, the Woodland Trust warns.

Why there's no such thing as gay adultery in UK law

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 16:12
Why there's no such thing as gay adultery in UK law

Week in pictures: 25 - 31 July 2015

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 16:11
A selection of the best news photographs from around the world taken over the past week.

Does Merkel retain a stranglehold on power?

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 16:10
It has been a bruising few months for the German chancellor, but she is still popular with the public, says Jenny Hill.

VIDEO: Ohio shooting: After the gun went off

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 16:04
David Thomas, a former police officer and expert in police ethics takes a look at the body camera footage of the death of Samuel DuBose. He explains how officers reacted to the scene they found.

Famous writers on what NOT to say

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 15:53
Famous writers on what NOT to say

Decoding the symbols on Satan's statue

BBC - Fri, 2015-07-31 15:40
Decoding the symbols on the new monument to the Devil