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NASA Scientists are developing Artificial Intelligence for Underwater Drones that can Explore Jupiter’s Moon Europa

While satellites can study the ocean surface, their signals cannot penetrate the water and therefore robotic submersibles have become critical tools for ocean research

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Jupiter, Source: NASA

Washington, Dec 1, 2016: NASA scientists are developing artificial intelligence for underwater drones that could be used to understand Earth’s marine environments as well as track signs of life below the surface of icy oceans believed to exist on Jupiter’s moon Europa.

While satellites can study the ocean surface, their signals cannot penetrate the water and therefore robotic submersibles have become critical tools for ocean research.

“Autonomous drones are important for ocean research, but today’s drones don’t make decisions on the fly,” said Steve Chien, who leads the Artificial Intelligence Group at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California.

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“In order to study unpredictable ocean phenomena, we need to develop submersibles that can navigate and make decisions on their own, and in real-time. Doing so would help us understand our own oceans — and maybe those on other planets,” Chien said in a NASA statement.

If confirmed, the oceans on moons like Europa are thought to be some of the most likely places to host life in the outer solar system.

If successful, this project could lead to submersibles that can plot their own course as they go, based on what they detect in the water around them.

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That could change how scientists collect data, while also developing the kind of autonomy needed for planetary exploration, said Andrew Thompson, Assistant Professor at California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

“Our goal is to remove the human effort from the day-to-day piloting of these robots and focus that time on analysing the data collected,” Thompson said.

“We want to give these submersibles the freedom and ability to collect useful information without putting a hand in to correct them,” Thompson noted.

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As part of this research, a team of scientists from NASA and other institutions recently used a fleet of six coordinated drones to study Monterey Bay, California.

The fleet roved for miles seeking out changes in temperature and salinity. To plot their routes, forecasts of these ocean features were sent to the drones from shore.

The drones also sensed how the ocean actively changed around them. (IANS)

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Six NASA scientists to emerge from Mars-like habitat

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NASA - Mars
Image: IANS

New York, Sep 17 (IANS) Six Nasa scientists, who were living in isolation on a Mars-like habitat in Hawaii since January to determine astronauts’ psychology and requirements during manned space missions, will return to civilization on Sunday.

In January, the crew of four men and two women were quarantined on a vast plain below the summit of the giant volcano Mauna Loa — one of Hawaii’s five volcanoes and the world’s largest.

They remained there for an eight-month simulation activity to gain a better understanding and to get a bit of a feel for how astronauts would respond mentally, physically, and most important, psychologically to a long-term on a manned space mission as well as in an inhospitable environment.

NASA Scientists Map Water on Moon Using India’s Chandrayaan-1 Spacecraft.

“Long term space travel is absolutely possible,” Laura Lark, specialist at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, led by the University of Hawaii at Manoa, was quoted as saying to the inquisitr.com on Saturday.

“There are certainly technical challenges to be overcome. There are certainly human factors to be figured out, that’s part of what HI-SEAS is for. But I think that overcoming those challenges is just a matter of effort. We are absolutely capable of it,” Lark added.

Their experiment included everything from being forced to live in the cramped habitat of the dome to having to rely solely on packaged food – and virtually no contact with another living soul.

The atmosphere was as similar as possible to what life on Mars would be. All of the communications the crew could have with the outside world was subjected to a 20-minute delay — the time it takes for signals to get from Mars to the Earth.

The data gathered during this mission can better help in choosing crews that have certain traits and a better chance of doing well during a potential two-to-three year Mars expedition, which would then pave the way for humans settlement in the red planet by around 2030.(IANS)

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Scientists report Groundwater replenishment in West and South India

An international team of researchers, including experts from IIT-Kharagpur and  NASA, has observed groundwater storage replenishment in certain Indian regions

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Scientists noted Groundwater replenished
Scientists noted Groundwater replenished. Pixabay
  • The implementation of ingenious groundwater management strategies in both Indian public and private sectors
  • Long-term ground-based measurements and decadal-scale  satellite-based groundwater storage measurements
  • The Indian groundwater withdrawal and management policies for sustainable water utilization

August 12, 2017: An international team of researchers, including experts from IIT-Kharagpur and NASA, has reported discernible groundwater storage replenishment in certain Indian regions, in a new study, attributing it to changes in strategy in the public and private sectors.

Published in the Nature Scientific Reports in August, the study says this groundwater storage (GWS) rejuvenation may possibly be attributed “to the implementation of ingenious groundwater management strategies in both Indian public sector and private sector”.

A research team from IIT-Kharagpur in collaboration with NASA American scientists has observed regional-scale water replenishment through long-term (1996-2014, using more than 19,000 observation locations) ground-based measurements and decadal-scale (2003-2014) satellite-based groundwater storage measurements, in large parts of India.

While the northern and eastern parts of India are still undergoing acute usable groundwater depletion and stress, encouraging, replenishing such scenarios are detected in western India and southern India under proper water resource management practices, the study notes.

“Our study shows that the recent paradigm shift in the Indian groundwater withdrawal and management policies for sustainable water utilization, probably have started replenishing the aquifers by increasing storage in western and southern parts of India,” said research leader Abhijit Mukherjee from IIT-Kharagpur on Friday.

The team used numerical analyses and simulation results of management and policy change effect on groundwater storage changes in western and southern India for this study.Mukherjee drew attention to the recent changes in Indian central/state government policies on its withdrawal and stress on management strategies.

Strategies such as restriction of subsidized electricity for irrigation, separate electricity distribution for agricultural purposes (e.g. Jyotigram Yojana), construction of large-scale, regional enhanced recharge systems in water-stressed crystalline aquifers (Tapti river mega recharge project), Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchayee Yojana, enhanced recharge by interlinking of river catchments (e.g. Narmada-Sabarmati interlinking), will probably start replenishing the aquifers by increasing groundwater storage in near future.

Chief of Hydrological Sciences Laboratory Matthew Rodell at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, helped in interpreting the NASA satellite (GRACE) data (2003-2014) of the above-mentioned water source storage changes in India for this study.

The co-authors are — Yoshihide Wada affiliated to International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, Austria; Siddhartha Chattopadhyay of Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur; Isabella Velicogna and Kishore Pangaluru from the University of California, the USA; James S. Famiglietti of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, the US.

“We conclude that in India, where huge groundwater consumption is widely known to be leading to severe dwindling of groundwater resource in recent times, previously unreported, discernible GWS replenishment can also be observed in certain Indian regions,” said lead author Soumendra Bhanja affiliated to Hydroscience and Policy Advisory Group, Department of Geology and Geophysics at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, as well as to Hydrological Sciences Laboratory, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. (IANS)

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Can Flourishing Islamic State (ISIS) be Stopped in Afghanistan?

The truth about IS and Afghanistan is definitely no picnic

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Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016.
Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, May 27, 2016. The rise of IS in Afghanistan has become such a priority that U.S. and Afghan forces sometimes support the Taliban while battling IS, VOA
  • Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups
  • Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops
  • In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS

June 25, 2017: The Islamic State group is rapidly expanding in parts of Afghanistan, advancing militarily into areas where it once had a weak presence and strengthening its forces in core regions, according to Afghan and U.S. officials.

Depending on the location, the proliferation of IS has drawn varied resistance from the Afghan military, U.S. air support and ground troops, local militias, Taliban forces and other militant groups.

Attacking IS has become such a priority in the country, that disparate forces sometimes join together in the ad-hoc fight, with Afghan and U.S. forces finding themselves inadvertently supporting the enemy Taliban in battling IS.

Confusion leads to mistakes

All too often, officials say, mistakes are made due to confusion on the ground.

Afghan army planes on Wednesday night accidentally air dropped vital supplies of food and water to IS militants in the Darzab district of northern Jouzjan province instead of to their own besieged troops, provincial police chief, Rahmatullah Turkistani told VOA. The supplies were meant to help Afghan forces that are countering twin attacks by IS and Taliban militants but were used instead by IS.

“It’s not getting better in Afghanistan in terms of IS,” U.S. Chief Pentagon Spokeswoman Dana White told VOA this week. “We have a problem, and we have to defeat them and we have to be focused on that problem.”

Reinforcements for the IS cause reportedly are streaming into isolated areas of the country from far and wide. There are reports of fighters from varied nationalities joining the ranks, including militants from Pakistan, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Russia and Central Asian neighbors.

Confusing scenarios

Still, the Islamic State-Khorasan (ISK) as IS is known in Afghanistan remains a fragmented group composed of differing regional forces with different agendas in different parts of the country.

“IS-K is still conducting low-level recruiting and distribution of propaganda in various provinces across Afghanistan, but it does not have the ability or authority to conduct multiple operations across the country,” a recent Pentagon report said. But where it operates, IS is inflicting chaos and casualties and causing confusing scenarios for disparate opponents.

In the Tora Bora area, where IS has made a strong stand in recent days, local villagers and militias joined with Taliban to rout IS. IS regained ground after a few days, leading to U.S. military air attacks on IS positions in conjunction with Afghan intelligence instructions and army operations.

IS fighters reportedly have fled from mountain caves of Tora Bora, where al-Qaida’s leader Osama bin Laden hid from U.S. attack in 2001.

Families displaced

IS fighters were also reportedly advancing in neighboring Khogyani district, displacing hundreds of families, according to district officials. It is one of several areas in Nangarhar province, near the Pakistani border, where IS has been active for over two years.

Fierce clashes in the Chaparhar district of Nangarhar last month left 21 Taliban fighters and seven IS militants dead, according to a provincial spokesman. At least three civilians who were caught in the crossfire were killed and five others wounded.

“IS has overpowered Taliban in some parts of Nangarhar because the Taliban dispatched its elite commando force called Sara Qeta (Red Brigade) to other parts of the country, including some northern provinces to contain the growing influence of IS there,” Wahid Muzhda, a Taliban expert in Kabul, told VOA.

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Recruiting unemployed youths

IS has also expanded in neighboring Kunar province, where, according to provincial police chief, it has a presence in at least eight districts and runs a training base, where foreign members of IS, train new recruits.

Hundreds of miles from Nangarhar, IS is attempting to establish a persistent presence in several northern provinces where it has found a fertile ground for attracting militants and recruiting unemployed youths, mostly between the age of 13 and 20.

IS has been able to draw its members from the Pakistani Taliban fighters, former Afghan Taliban, and other militants who “believe that associating with or pledging allegiance” to IS will further their interests, according to the Pentagon report.

Hundreds of militants have joined IS ranks in northern Jouzjan and Sar-e-Pul province where local militant commanders lead IS-affiliate groups in several districts.

Darzab district

Qari Hekmat, an ethnic Uzbek and former Taliban militant who joined IS a year ago, claims to have up to 500 members, including around 50 Uzbek nationals who are affiliated with the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) — previously associated with al-Qaida and Taliban in Afghanistan.

IS and Taliban are reportedly fighting over the control of Darzab district in Jouzjan which they stormed this week from two different directions and besieged scores of government forces. The Taliban has reportedly captured the center of the district while IS militants control the city outskirts.

Afghanistan faces a continuing threat from as many as 20 insurgent and terrorist networks present or operating in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region, including IS, the Pentagon said.

“In areas where the government has limited influence and control, IS attempts to emerge and expand there,” Ateequllah Amarkhail, an analysts and former Army general in Kabul told VOA.

Hit-and-hide strategy

IS has also claimed responsibility for several recent attacks in urban areas, however, with a hit-and-hide strategy that is proving effective. And it is engaging too in more skirmishes with U.S. forces that initially were sent to the country to help Afghan forces halt the spread of Taliban.

Three American service members based in eastern Afghanistan were killed in April during operations targeting IS militants, according to the Pentagon.

“ISIS-K remains a threat to Afghan and regional security, a threat to U.S. and coalition forces, and it retains the ability to conduct high-profile attacks in urban centers,” the Pentagon said. (VOA)