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Satellites Track, Illustrate Incoming Hurricane Florence

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Hurricane Florence, the Category 2 storm heading straight for my parents’ South Carolina house, has the country on high alert.

But between evacuations and storm shutter installations, NASA and NOAA are keeping people informed and entertained.

The agencies’ fleet of satellites track various elements, including location, wind speed, rainfall, and temperature.

As Florence nears the east coast, meteorologists are focused on two key factors: ocean temperatures and wind sheer (the difference in speeds at the upper and lower parts of the storm).

Forecasters have warned of life-threatening storm surges, catastrophic flooding, damaging winds, and dangerous rip currents along the coastlines of North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

Trouble began brewing last week, when three hurricanes—Florence, Isaac, and Helene—starting churning up the North Atlantic. Florence, the most ominous for US residents, is expected to make landfall today.

Terrifying as the situation is (I am regularly checking on my folks, who abandoned Charleston for the highlands of North Carolina), there is a silver lining.

Staring down a hurricane (via Alexander Gerst)

Early on Wednesday, astronaut Alexander Gerst captured this absolutely stunning image of Florence’s eye from the International Space Station, some 250 miles above Earth.

“Ever stared down the gaping eye of a Category 4 hurricane? It’s chilling, even from space,” he tweeted.

(That’s just one of the dazzling pictures the cosmonaut took; check out Gerst’s flickr album for more.)

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NASA also shared this video—a “stark and sobering” view of Hurricane Florence—shot using a high-definition camera outside the ISS captured.

Hurricane Florence nears the east coast (via NOAA)

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Terra satellite, meanwhile, snapped a truly awesome photo of the whirlwind, creeping closer to the American south.

NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the DSCOVR satellite acquired this view of Florence and two other storms on Sept. 11 (via NASA)

Florence is joined by Tropical Storm Isaac and Hurricane Helene in this snapshot taken Tuesday some 1 million miles away via NASA’s Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) on the DSCOVR satellite.

Last year’s Hurricane Irma wrought havoc on the Caribbean Islands and Florida, where Tesla Motors extended the range of its vehicles to aid fleeing drivers. The event also pushed digital walkie-talkie app Zello to No. 1. Read more about our changing climate here.

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FaceApp Responds to (Mostly Unfounded) Privacy Concerns

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Appearance-altering platform FaceApp has, once again, come under fire—this time from privacy advocates.

The AI-powered selfie editor from Russian company Wireless Lab uses neural network technology to generate highly realistic transformation of faces in photographs.

Launched in early 2017, FaceApp almost immediately faced criticism over its “ethnicity filters” and, later, the “hot” transformation feature that reportedly lightened skin color.

Both options have since been removed.

Curious about what you’d look like with a different hair or eye color? Want to virtually test out bangs before making the cut? Wonder what you’d look like as a Hollywood star or someone of the opposite gender?

The face-morphing app does it all.

It even bends time to reveal what you might look like in the future.

“Through we might not be able to influence your wisdom, we can certainly add some wrinkles to your face,” the FaceApp website said.

The new “time travel” filter has garnered attention around the world: Check out what the Jonas Brothers, Terry Crews, Sam Smith, Drake, and Zachary Levi look like as old fogies.

With great virality comes great responsibility, though. And some believe FaceApp isn’t taking that responsibility seriously.

Concerns have been raised about whether the application uploads users’ camera roll in the background (of which there is seemingly no evidence), and how it allows you to pick photos without allowing access.

“We are receiving a lot of inquiries regarding our privacy policy and therefore, would like to provide a few points that explain the basics,” the Russian startup told TechCrunch.

For starters, FaceApp performs “most” of its photo processing in the cloud (Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud, specifically), uploading only those pictures selected by a user.

“We never transfer any other images from the phone to the cloud,” the statement said. “Most images are deleted from our servers within 48 hours from the upload date.”

FaceApp also claims that no user data is “transferred to Russia,” where its core R&D team is located.

“We don’t have access to any data that could identify a person [and] we don’t sell or share any user data with any third parties,” it added.

But that’s not enough for some U.S. policymakers.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has asked the FBI and FTC to look into FaceApp’s data handling practices.

“I have serious concerns regarding both the protection of the data that is being aggregated as well as whether users are aware of who may have access to it,” Schumer wrote in a letter to the government agencies.

“In the age of facial recognition technology as both a surveillance and security use,” he continued, “it is essential that users have the information they need to ensure their personal and biometric data remains secure, including from hostile foreign nations.”

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Ford Secretly Designed a Pickup Truck Emoji (And It’s Been Shortlisted By Unicode)

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There are at least 10 different emojis to represent trains, but none that denote a pickup truck.

Ford Motor Company wants to change that.

“When customers started demanding a truck emoji, we knew we had to help make it happen,” Joe Hinrichs, president of Ford automotive, said in a statement. “Given the popularity of Ford trucks globally, there’s no one better than Ford to help bring an all-new pickup truck emoji to hard-working texters around the globe.”

Last year, the automaker submitted a proposal to the Unicode Consortium—judge, jury, and executioner of new emoji—to add a truck icon to keyboards.

The character—a simple blue pickup—has since been short-listed for inclusion in a future version of Unicode.

“Our team spent a lot of time digging through message boards, texting influencers, and watching social media feeds to really understand our customers’ needs,” according to Craig Metros, Ford North America design director.

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“People want a truck emoji that’s fresh, stylish, carries their ideas, and ‘tows’ the line on what a truck means,” he said. “The end result is a modern icon that should give all truck fans a smiley face emoji.”

Ford is no stranger to “innovations”: This is the same company, remember, that brought you a noise-cancelling kennel, lane-keeping bed, and self-braking trolley. (All, unfortunately, still in the prototype stage.)

Now, following months of top-secret development and testing, the company is making waves again with its new pickup truck emoji.

If approved, the design will be customized for all mobile platforms and could start driving onto digital screens as early as next year.

In the meantime, iOS and Android users can look forward to a slew of new food, animal, activity, and smiley face characters—including more diverse and inclusive icons—set to hit keyboards this fall.

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Toyota’s Electric Vehicle Will Transport 2020 Olympic Athletes, Visitors

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Toyota is developing an Accessible People Mover (APM) to ferry folks around the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Designed for use at next year’s Olympic and Paralympic Games, the APM offers a “last one mile” solution, transporting as many individuals as possible to competitions and venues.

Athletes, staff, and visitors with accessibility needs (think elderly, handicapped, pregnant, as well as families accompanied by small children) will have access to some 200 APMs in Japan’s capital city.

Their primary intention, project lead Akihiro Yanaka told The Japan Times, is to transfer people around Olympic settings: APMs could, for instance, carry someone from a stadium entrance to the gate nearest their seat.

The Accessible People Mover, which looks like a giant golf cart, is a low-speed, short-distance battery electric vehicle (BEV), capable of carrying six bodies— passengers and one driver—on three rows of seats.

It is also equipped with a ramp and can accommodate one wheelchair at a time by folding away the second-row seat.

The APM is a low-speed, short-distance battery electric vehicle suitable for carrying visitors and athletes at the Olympic and Paralympic Games (via Toyota)

An open concept means riders can enter and exit from either side, using built-in safety bars; the van is also equipped with rain curtains, according to the Times.

Powered by lithium-ion batteries, Toyota’s taxis can travel 100 km (62 miles) on a single charge, at a maximum speed of 19 kph (12 mph), chauffeuring people to various facilities, including non-event sites like the Olympic Village.

One part of the fleet may be earmarked for relief activities (i.e. a non-emergency ambulance), considering the vehicles are large enough to fit a stretcher and at least two staffers, plus the driver.

The automaker plans to test the squadron and make further improvements ahead of the 2020 Games.

A major sponsor of next summer’s sporting extravaganza, Toyota is also contributing a handful of Human Support Robots (HSR) and Delivery Support Robots (DSR), which will roam the National Stadium, carrying food and other goods, guiding people to their seats, and providing event information.

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