In Case You Missed It… Assorted Oddities from Around the Web

In Case You Missed It… Assorted Oddities from Around the Web

California to Issue Drivers Licenses to Robot Cars

Google's latest self-driving car
Google’s latest self-driving car

The state of California will accept drivers license applications for self-driving cars starting in July. The move results from a state directive to the California Department of Motor Vehicles to produce laws governing autonomous cars by year’s end. The licenses take effect in September.

In addition to several major automotive manufacturers, self-driving cars are being developed by Lockheed Martin, the University of Parma, and Google. Google announced this week the latest iteration of their autonomous car will dispense with the vehicle’s steering wheel, brake and gas pedals, and other standard human controls. Former models included these as a means for a human driver to take control of the car in an emergency. The new Google car will have a start button and an “e-stop” (emergency stop) button.

To apply for a California license, cars will need to show up at the DMV with a licensed and insured human driver trained in their operation, proof of $5 million in insurance, and $150 for the license fee. No word on whether applicant cars get a provisional license until they’re allowed to drive on their own.

Fruit Flies Take Time to Think it Over

Fruit fly

A May 22 University of Oxford report shows that rather than always acting on instinct, fruit flies take time to gather information which they then use to make a decision.

The study was conducted by introducing two different concentrations of an odor into opposite ends of a chamber containing Drosophila fruit flies. The flies had been trained to avoid one concentration. When the concentrations were very different and easy to discern, the flies made quick decisions and moved to the end of the chamber opposite to the odor they’d been trained to avoid. When the concentrations were close and difficult to tell apart, the flies hesitated and made more mistakes.

The study’s lead author, Dr. Shamik DasGupta, explains: “Before a decision is made, brain circuits collect information like a bucket collects water. Once the accumulated information has risen to a certain level, the decision is triggered.” A focus of the study was FoxP, a gene common to both humans and fruit flies, and one the study indicates is essential to decision-making. “When FoxP is defective, says Dr. DasGupta, either the flow of information into the bucket is reduced to a trickle, or the bucket has sprung a leak.”

“Freedom of action from automatic impulses is considered a hallmark of cognition or intelligence,” says Professor Gero Miesenböck, in whose laboratory the experiments that led to the report were performed. Miesenböck concludes that “fruit flies have a surprising mental capacity that has previously been unrecognized.”

Flight of the Rhinoceros

Rhino fly

When photographer Emma Gatland joined a South African wildlife preservation team recently, she was introduced to a new procedure being used to relocate difficult-to-move rhinoceroses – they’re suspended upside-down by their ankles and airlifted by helicopter.

Megan Lategan of Wildlife Act writes on the volunteer group’s website, “As strange as it may seem, airlifts are the best way to move these massive creatures. It allows them to be captured from any location, the rhino spends less time under anesthetic, and ultimately endures less stress from the procedure.”

Wildlife Act says the technique was first used on smaller animals like antelope and buffalo, but has since been trialled extensively with rhinos. Blood pressure, oxygen levels, heart rate, and joint strain are monitored. All four legs are used to distribute the animals’ weight, and in the case of the larger white rhino, the head is used as well. To-date, no injuries have been reported.

Sometimes it Takes 45 Days to Write a Tweet

Social media logos

Digital design and advertising firm, Huge, revealed in a Business Insider online article earlier this month that “it can take a team of at least four social-media and advertising specialists up to 45 days to plan, create, approve, and publish a corporate social-media post.” Huge manages social-media accounts for eight brands, including TD Ameritrade and Audi.

“Social media is definitely perceived like you’re just d***ing around on the internet,” says Huge community lead Andrew Cunningham.  But as the B.I. article details, some posts are developed over the course of nearly two months. General themes are discussed with Huge project managers and client ad agency reps, calendars of proposed post ideas are drawn up, copywriters and graphic designers are recruited to brainstorm ideas, topics and images are decided on, tweets or posts are developed and pitched at Huge internal meetings, and senior copywriters and strategists sign off on what’s produced. Only then are the final tweets and posts sent to clients for approval. About one third of Huge corporate Tweets are developed using this process.

Despite what seems like an intricate effort to produce a photo and 140 characters (the limit on a tweet), Cunningham sees value in what he calls a “connected lifestyle”. Surfing the internet at work can get most people in trouble with their boss. But Huge social-media team member Jessica Lindsay says that’s one thing she likes about her job. “I think that if people give you a hard time for it, it’s really because they’re more jealous that they don’t have a fun job.”

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