Event Calendar
August 2017

When Nikola Motors started advertising outrageous specs for its Zero all-electric side-by-side, we figured there was no way those specs would survive the journey to market. A 520-hp figure may sound plenty normal for sports car, but it's pretty out there for a side-by-side. However, not only have the Zero's off-the-charts specs survived as Nikola prepares for production, some have actually grown. The spec sheet now includes well more than triple the horsepower of the current power leader, more battery power than a Tesla Model S 100D and a price tag equivalent to a Model 3.

Nikola announced the Zero's final specifications this week ahead of the opening of dealership orders in January 2018. Prior to that date, it will host a dealership ride and drive event in Southern Utah, giving dealers the opportunity to see what a 555-hp UTV can do in the dirt.

The 400-volt Zero will be available with two four-motor powertrain options, both quite extreme by UTV standards: the baseline 415 hp setup packs 368 lb-ft, and Nikola has become fond of advertising the 3,675 lb-ft torque figure that comes after the 10:1 gear reduction. If that's not enough, buyers can step up to the 555-hp/490 lb-ft option.

The big, 555-hp option is a leap up from the already large 520-hp figure Nikola had been using since first revealing its plans in 2016, and both are quite far beyond the current power levels of other performance UTVs. The UTV market still has plenty of models with double-digit power figures, and the Can-Am Maverick X3 Turbo R is claimed to be the most powerful factory-built side-by-side out there right now with its 172 hp. The Polaris RZR XP Turbo follows closely behind with 168 hp, and we had a pretty damn good time in a Yamaha YXZ1000R with a mere 90 hp on tap. Needless to say, 555 hp is a crazy leap up the power ladder.

"The advantage of the electric motor is that you only use what you need, when you need it," the company explains on its website. "You are not penalized by having electric motors with greater horsepower and torque. The motors only take the exact amount of energy they need to perform as directed and not a kilowatt more. So when you need that extra horsepower and torque to climb a hill or tow, you have it. When you don't need it, you don't use it."

The Zero's spec list has also filled out in the battery department, growing from the initial 50-kWh battery to multiple lithium-ion options topping out at 125 kWh, larger than any electric passenger car currently on the US market and right up there with the Lucid Air's planned 400-mile (644 km), 130-kWh pack. We guess battery reserves are potentially more important when you're sending 555 horses galloping into canyon-lined deserts and forested middle-of-nowheres than they are on highways, so perhaps the extra capacity is understandable. Nikola says you can expect up to 200 miles (322 km/h) of range when driving in 4x4 mode. The other battery options are a 75-kWh and 100-kWh.

One spec that hasn't changed for the better is the Zero's 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h) time, which Nikola is now listing at 3.9 seconds, close to a second behind the "around three seconds" it was touting last year. Despite all the Zero's electric torque, that's also only half a second better than the aforementioned Can-Am Maverick X3 Turbo R.

Beyond just sheer battery and motor power, the Zero will have a host of other advanced features. The standard equipment package is set to include front and rear suspension with 20 in (508 mm) of travel, 14 in (356 cm) of ground clearance, 32-in tires on beadlock wheels, electric power steering and LED headlights. Options will include 4x4 torque vectoring, anti-lock brakes, traction control, anti-roll protection, and front and rear 4,500-lb (2,040-kg) winches. A standard 10-in infotainment display will put monitoring and control at the driver's fingertips, and an available audio system will add a soundtrack. A 4-kW solar charging system will also be offered as an option.

The latest renderings show design evolution from the prototype Nikola showed last year. The more styled front-end includes redesigned headlights and a new grille. The rear styling has been tightened and includes more defined taillights, and the roll cage has a few extra angles and joints to it. All in all, it's a more polished, production-ready look.

The Zero will start at $35,000 when it comes to market, and Nikola is planning to begin deliveries in 2018. We're still maintaining our skepticism about this one until it's actually available (and maybe until we've actually ridden it), but so far Nikola appears to be moving forward steadily.

As you might recall, Nikola is also hard at work on a hydrogen fuel cell semi truck called the One. Not only does that truck promise to help scrub the stench of diesel from highways, it also promises to be pretty damn cozy for those driving it, as renderings of its sleeper cabin revealed this month show. With its sleek layout of dual bunks, Wi-Fi, central control tablet, ambient lighting, TV, microwave and more, the One looks as much a cozy RV as a big rig.

You can see more of both the Zero UTV and the One sleeper compartment in the photo gallery.

Source: Nikola

[GWS] RedSpartacus This vehicle builder must have played a lot with Lego.

Earlier this month, the Russian weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group made a low-key announcement with frightening implications. The company revealed it had developed a range of combat robots that are fully automated and used artificial intelligence to identify targets and make independent decisions. The revelation rekindled the simmering, and controversial, debate over autonomous weaponry and asked the question, at what point do we hand control of lethal weapons over to artificial intelligence?

                                             Some of the weaponry recently revealed by the Kalashnikov Group  The autonomous capacity of the weaponry is yet to be demonstrated  Some of the weaponry recently revealed by the Kalashnikov Group  

In 2015, over one thousand robotics and artificial intelligence researchers, including Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking, signed an open letter urging the United Nations to impose a ban on the development and deployment of weaponized AI. The wheels of bureaucracy move slowly though, and the UN didn't respond until December 2016. The UN has now formally convened a group of government experts as a step towards implementing a formal global ban, but realistically speaking this could still be several years away.

The fully-automated Kalashnikov

While the United Nations are currently forming a group to discuss the possibility of introducing a potential ban on AI-controlled weaponry, Russia is already about to demonstrate actual autonomous combat robots. A few days after Russian President Vladimir Putin visited the weapons manufacturer Kalashnikov Group, infamous for inventing the AK-47, known as the most effective killing machine in human history, came the following announcement:

"In the imminent future, the Group will unveil a range of products based on neural networks," said Sofiya Ivanova, the Group's Director for Communications. "A fully automated combat module featuring this technology is planned to be demonstrated at the Army-2017 forum," she added, in a short statement to the state-run news agency TASS.

The brevity of the comments make it unclear as to specifically what has been produced or how they would be deployed, but the language is clear. The company has developed a "fully automated" system that is based on "neural networks." This weaponized "combat module" can apparently identify targets and make decisions on its own. And we'll be seeing it soon.

The "Terminator conundrum"

The question of whether we should remove human oversight from any automated military operation has been hotly debated for some time. In the US there is no official consensus on the dilemma. Known informally inside the corridors of the Pentagon as "the Terminator conundrum," the question being asked is whether stifling the development of these types of weapons would actually allow other less ethically minded countries to leap ahead? Or is it a greater danger to ultimately allow machines the ability to make life or death decisions?

Currently the United States' official stance on autonomous weapons is that human approval must be in the loop on any engagement that involves lethal force. Autonomous systems can only be deployed for "non-lethal, non-kinetic force, such as some forms of electronic attack."

In a compelling essay co-authored by retired US Army Colonel Joseph Brecher, the argument against the banning of autonomous weaponry is starkly presented. A scenario is described whereby two combatants are facing off. One holds an arsenal of fully autonomous combat robots, while the other has similar weaponry with only semi-autonomous capabilities that keep a human in the loop.

In this scenario the combatant with the semi-autonomous capability is at two significant disadvantages. Speed of course is an obvious concern. An autonomous system will inherently be able to act faster and defeat a system that needs to pause for a human to approve its lethal actions.

The second disadvantage of a human-led system is its vulnerability to hacking. A semi-autonomous system, be it on the ground or in the air, requires a communications link that could ultimately be compromised. Turning a nation's combat robots on itself would be the ultimate act of future cyberwarfare, and the more independent a system is, the more closed off and secure it can be to these kinds of outside compromises.

The confronting conclusion to this line of thinking is that restraining the development of lethal, autonomous weapon systems would actually strengthen the military force of those less-scrupulous countries that pursue those technologies.

Could AI remove human error?

Putting aside the frightening mental image of autonomous robot soldiers for a moment, some researchers are arguing that a more thorough implementation of artificial intelligence into military processes could actually improve accuracy and reduce accidental civilian fatalities.

Human error or indiscriminate targeting often results in those awful news stories showing civilians bloodied by bombs that hit urban centers by mistake. What if artificially intelligent weapons systems could not only find their own way to a specific target, but accurately identify the person and hold off on weapons deployment before autonomously going in for the kill at a time it deems appropriate and safer for non-combatants?

In a report supported by the Future of Life Institute, ironically bankrolled by Elon Musk, research scientist Heather Roff examines the current state of autonomous weapon systems and considers where future developments could be headed. Roff writes that there are two current technologies sweeping through new weapons development.

"The two most recent emerging technologies are Target Image Discrimination and Loitering (i.e. self-engagement)," writes Roff. "The former has been aided by improvements in computer vision and image processing and is being incorporated on most new missile technologies. The latter is emerging in certain standoff platforms as well as some small UAVs. They represent a new frontier of autonomy, where the weapon does not have a specific target but a set of potential targets, and it waits in the engagement zone until an appropriate target is detected. This technology is on a low number of deployed systems, but is a heavy component of systems in development."

Of course, these systems would still currently require a "human in the loop" to trigger any lethal action, but at what point is the human actually holding back the efficiency of the system?

These are questions that no one currently has good answers for.

With the Russian-backed Kalashnikov Group announcing the development of a fully automated combat system, and the United Nations skirting around the issue of a global ban on autonomous weaponry, we are quickly going to need to figure those answers out.

The "Terminator conundrum" may have been an amusing thought experiment for the last few years, but the science fiction is quickly becoming science fact. Are we ready to give machines the authority to make life or death decisions?

NASA is getting into the textile business thanks to a team led by systems engineer Raul Polit Casillas at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The team has unveiled prototype swatches of a new metallic "space fabric" created using 3D printing that incorporates advanced functions that would be beneficial for use in space.

To the naked eye, the space fabric looks like a cross between chain mail and metallic tiles, like something you might see in one of the more "with it" haute couture dresses of the Swinging Sixties. But this odd design is more than a fashion statement, with one side of the fabric that can reflect light and heat, while the opposite side absorbs it. NASA says that by folding the material in different ways, it can conform to various shapes and produce the desired levels of reflectivity, passive heat management, and tensile strength.

The fabric was produced using additive manufacturing, where an object isn't milled or assembled, but built up layer by layer in one piece using streams of molten polymers or sintering metallic powders using precisely controlled lasers or electron beams. This allows for items to be made of very few parts needing final assembly, speeds up prototyping, greatly reduces costs, and allows for designs that would be impossible to produce using conventional methods.

In the case of the space fabric, Polit Casillas prefers to call this "4D printing" because it allows engineers to print both a desired geometry and function directly into a material. This control also allows a material to incorporate multiple functions as well as produced organic, non-linear shapes at relatively low cost.

The space agency sees the fabric as potentially having a variety of applications, including large antennas that can be folded and change shape quickly, and insulation for spacecraft visiting cold, icy moons and planets. It could also be used in flexible, insulated foot pads that would give landers and rovers a firm footing without melting the ice beneath them, micrometeorite shields for spacecraft, astronaut spacesuits, and for collecting samples on other planets.

The team hopes that such fabrics will not only be used in space, but manufactured there as well as a means of conserving and recycling scarce resources aboard spacecraft. In addition, it could also change the way spacecraft are engineered, allowing them to be created "whole cloth" instead of many discrete components that increase the potential points of failure.

"I can program new functions into the material I'm printing," says Polit Casillas. "That also reduces the amount of time spent on integration and testing. You can print, test and destroy material as many times as you want."

[GWS] RedSpartacus No need to go to space. Put that on your house roof. You have to turn it only twice a year, depending where you live, in...

The octopus is an odd creature. The mollusc's large brain makes it a good problem solver, it has the ability to change color in double quick fashion, can dart off suddenly in a cloud of blackish ink and the lack of a skeleton allows it to squeeze through the tightest of spaces. But it's the creature's prehensile arms that inspired German automation firm Festo to create a versatile gripper for the production line of tomorrow. We brought you a quick introduction yesterday, so now let's take a closer look at the OctopusGripper.

The Future Concepts robot has been designed to safely pick up, securely hold and gently put down objects in the workplace. Rather than being developed with a specific gripping function in mind, the OctopusGripper can multitask – meaning that should the production line change, the flexible device can be adapted instead of replaced, potentially saving costs.

Like the animal that inspired its creation, the OctopusGripper's 22 cm (8.6 in)-long tapered tentacle has two rows of suction cups. Its soft silicone structure has a chamber running along its length that causes the tentacle to bend inwards when compressed air is applied, wrapping itself around objects of varying shapes. Festo's engineers surrounded the chamber with a Lycra fiber cover to restrict its expansion and protect the silicone outer skin from bursting, while a wafer-thin polystyrene film has been installed in the middle of the tentacle to make sure that the structure only bends inwards.

Designed to grip securely but gently, so as not to crush or damage whatever it is holding, the small suction cups at the thin end of the tentacle attach to the surface of an object passively, but eight of the larger cups at the other end are connected to a vacuum line that can be actively engaged during the gripping process. Festo also says that the components installed within the tentacle are elastic and deformable, making for safe human/robot collaboration in the workplace.

The OctopusGripper is controlled and regulated by the world's first pneumatic automation platform – the Festo Motion Terminal – which allows for precise control over compressed air flow rate and activation. This app-based software system can control more than 50 individual components.

Festo's Bionic Learning Network has designed two pneumatic robot arms with which to test the gripper's collaborative working potential. Agonist and antagonist interplay are applied for the movement of the BionicCobot's seven joints, which is programmed using the Motion Terminal interface, though it has a manual control panel on its side, too.

The shoulder has three axes, there's one at the elbow, another in the lower arm and two more in the wrist. A rotary vane with two air chambers has been positioned at each axis, with compressed air allowing for mechanical spring-like adjustment.

Based on an elephant's trunk and the tentacles of an octopus, and a furthering of the work undertaken in 2010 on the Bionic Handling Assistant, the buzz words for the BionicMotionRobot are sensitive, gentle, powerful and dynamic. The arm is made up of three flexible segments that allow it to bend in three different directions at the same time.

Each segment is moved by pneumatic bellows according to instructions programmed into the Motion Terminal, with an optical sensor running through the center of the arm recording overall shape and position. Twelve elastomer bellows are covered with a 3D textile knitted fabric that's reported to allow the structures to expand in one direction while limiting movement in another.

The Future Concepts exhibits will be on show at Festo's booth at the Hannover Messe trade fair next month. The video below shows the OctopusGripper in action.

In 2015, Lockheed Martin took the wraps off a 30-kW mobile laser weapon that was powerful enough to take out a truck. Now the company will deliver a new 60-kW weapon to the US Army that earlier this month set a new record by generating a single 58-kW beam. With all phases from demonstration to development completed, Lockheed will ship the combined fiber laser to the US Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command in Huntsville, Alabama.

Similar to the previous laser, the new 60-kW design uses spectrum beam combining technology to produce a weapon-grade laser that is destructive as well as portable and accurate. The fiber laser modules are made of an active gain medium consisting of an optical fiber doped with a rare-earth element, including erbium, ytterbium, neodymium, or others.

The optical fibers are flexible, so the laser can be thousands of meters long for greater gain, while taking up very little space because it can be coiled like a rope. The large surface-to-volume ratio means that it's easy to cool. In addition, fiber lasers are very durable and project a high-quality beam using 50 percent less electricity than an equivalent solid-state laser.

Lockheed says that the individual lasers produced by the fibers are combined into a single beam that is intense and scalable through the addition of more fiber bundles. The present laser is close to the diffraction limit. That is, it's close to the physical limit for focusing a laser on a single spot without interfering with itself, but it's still highly efficient – translating over 43 percent of the electricity fed into it into laser light.

"The inherent scalability of this beam combined laser system has allowed us to build the first 60 kW-class fiber laser for the U.S. Army," says Robert Afzal, senior fellow for Laser and Sensor Systems. "We have shown that a powerful directed energy laser is now sufficiently light-weight, low volume and reliable enough to be deployed on tactical vehicles for defensive applications on land, at sea and in the air."

Lockheed sees the new lasers as eventually leading to new systems to provide protection against swarms of drones, rockets, and mortars that would overwhelm conventional defenses.

Lockheed Martin
[GWS] obamaphoneeric AdminGWS P.O. Some do.......http://newatlas.com/boeing-laser-directed-energy-weapon-fog/33672/
[GWS] RedSpartacus Does a laser work in rain or fog ?
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