One of the world’s most endangered whale species could have added protection from threats posed by human marine activity, through technology developed by the University of East Anglia (UEA).
In partnership with the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) and the marine survey company Gardline Geosurvey Limited, UEA researchers have developed machine learning techniques that can be used to detect the presence of North Atlantic right whales population by listening for the sounds they make underwater.
Detecting the animals’ presence before they reach close proximity to large vessels or enter a mitigation zone can both protect animals and avoid costly shutdowns of offshore operations.
The findings, ‘Robust North Atlantic right whale detection using deep learning models for denoising’, is published today in a special edition on machine learning in acoustics, in The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
North Atlantic right whales are one of the world’s most endangered marine species with only around 350 remaining and of those, only about 100 females of breeding age. Human activities are a significant threat to right whale populations, either through entanglement in fishing gear or strikes from shipping.
Calls from right whales are often confused with noises made from shipping or other underwater activities, such as fishing and drilling. The new techniques developed by UEA, and its partners can remove these unwanted noises from recordings, thereby increasing the reliability of detecting right whales in adverse conditions.
The conventional way of locating right whales population relies on observers onboard ships, but this is expensive and not possible at night or in low-visibility conditions. An automated method to detect the presence of right whales gives much more hope for the species to survive and increase in population, said lead researcher Dr Ben Milner of UEA’s School of Computing Sciences.
Dr Milner, a senior lecturer, said: “The aim of this work is to develop robust methods of detecting marine mammals from passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) devices in challenging environments.
“Having the ability to deploy an automated system – whether it be on buoys, Autonomous Surface Vehicles (ASVs), or gliders – that can achieve high levels of detection in real-time, is vital to the long-term future of right whales population.
“Being able to reliably detect marine mammals is important for population monitoring and for mitigation, as many species are endangered and protected by environmental laws.”
The technology aims to find right whales in situations where they could be approaching potentially harmful and noisy offshore activities. In such scenarios shipping can be asked to change course and in extreme situations the offshore activities must be stopped, which can be very costly to operators.
Right whales population emit a range of vocalizations, with common sounds being upcall tones and gunshot sounds. Upcalls most likely play a role as a social contact call between individuals and are produced by both sexes and different age classes and are therefore most commonly used for passive acoustic detection of the species.
The gunshot sounds are very different from upcalls and are characterized as an impulse, and although less common, can also be detected by the new technology.
Both vocalization types can be difﬁcult to hear in noisy conditions and to visualize in spectrograms, as low frequency regions are often masked by marine noise from passing ships, drilling, and piling activities, seismic exploration, or interference from other marine mammals, such as humpback whale song.
In many cases, anthropogenic and environmental noises overlap in frequency with right whales population calls, which makes detection difﬁcult.
The researchers studied ‘de-noising’ processes that could block out non-whale noises from trawlers, tankers, and other human activities.
The right whale recordings used for evaluating the classiﬁers and denoising methods were taken from the Detection, Classiﬁcation, Localization, and Density Estimation (DCLDE) 2013 workshop and were collected in the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary from the Massachusetts Bay area of the north-eastern coast of the United States.
Gucci digitally outfits Gen-Z in metaverse foray with Roblox
Anyone whose virtual alter ego is wandering around the Roblox online game platform these days might run into other avatars sporting Gucci handbags, sunglasses or hats.
The digital-only items were part of a limited Gucci collection for Roblox, a step by the fashion house that prides itself on Italian craftsmanship to enter an expanding virtual space where many of its youngest admirers already are at home.
Players in the metaverse — where virtual worlds, augmented reality and the internet meet — say the big-name fashion collaboration represents a new era of virtual-real world interplay, a space in which smart product placement meets the desire of consumers to express their personalities in the virtual world.
While the Gucci Garden space on Roblox was open for two weeks last month, the platform’s 42 million users could spend from $1.20 to $9 on collectible and limited-edition Gucci accessories. Items were hidden in the virtual Gucci Garden, which echoed real-world Gucci Garden exhibitions in Florence and other global cities. Some items were offered for free, and the exclusivity was underlined with limited time releases.
The experience allowed Roblox’s core demographic — roughly ages 9 to 15 — a digital entrée to the rarified world of luxury goods that few can dream of in the real world. Now that the space is closed, the limited edition items have even greater cachet. According to the developer, more than 4.5 million items were “won.”
Many parents may scratch their heads at paying real money to accessorize an avatar, but Generation Z players have long been prepped for this evolution.
They ran through physical streets and parks to intercept and capture Pokemon Go characters, part of an augmented reality mobile game that launched in 2016. Many took the edge off pandemic lockdown by playing with real-world friends over gaming platforms. On Roblox, dressing up avatars is old hat.
“Gen Z, they sometimes see virtual products as more valuable than physical products,” Christina Wootton, the vice president for brand partnerships at Roblox, said. “We are definitely seeing that on Roblox, where it is all about storytelling and self-expression. There are so many people who come together and socialize and connect with their friends, and they want to represent their digital selves through fashion.”
While the Gucci items users bought only can be “worn” on the Roblox platform, it is just the tip of the metaverse iceberg.
Similar items made and traded in the metaverse are known as non-fungible tokens (NFTs) — digital objects backed by blockchain technology certifying their authenticity, and often uniqueness. NFTs, which might be anything from personalized “skins,” or costumes, for avatars to digital art, can be traded ad-infinitum, potentially growing in value with each trade. Their ownership is not limited to any single platform.
Even on Roblox, which has its own marketplace where items can be traded, the Gucci Dionysus Bag with Bee was resold for over $4,100 worth of Robux — exceeding the price of a real Gucci Dionysus bag and a huge premium of the original price of 475 Roblox, roughly $4.75. Only 851 of the bags were available during two releases, making it the rarest piece in the collection, compared with the 2.6 million wide-brim denim hats that were snapped up for free.
Unlike NFTs, the astronomically priced Dionysus bag cannot be traded outside of the Roblox platform, making it seemingly a vanity investment for a super-fan.
The metaverse’s potential for the fashion world goes well beyond the world of gaming and extends into digital ecosystems that are still under construction. So-called decentralized worlds are seeing a huge influx of money, with billions being spent to iron out technical issues.
Boson Protocol, a technology company, is bridging the gap between the metaverse and physical world with a new venture designed to allow consumers to purchase fashion NFTs for their avatars from a platform, Decentraland. NFTs, in turn, will contain vouchers redeemable for corresponding real-world items. The project, announced Wednesday, is expected to launch in two months.
“If we increasingly are going to exist in these digital spaces, then objects that are scarce, unique and ownable, of course, are going to have value in those spaces,” London-based Boson Protocol co-founder Justin Banon said. “All of these things of social signaling in the real world are just, in fact, perhaps more important in the digital world.”
In another example of how fast this space is moving, the IMVU metaverse on Wednesday launched a marketplace featuring digital fashion as wearable NFTs for avatars on the social platform. The looks, previewed in a recent digital fashion show, include a Black Lives Matters patchwork shirt dress, I Love NY souvenir hoodie and a pink camouflage bubble jacket, each a unique NFT that will be auctioned off over the next 30 days, with bids opening at $100.
It’s only natural that fashion would pave the way for the less digitally savvy consumers, who may shy away from Bitcoin and balk at multimillion-dollar sales of NFTs that have captured the attention of artists and collectors alike.
“Fashion brands have to go where other people are not going. The whole point of a fashion brand is to stand out,” Allen Adamson, co-founder of marketing consultancy Metaforce, said.
For Gucci, the biggest return on investment from the Roblox tie-up “is to become part of that generation’s world,” Adamson said.
“No one shares ordinary,” Adamson said. “‘My avatar is wearing a Gucci belt’ is a little different” and perhaps even catchier for a certain audience than spotting a real Gucci bag on the street.
Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri said that more than generating revenue, the Roblox collaboration was a way to tap fresh creative veins and stay apace of an evolving world where fashion, music, films and technology increasingly mashup.
“Who knows what the industry will look like in 10 years? We want to start before everyone else to get up to speed,” Bizzarri said at the physical Gucci Garden opening in Florence. “Certainly, they are not operations that bring a lot of business now, but they could be a source of business tomorrow.”
Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele described the metaverse as new “territory” to explore.
“Fashion has become more than a boutique along the street in a capital. I think we are in a phase when maybe the world wants to go beyond the industrialized revolution and doesn’t know how to do it,” Michele said. “Especially now, in this phase of the pandemic, it is a big chance to accelerate changes.”
MILAN (AP) — By COLLEEN BARRY Associated Press.
Oklahoma prison inmates to begin receiving computer tablets
Inmates at an Oklahoma prison began receiving special computer tablets this week, as part of a Department of Corrections plan to provide secure tablets to everyone incarcerated in state prisons.
The devices, specially designed by prisons communications company Securus Technologies, will include free content such as prison policies, access to a law library, some books and educational and self-help materials. Inmates can also pay to receive music, movies, games and television programs, as well as to send and receive messages, including video messages, to and from their families. The tablets do not have unrestricted access to the internet.
Usually, inmates wanting to receive educational or vocational training must be escorted to a classroom or program location. But inmates can now receive those services directly on the tablet, said Mike Carpenter, chief of technical services and operations at the Corrections Department.
“The education and programming, that’s huge for us,” Carpenter said.
On Tuesday, North Fork Correctional Center inmate Byron Robinson, who has been incarcerated since 2005 — the same year YouTube was founded — said the tablet was totally new to him.
“I’ve never even touched one of these things until today,” Robinson said. “It’s mindboggling, really, how much this thing can do.”
Similar programs allowing inmates to access secure tablets have been rolled out in other states, including Arizona, Connecticut and Utah, but Oklahoma is one of the first in the nation to combine the company’s latest tablet and operating system.
In Pinal County, Arizona, officials started distributing tablets to inmates at the state’s third-largest jail in 2019, said Matt Hedrick, deputy chief of the detention center.
“It has been phenomenal,” Hedrick said.
Besides helping to keep inmates pacified, Hedrick said the jail scans incoming letters and photographs to an inmate’s tablet, reducing the chance for contraband to come into the facility and allowing inmates to have access to more personal photographs.
“Before you had rules on how many photos they could have in their cell, how many magazines,” he said. “Now that doesn’t happen. They can have as many as they want.”
There are some drawbacks to providing inmates with tablets. According to a 2019 report from the Prison Policy Initiative, the “free” tablets frequently charge users above-market prices for services. Oklahoma’s contract with the company allows a 25-cent charge for emails and 75 cents for outbound video messages. Music can cost up to $1.99 per song or $14.99 per album, while the cost for one television episode can range from $1.70 to $2.28.
Some 21,000 inmates are currently incarcerated by the state, making the plan potentially very lucrative for Securus.
The Department of Corrections also benefits financially from the arrangement, receiving $3.5 million annually from the communications company for the first five years of the contract, and $3.75 million for the next five years.
“Our recent analysis of these contracts suggests that they actually put the interests of incarcerated people last, prioritizing cost savings and the provider’s bottom line,” the report said.
Sierra Kiplinger, who was released from prison in April, said that while inmates are excited about the new technology, she expressed concern about how much inmates have to pay to utilize the services.
” The phone calls for Securus are ridiculously high, and so I’m assuming if the phone calls are high, this is going to be even higher,” she said.
State Rep. Justin Humphrey, chairman of the House Criminal Justice and Corrections Committee, said that while he supports the program, he believes public perception could be a problem.
“I don’t think the public is going to like it when they see we’re giving all these inmates tablets and they say, ‘My kid can’t get a tablet at school,’ Humphrey said.
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — By SEAN MURPHY Associated Press.
Automakers face a threat to EV sales: Slow charging times
If the auto industry is to succeed in its bet that electric vehicles will soon dominate the roads, it will need to overcome a big reason why many people are still avoiding them: fear of running out of juice between Point A and Point B.
Automakers have sought to quell those concerns by developing EVs that go farther per charge and fill up faster. Problem is, most public charging stations now fill cars much too slowly, requiring hours — not minutes — to provide enough electricity for an extended trip.
Concerned that such prolonged waits could turn away potential EV buyers and keep them stuck on gas-burning vehicles, automakers are trying to cut charging times to something close to the five or 10 minutes of a conventional gasoline fill-up.
“It’s absolutely the target to get faster and faster,” said Brett Smith, technology director at the Center for Automotive Research, an industry think tank. “It’s not there yet, but it’s one of those things that moves the needle more toward a competitive vehicle for a lot of people, this ability to fast charge.”
The latest generation of EVs, many with ranges around 300 miles (480 kilometers) per charge, can accept electricity at a much faster rate than previous models could. So fast, in fact, that most charging stations cannot yet accommodate the vehicles’ advanced technology.
It can now require hours to fully charge an electric vehicle because most stations operate on a home-like alternating current. Direct-current fast-charging stations, by contrast, are hours faster. But they can cost tens of thousands of dollars more.
The high cost is something the Biden administration will have to consider as it develops incentives to encourage companies and governments to build 500,000 charging stations nationwide by 2030. Among the possibilities being discussed are grants, with $15 billion in spending over five years to build the network, including fast chargers along highways and in communities. Details are being worked out as the administration negotiates its infrastructure plan with key members of Congress.
Of the roughly 42,000 public charging stations in the United States, only about 5,000 are considered direct-current fast chargers, according to the Department of Energy. The rest are like home chargers; they require roughly eight hours to fully charge longer-range batteries, longer than anyone wants to wait to charge a vehicle on a road trip.
And most fast chargers can pump out only about 50 kilowatts per hour — requiring roughly an hour to charge an average EV to 80% — even though newer EVs are capable of being charged must faster than that.
“It’s one of the big barriers for someone who is not living with a battery-electric vehicle yet,” said Alex Tripi, who head’s Volvo’s electric vehicle marketing. “It will continue to be for a while.”
Limited by technology, early electric vehicles charged at ridiculously low speeds when compared with recent models. When Nissan’s Leaf first went on sale more than a decade ago, for example, it could take in only 50 kilowatts per hour from a fast charger. That meant it took a half hour to charge it to 80% of its small battery, with a range of just 58 miles (93 kilometers) .
A new long-range version released in 2019 nearly tripled the range per charge. Because it can take 100 kilowatts at a fast charger, it can get to 80% — 181 miles (291 kilometers) — in 45 minutes.
Newer EVs can be charged even faster. But they far exceed the capacity of most fast chargers. Ford’s Mustang Mach-E and F-150 Lightning can take in 150 kilowatts per hour. Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 and Porsche’s Taycan are over 200 kilowatts.
The Hyundai, with 300 miles (480 kilometers) of range, can go from a 10% charge to 80% in just 18 minutes, much closer to gasoline fill-up times. (Automakers tend to quote charging times to 80% of battery capacity because it takes much longer to go from 80% to 100%; the final 20% is often slowed down to prolong battery life.) Hyundai knows there aren’t many chargers now that can fill the Ioniq that fast. But it says it’s ready for a future when more quick chargers are more widely available.
“Hopefully the infrastructure will improve across the U.S. for this to be a whole lot more viable,” said John Shon, senior group manager of product planning.
Tesla, which has its own private charging network of 25,000 plugs worldwide, leads just about every automaker. Its newer chargers can crank out up to 250 kilowatts and 175 miles (282 kilometers) of range in about 15 minutes.
Electrify America, a charging network funded with money paid by Volkswagen as punishment for its emissions cheating scandal, says it’s ready for the newer EVs. Having installed fast chargers since 2018, it runs more than 600 stations with 2,600 plugs nationwide. All can pump out 150 kilowatts. That means they can charge a typical EV with 300 miles (480 kilometers) of range to 80 percent of battery capacity (240 miles (386 kilometers) ) in roughly 45 minutes. Over half of Electrify America’s stations can pump out 350 kilowatts, which charge twice as fast.
A fast-charge fill-up to 80% of battery capacity varies by state but typically costs around $16.
Even Tesla owners, who can access the nation’s biggest fast-charging charging network, risk running out of juice on road trips, especially in rural areas. On Monday, one such driver, Dan Nelson, said he had to stop at a Tesla station near Ann Arbor, Michigan, for more than 20 minutes to make sure his Model 3 had enough charge to reach his rural home 25 miles (40 kilometers) away.
“There’s definitely improvements that can be made,” said Nelson, who charges at home most of the time.
Bruce Westlake, president of the East Michigan Electric Auto Association, suggested that such anxiety tends to ease as people gain more experience with EVs. He said he is now comfortable running his two Teslas as low as 5% of battery capacity to go farther between charges on trips.
Research by J.D. Power shows that most people think charging stations are needed at locations where gas stations are now. But in fact, according to the Energy Department, most EV owners charge at home more than 80% of the time.
That means super-fast chargers, which can cost close to $100,000, should be built mainly along highways where people are traveling long distances and need to charge quickly, experts say. They also may be needed in urban areas where people live in apartments with no access to a home charger.
It’s far from clear that the automakers can depend on a proliferation of fast chargers across the country to build customer confidence and propel EV sales in the years ahead. The high cost and heavy load on utility grids likely will limit the number of fast chargers to areas where they’re needed for quick fill-ups, said Jessika Trancik, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who studies EV charging.
“As we’re approaching this transition,” she said, “it’s important to be more strategic than just putting them everywhere.”
Charging companies have time to figure out where to build fast chargers, because it would take more than 17 years to convert the entire U.S. fleet of 279 million passenger vehicles from petroleum to electricity — even if every motorist were willing to make the switch, said Pasquale Romano, CEO of ChargePoint, a charging station company. But the chargers can’t come fast enough for automakers, who want more people to buy their EVs to spread development costs over more vehicles.
Romano says fast chargers will be needed about every 75 miles (120 kilometers) on roads that connect metro areas, and that the United States should get there in about two years. As more EVs are sold, he said, more stations will be built.
“You don’t want to put all the infrastructure in for 20 years starting with vehicle zero,” Romano said. “This is about the natural organic growth.”
DETROIT (AP) — By TOM KRISHER AP Auto Writer
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