By Jake Southall
Last week, 16 high school teams from around the world gathered in Calvert, Queensland to put their unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) skills to the test and save Outback Joe at the ninth annual UAV Challenge.
Yet again, our hapless mannequin Outback Joe found himself lost and in desperate need of assistance from the world’s top UAV teams. This year he really got himself into a jam.
Joe got himself lost, cut off by floodwaters and, to make matters worse, he made an “emergency call” to advise that he was suffering an allergic reaction and needed urgent medical assistance. Yet another unfortunate predicament for our inanimate friend.
To save Outback Joe each team was tasked with designing and developing their own UAV (a.k.a flying robot or drone) plus the software and hardware necessary to complete the mission.
The teams then needed to manoeuvre their UAV past two overhead hurdles and deliver an EpiPen payload (to assist with Joe’s allergic reaction, of course) safely, and as close to the stricken mannequin as possible. This could either be deployed remotely by the team’s mission manager (the team member responsible for delivering the EpiPen) or autonomously by systems on board the aircraft such as a camera, a GPS system, or even through the use of ultrasonic sensors. The EpiPen then needed to land safely and intact with a shock measurement under 75G.
On top of all this, there’s a twist! While the pilot flying the aircraft has a visual on Outback Joe, the mission manager was placed in a completely closed off room with no visual of Outback Joe, their teammates, or the aircraft during the flight.
This additional obstacle not only called for the use of quality technology but top-notch teamwork as well.
It was a battle hard fought by all of the spirited teams, but in the end it was the local heroes of team Double Duo from the MUROC Flying Club at Mueller College, Queensland who prevailed through the storm and interference to take home the $5,000 grand prize and rescue Outback Joe in the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge.
The Double Duo team were one of the only teams to successfully drop and land three packages with a shock reading under 75G. Meeting the shock measurement of 75G and keeping the EpiPen intact proved to be one of the greatest challenges for all the teams.
The contest was extremely tight with only one point dividing the winners Double Duo and runner-up team Par Hexellence, who received a majority of their flying points by impressively, autonomously dropping their EpiPen payload.
Winners of the 2015 Airborne Delivery Challenge, Double Duo receiving their trophy and certificate. The prize was awarded by Kathryn Williams (right) of Platinum Sponsor Northrop Grumman. Image: Stefan Hrabar
In a post-event interview on 612 ABC Brisbane radio, Double Duo team captain Michael Phillips discussed attitudes towards drones, how this event showcases the positive aspects and advantages of UAV technology, and how it can be applied to a range of scenarios to help us in the future. We’re sure if Joe could talk and articulate his limbs and digits he would agree and give a big thumbs up.
A big congratulations to all the teams for the great spirit in which they competed and the event sponsors for their continued support.
Like going to the dentist, mineral exploration and discovery can involve a lot of drilling and a fair amount of (financial) pain. And much like your friendly neighbourhood dentist, the longer it takes to understand what’s happening, the more it costs.
When it comes to getting information about the minerals and chemistry of a single drill hole, the process can take up to three months. This is because a typical setup involves: setting up the drill site, drilling, extracting rock cores, sampling and logging those cores and sending the samples to a laboratory (which is often a considerable distance from the exploration site) for analysis. Then there is the process of entering and analysing the data, popping the findings into a database and getting it back to the company, so they can make a decision – it’s more complex than a root canal and much more expensive.
To speed up the process of understanding the mineralogy and geochemistry of drill hole cuttings we developed a portable lab, one that can be fitted to the exploration drill rig and analyse in real-time.
Instead of taking three months this process now takes about one hour – that’s more than 2000 times quicker than the current arrangement.
We’ve called this technology Lab-at-Rig®. Developed in partnership with Imdex and Olympus Scientific Solutions Americas, this onsite lab can be fitted to a diamond drill rig and a solid recovery unit to drastically speed-up the process of analysing an exploration site.
The lab includes a sample preparation unit that collects solids from drill cuttings and dries them; X-ray fluorescence and X-ray diffraction sensors to provide chemistry and mineralogy of the sample respectively; and the capability to upload that data to the cloud for analysis, in less time than it takes to watch a movie.
The project came about back in 2011, when a group of researchers were watching a diamond drilling operation near Adelaide and asked a simple question: ‘what if we could analyse the cuttings separated from that fluid in real time?’ We now know the answer: we can save a lot of time and money.
And now, after two years of research and development we’ve just announced that we will be commercialising Lab-at-Rig® and bringing this technology to the world, with the help of our commercialisation partner REFLEX.
With the prototype becoming a reality, perhaps we should turn our attention to making dentist visits quicker.
The Lab-at-Rig prototype was developed under the Deep Exploration Technologies Cooperative Research Centre (DET CRC).
CSIRO, Imdex, Olympus, University of Adelaide and Curtin University are now working on the $11m collaborative DET CRC Lab-at-Rig Futures Project, which will build the next generation system to cover: new sensor technologies, improved data analysis and processing for decision making, and development of the system for new applications and drilling platforms.
Hate the taste of Brussels sprouts? Do you find coriander disgusting or perceive honey as too sweet? Your genes may be to blame.
Everybody’s food preferences vary and are shaped by their unique combination of three interacting factors: the environment (your health, diet and cultural influences); prior experience; and genes, which alter your sensory perception of foods.
The food we eat is sensed by specialised receptors located in the tongue and nose. The receptors work like a lock and are highly specific in the nutrients or aromas (the keys) they detect. Sweet receptors, for instance, detect only sweet molecules and will not detect bitterness.
When you eat, your brain combines the signals from these specialised taste (in the mouth) and olfactory (aroma in the nose) receptors to form a flavour. Flavour is further influenced by other perceived qualities, such as the burn of chilli, the cooling of mint, or the thickness of yogurt.
Our unique sensory worlds
Humans have about 35 receptors to detect sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami and fat tastes. They have around 400 receptors to detect aroma. The receptor proteins are produced from instructions encoded in our DNA and there is significant variation in the DNA code between individuals.
In 2004, American researchers identified that olfactory receptors were located in mutational hotspots. These regions have higher than normal genetic variation. Any of these genetic variants may change the shape of the receptor (the lock) and result in a difference in perception of taste or aroma between people.
Another American study shows that any two individuals will have genetic differences that translate to differences in 30% to 40% of their aroma receptors. This suggests we all vary in our flavour perception for foods and that we all live in our own unique sensory world.
How much sugar do you add to your tea?
Our ability to perceive sweetness varies a lot and is partly controlled by our genes. A recent twin study found genetics accounts for about a third of the variation in sweet taste perception of sugar and low-calorie sweeteners. Researchers have identified specific gene variants in the receptors that detect sweetness: TAS1R2 and TAS1R3.
There is also high variation in the detection of bitterness. However, the story is more complicated than sweet taste, as we have 25 receptors that detect different bitter molecules. Bitter receptors evolved to detect and stop us from eating harmful toxins. That’s why bitterness is not widely liked.
One of these bitter taste receptors (TAS2R38) controls the ability to detect a bitter compound called PROP (propylthiouracil). Based on the ability to detect PROP, people can be split into two groups: “tasters” or “non-tasters”. Tasters often dislike bitter green vegetables, such as broccoli and Brussels sprouts.
PROP status has also been used as a marker of food preferences, with non-tasters shown to eat more fat and better tolerate chilli.
Genetics has also been linked to whole foods, such as coriander preference, coffee liking and many others. But genes have only a small influence on preference for these foods due to their sensory complexity and also the contribution of your environment and prior experiences.
Understanding the influence of genes on taste perception offers a way to personalise products tailored specifically to your needs. This could mean tailoring a diet to a person’s genetics to help them lose weight. Indeed, genetic testing companies already offer dietary advice based on your individual genes.
Personalised food products to suit your own genetic dietary preferences are another example. Food products based on personal tastes are already in supermarkets. Salsa can be bought in mild, medium and hot. What if you could purchase food products specifically formulated for your own genetically determined sensory preferences?
Personalisation can also apply at the population level. Food manufacturers could tailor their food products to different populations based on an understanding of how common a genetic variant is in each population.
We are just beginning to understand how genes alter our sense of taste and smell, and how this may affect food preferences. Further research is needed to understand how multiple genes may combine to influence sensory perception and dietary intake. This is no easy feat, as it will require studies with extremely large numbers of people.
Another important research area will be to understand if our taste genes can be modified. Imagine if you could alter your food preferences to consume healthier foods.
Income inequality is undoubtedly one of the most controversial economic issues of modern societies, with many countries facing incredible differences between those who make more and those who make less. But what is happening across Australian regions?
Although researchers such as Peter Whiteford and Nicholas Biddle have investigated the issue in Australia, there are no official records on income inequality measured consistently across regions of the country – even at national level income inequality measures are rarely available in international comparisons (see for instance, World Bank and OECD data.
This lack of evidence is a clear reflection that income inequality is less conflicted in Australia compared to other countries, as Australia is characterised as having very low rates of poverty and economic segregation, compared to other societies, and a culture of “a fair go”.
However, regardless of the apparent “economic equality” in our society, income inequality is still an important issue to track and analyse. In order to fill the gap on income inequality measures across the country, we have developed a method to approximate Gini coefficients for different Australian regions, including states and local councils.
What we found
At state level, based on our estimates in 2011, the most unequal jurisdiction was NSW (0.42), followed by the Northern Territory (0.40), while the least unequal was Tasmania (0.38), meaning that the gap between the rich and the poor was bigger in NSW than in Tasmania.
However, income distribution varies over time, with the ACT showing the biggest change in income inequality, where the Gini coefficient increased from 0.35 in 2001 to 0.39 in 2011.
At sub-state level, within metropolitan areas, we found that the local councils of Burwood, Strathfield, Kogarah and Sydney (all from the Sydney Metropolitan area) had the highest income inequality in the country in 2011, while the local councils of Melton (in Melbourne), Light (in Brisbane), Mallala (in Perth) and Palmerstone (in Darwin) had the lowest income inequality.
In terms of trends in cities, interestingly Perth captured both extremes: while the suburbs of Cottesloe and Subiaco is where income inequality has increased the most, the local council of Perth had the lowest increase in inequality across Australian cities.
Using the Gini co-efficient
The Gini is one of the most used indicators for income inequality across the world for its simplicity: a Gini of 0 means that the total income of the region is distributed evenly across all persons of the region, while a Gini of 1 means all income captured by just one person. According to the OECD, in 2012 Australia had a Gini of 0.326, while the US had a Gini of 0.390.
Thus, in order to provide more insights about the effects of the mining boom of the recent decade across Australian regions, we have constructed Gini coefficients for family income reported in the national censuses of 2001 and 2011, across all regions of the country (see our published paper here.
Although our measures are not perfect and are subject to some assumptions, including the assumption that 30% of families in the richest income bracket capture 70% of the income in that segment (see the assumptions used and estimation steps here), they do provide a good sign of how income inequality varies across the country and how it has been changing over time.
All Gini coefficients across regions are available here.
These income inequality data raise several questions. Are the reasons for income inequality different around the country? Does income inequality affect other factors such as health, as evidenced in the US?
What levels of income inequality are acceptable across Australian regions? And what actions are required to address this? These are the questions policy makers should now tackle.
By Minky Faber
Have you ever been to a gallery or museum exhibition where only the front of a sculpture or ornament is visible in the display cabinet? Perhaps there is a dawdling family of six, gawking at the intricacies of the 2nd Century Roman bust. Maybe it’s a gaggle of slow moving art students analysing every crevice of a Greek vase.
Regardless, it can be a frustrating experience for the curious inquisitor. Firstly, getting a close-up vantage point amongst the crowd for an uninterrupted view, then that awkward moment when you peer in on such an angle that your head hits the glass.
What if you could explore the item with your fingertips from every angle in life-size scale? Wouldn’t it be something to view the inside of a crown of jewels or an extinct specimen from every point of view?
We’ve joined forces with the National Gallery of Australia (NGA) to create a new way for visitors to interact with the artefacts currently on show in the Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibition; showcasing the intricate sculptural art of the Sepik River region.
The art of the region uses many different materials including: timber, pig tusks, feathers, shells, bone, hair, teeth, fur, and clay. It is often because of the age, fragility, and pricelessness of these materials that we are required to stand behind red rope and glass to appreciate and explore the relics.
To overcome this issue our Data61 research team, in collaboration with the National Biological Research Collections and the Atlas of Living Australia, developed a new 3D content deployment platform using open web standards to transform the physical exhibits into fully interactive digital sculptures.
Visitors can interact with the touch screen and view the artwork close-up, from the bottom or the back, and learn more about the intricate details and the culturally significant features: like symbols and materials.
Of course the digital version won’t replace seeing the real thing, but the additional information will complement and enhance the experience.
This technology isn’t entirely new. We have used 3D scanning capabilities to great affect with InsectScan, a way for researchers to easily capture digital 3D models of tiny insect specimens in full colour and high-definition. Building on this existing technology for the NGA’s Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibit is one way we are improving and tailoring our work for other organisations and institutions.
The NGA is just the most recent example of our work with the Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums (GLAM) sector, and we have been working with a number of organisations to embrace digital innovation.
Science is often the inspiration for art, from van Gogh’s Starry Night to the physiological sketches of da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, so we’re excited to continue that tradition and build on this symbiosis of disciplines and extend the understanding of art in microscopic detail through advances in digitisation technology.
So, if you’re in Canberra before 1 November, make sure you head down to the NGA to check out the Myth + Magic: Art of the Sepik River, Papua New Guinea exhibition and let us know what you think of the real and digital artworks in the comments below.
Neutron stars – the dead stellar remnants of old, burned-out stars – are some of the most extreme objects in the universe. They weigh as much as the entire Sun, but are small enough to fit into Sydney’s CBD, and they rotate up to 700 times every second. Imagine that: a whole star rotating faster than the fastest kitchen blender.
Astronomers know of a few thousand neutron stars, but one in particular is a stand-out. As part of the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array, we have been observing pulsar J1909-3744 with the CSIRO’s Parkes Radio Telescope for 11 years.
During this time, we have accounted for every single one of the neutron star’s 116 billion rotations (115,836,854,515, to be precise). We know the rotational period of this star to 15 decimal places, making it truly one of the most accurate clocks in the universe.
But, as we show in a paper published today in the journal Science, it was not supposed to be this way. Gravitational waves from all of the black holes in the universe were supposed to ruin the timing precision of this pulsar. But they have not.
Gravitational waves stretch and squeeze space, causing the distance between us and the neutron star to change. The gravitational waves we were looking for should have altered that distance by about ten metres, a tiny fraction given that this neutron star is about 3.6 x 1019 metres from Earth (that’s 3.6 with 19 zeros following)! But this should have been enough to show up in our measurements.
Yet the fact that our measurements are so accurate tells us that something is wrong with the theory. This doesn’t mean that gravitational waves don’t exist. There are other facets of our understanding of the universe that might be off track.
Whatever the resolution to this quandary, it is sure to change the way we understand the most massive black holes in the universe.
The centre of our galaxy harbours a black hole that weighs more than four million times the mass of our sun. But this is a lightweight; other galaxies contain black holes weighing more than 17 billion times the mass of our Sun.
And we have good reason to believe that most, if not all, galaxies contain supermassive black holes in their cores. We also know that galaxies throughout the universe grow by merging with one another.
Following the merger of any two galaxies, the two black holes from the parent galaxies sink to the centre of the daughter galaxy, forming a supermassive black hole binary pair. At some point, the subsequent evolution of the binary pair becomes dominated by the emission of gravitational waves.
Ripples in spacetime
When any two black holes are spiralling around one another, they ought to emit gravitational waves. These carry energy away from the system, causing the two black holes to move closer together.
The sum of all the binary supermassive black holes in the universe should produce a background of gravitational waves (similar to the cosmic microwave background). It is this background that was expected to ruin our precision timing of PSR J1909-3744.
Astrophysicists have made a number of predictions about the strength of the background. These predictions incorporate state-of-the-art measurements of galaxy formation and evolution, and the most sophisticated theoretical models of how the universe evolves following the Big Bang.
Why no gravitational waves?
But we want to be very clear that our lack of a detection does not imply that Einstein’s theory of relativity is wrong, nor does it imply that gravitational waves don’t exist. While we don’t know the real solution, we have a number of ideas.
Perhaps not every galaxy in the universe contains a supermassive black hole. Reducing the fraction of galaxies that host supermassive black holes in the models reduces the predicted amplitude of the gravitational wave background, potentially making it undetectable by our observations.
Perhaps we do not understand the relationship between the mass of the host galaxy and the mass of the black hole. We use empirical relationships between galaxy and black hole masses to determine the latter. While we believe these are robust in the local universe, the black hole mergers we are most sensitive to occur billions of light years from us, where our understanding of these empirical relations is far from complete.
Perhaps one of our assumptions about the process that drives the mergers is too simplistic. For example, if the centres of galaxies contain significant amounts of gas, it can act like an extra friction force, causing black holes to merge with one another quicker than expected. This would also cause a smaller-than-expected amplitude of the gravitational wave background.
At the moment, each of these scenarios is equally plausible. Continued observations of pulsars, as well as observations of the distant universe with large optical telescopes, may soon allow us to distinguish between these ideas. And, one day, we may finally find the direct evidence for the existence of gravitational waves that we’re looking for.
By Fiona McFarlane
Who would have guessed that our own backyards might be a battlefield for bees?
And that these deadly skirmishes involve aerial battles lasting days, with hundreds of fatalities from both attacking and defending sides, ousting the helpless from the hive and culminating in the eventual overthrow of the resident queen and installing their own in her place.
A cluster of dead native bees on the ground in a Brisbane backyard was enough to convince a group of scientists to dig deeper into this unusual behaviour of the Australian native bee species, Tetragonula carbonaria.
Their further investigations led to a surprising discovery, that the study colony was not only being attacked by its own species but also by a closely related species, T. hockingsi.
A fight to the death
Prior to this study, only the one species of bee, T. carbonaria was known to engage in battles between neighbouring colonies involving mass fatalities but this study provides the first evidence of fatal fighting between different species.
Fighting to the death or ‘fatal fighting’ is relatively rare in nature. Evolutionary biologists propose that this is because species have evolved different ways to assess strength and fighting ability that doesn’t involve the loss of the individual.
In species where fighting does escalate to death, scientific theory predicts the risk of death is outweighed by the benefits being obtained, such as fighting for scarce food resources, mates or nest sites.
Fatal fighting has been well studied in ants with beneficial outcomes including slave-making, raiding of nest supplies and gaining access to new food sites.
In the case of the T. carbonaria, the researchers hypothesised that the fighting swarms were most likely attempts at taking over neighbouring hives.
To test their hypothesis, they made regular observations on the ‘study’ hive in the backyard and collected the dead bees after fights for analysis. Using modern molecular techniques they were able to track which group of bees were attacking and which were defending. It was this analysis that lead to the surprising discovery that the attacking bees were in fact a separate species.
Following a succession of attacks by the same T. hockingsi colony over a four-month period, the defending T. carbonaria colony was defeated and the hive usurped, with the winning colony installing a new queen.
To ensure that what had occurred at the study hive was not a one-off event, our researchers monitored the colonies of over 260 commercial T. carbonaria hives over a five-year period, recording any changes in species through changes in hive architecture (see note).
They found evidence of 46 interspecies hive changes (via the change in hive architecture) during the five year period, which were most likely to be usurpation events.
There is still much to be learnt about these small creatures, such as what instigates the attacks how and when the invading queen enters the nest, and whether the young in the usurped hive are spared and reared as slaves, or killed outright.
In the case of our native bees, it is thought that the capture of a fully provisioned nest (including ‘propolis’, pollen and honey stores) is a sufficiently large benefit that it outweighs the loss of so many lives.
Let’s ‘bee’ clear, we still need further research
The researchers are quick to point out that this is an excellent example of how little we actually know about small stingless bees, which can be an excellent and resilient alternative pollinators to declining honey bee populations.
NOTE: T. carbonaria has a brood chamber, in which cells are even and connected by their walls to adjacent cells at the same height, whereas T. hockingsi brood chamber takes on a less organised appearance, being an irregular lattice comprised of clumps of around ten cells connected by vertical pillars.