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Situational Awareness: There’s an App for That

One of the cool things I get to do now is work with the talented researchers, scientists and engineers of the Air Force Research Lab. As a result, I was recently introduced to this very cool Android app that facilitates real time graphical communication among disparate first response agencies.

The Android Team Awareness Kit (ATAK) was first developed by AFRL for the US Special Forces, who tested the app’s capabilities in combat over several years. Now, through the Department of Homeland Security, law enforcement and first response agencies at the local, state and federal levels can seamlessly coordinate their actions in responding to emergent crisis. The tech proved to be invaluable in the response to Hurricane Harvey that decimated Houston in 2017.


2Uber Avoids Criminal Charges for Pedestrian Death

Elaine Herzberg died in March, 2018, after being struck by an Uber-owned Volvo SUV operating autonomously. Herzberg was struck while walking her bicycle across a multi-lane road at 10:00 at night. The vehicle was traveling 40 mph in a 45 mph zone, and had a safety driver on board (although she was watching TV on her phone in the minutes leading up to the crash).

Despite calls by the victim’s family and a massive investigation involving the Tempe Police, the Maricopa County Sheriff, and the federal NTSB, prosecutors in Arizona will close the case without filing criminal charges against Uber corporately. (Yes, companies can be charged with crimes, even when no individuals are. Here’s what that means.)

At this point in the decade-long development of autonomous vehicles, you can still count the number of fatalities total on a single hand. Yet, each time an autonomous vehicle crashes, talk turns to demanding it be proven to be “safe” (often meaning something statistically close to 100%).

Meanwhile, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association, nearly 6,000 pedestrians alone were killed in 2017 by cars driven by people. Remember all the news stories about them?


3Today’s Logos in Yesterday’s Style

Actually, the style is that of The Bauhaus, an early 20th century German art school whose design ethos made it “the most influential art and design school in history.”┬áTo celebrate the 100-year founding of the school, a design firm used its style to redesign some of our modern culture’s iconic brands.

In other logo art related news, the collaboration app Slack has redesigned it’s brand in advance of its likely IPO. Here’s Slack’s blog post explaining the change. Count me as not impressed: the old logo/icon (on the left) was better, IMO.


4Reexamining Fermi’s Paradox

… thanks to a new paper with some new math (which incorporates the implications of the fact that stars and solar systems move around the galaxy just like planets orbiting their stars). In short: the fact we haven’t made contact with alien civilizations may not logically prove what we thought it did before.

(If you’re not familiar with the Fermi Paradox — which asks why there is no sign of life in the universe outside of Earth despite the extremely large number of planets capable of hosting life that statistically are out there — then here’s a scientific explanation about it from space.com … and here’s a more entertaining exploration of it by Tim Urban at waitbutwhy.com.)


5SimCity Turns 30

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed trying to build cities that worked during the heyday of SimCity’s moment in the 1990’s (a town named Montis Polis was my lasting work), I found this story utterly delightful and fun. Read it to see how the game that surprisingly created the simulation genre has influenced a generation of real life city planners and civic administrators. For even more nostalgia, here’s an article from deeeeep in the the LA Times’ archives (it ran a week before I turned old enough to vote!).