September 15, 2014

The 35-year plan includes measures to protect native species, improve coastal habitats, and clean up the water.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Australia Announces Plan to Save the Great Barrier Reef

Critics say it falls far short of what's needed

The Australian government revealed a 35-year plan on Monday to guide the management and rehabilitation of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan was developed to help prevent the Great Barrier Reef from being reclassified by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a World Heritage site “in danger,” according to a report by the New York Times. UNESCO named the Great Barrier Reef a World Heritage site in 1981. 

Conservationists say the plan is insufficient. “The plan does not deliver bold, concrete actions that scientists have told us we need to turn around the future of the reef,” WWF-Australia reef campaigner Louise Matthiesson told the Times.

Reef 2050 includes a list of proposals that will protect native species such as dugongs and turtles, control invasive species such as the crown-of-thorns starfish, and deal with poor water quality. Water quality in the reef suffered after the Australian government signed off on dredged mud dumps that left nearly 8 million gallons of sediment in the water as part of a coal port development. In attempts to reverse that damage, the government founded the Reef Trust and donated $40 million in partnership with Reef 2050. The funds will cover coastal habitat improvement and water cleanup.

Still, critics say the plan, which is not yet finalized and open to public comment, needs to go much further. “If the reef were a sinking ship, it feels like they are trying to bail it out with a thimble,” Australian Marine Conservation Society campaign manager Felicity Wishart said in a report from the Brisbane Times.


The 4MM jetpack, designed to push you forward and make running easier, was designed for soldiers who need to get out of situations quickly.     Photo: ASU/Vimeo

This Jetpack Will Make You Run a 4-Minute Mile

Speeds you up while making running easier

Researchers at Arizona State University have developed a jetpack that they hope will help people reach the four-minute mile mark.

Developed with the help of the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) and dubbed the 4MM (for four-minute mile), the jetpack was designed for soldiers in the field who need to get in and out of situations quickly. Thomas Sugar, professor at the university’s Human Machine Integration Laboratory, and his team were originally developing robotic systems that could assist amputees when DARPA asked if they could put something together that would allow able-bodied people to run faster. Jason Kerestes, an engineering graduate student at ASU, was brought onto the project because he also owned a welding business. His work gave birth to the 4MM.

“Our overall goal is to get any soldier or any test subject at the time to be able to run a four-minute mile,” Kerestes said in a promotional video about the project. “These devices can really help soldiers to not only accomplish their goals and succeed in their missions, but potentially save human lives as well.” 

The team tested the 4MM on Alexander Chapin, a multimedia specialist and athlete. Chapin can normally run a 200-meter time trial unassisted in 28 seconds. With the 4MM, he ran it in 25 seconds despite the added 11.2 pounds strapped to his back. “Over trials over a 200-meter distance, we definitely saw a decrease in time and a decrease in metabolic cost, the amount of energy required for a person to run at high speeds,” Kerestes said.

When the team had Chapin run the mile with the jetpack, he shaved 18 seconds off his usual time, from 5 minutes, 20 seconds to 5 minutes, 2 seconds. 

With the prototype finished, Kerestes is now working on refining it for better performance.


Nicolas Prost, the driver responsible for the crash during Formula E's inaugural race, drives in the circuit's first public test run.     Photo: Michael Roberts/Flickr

Electric Car Racing Launches in Beijing

Formula E series kicks off with a crash

The first-ever electric motor racing circuit kicked off with a low-decibel hum at China’s Beijing ePrix on Saturday.

The New York Times reports that the inaugural race in the coed 10-stop FIA Formula E Series, so named for its battery-powered vehicles, involved 20 cars making 25 two-mile laps through Beijing’s Olympic Park. Audi Sport ABT team driver Lucas di Grassi won the race after an injury-free crash took out his main competitor.

Battery-powered engines change the way drivers compete and the way audiences experience races.

Where tire changes monopolize pit stops in Formula One racing, with the average car burning through 52 tires each weekend, special Michelin tires on the electric Spark-Ranualt SRT_01E cars used by all Formula E drivers last for the entire race. The new mechanical issue is the 800-pound battery, which has only enough power for 20- to 30-minute hard sprints. Instead of changing tires, Formula E racers entirely change cars midrace and heavily monitor energy use throughout the competition.

Maxing out at 150 miles per hour, the McLaren-designed engines’ top speeds don’t compare to the 200-plus reached by Formula One engines, which also accelerate twice as fast. However, battery-powered engines produce zero emissions and almost as little noise—the electric engines emit 80-decibel buzzing, about as much as a dishwasher

Formula E events seek to engage spectators during races with a gimmick called FanBoost, which allows them to vote for their favorite drivers. The three top vote-getters receive an extra burst of energy to use at some point during a race.

Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, the governing body behind Formula One, has invested $100 million in Formula E to build interest in both racing and consumer-grade electric car development. As the Verge mentions, all Formula E teams use cars built to the exact same factory specifications to make sure innovation starts with electrical engine and battery adjustments.

Race host countries like China are excited about the opportunity to promote electric cars for environmental reasons. The Times mentions that Chinese officials hope the “cool factor” of sleek e-vehicles will help them get 5 million consumer-grade electric cars on the ground by 2020.