Flying cars under development vary significantly

Spurred by technology advances and demand for transportation alternatives in increasingly congested cities, entrepreneurs around the globe are vying to become the first to develop a commercially viable “flying car.” The designs vary greatly, and most aren’t actually cars capable of driving on roads. Here are some examples:

Vahana

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is working at its Silicon Valley research center on a driverless flying taxi that at first will have a pilot, but will later be autonomous. The vertical takeoff-landing, all-electric aircraft is a cockpit mounted on a sled and flanked by propellers in front and back. Airbus plans to test a prototype before the end of 2017, and to have the first Vahanas ready for production by 2020.

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Cormorant

Israeli tech firm Urban Aeronautics originally designed its people-carrying drone as an “air mule” for military use. It takes off vertically and has a standard helicopter engine, but no large main rotor. Its lift comes from two fans buried inside the fuselage. Two smaller ducted “fans” mounted in the rear provide forward movement. It can fly between buildings and below power lines, attain speeds up to 115 mph, stay aloft for an hour and carry up to 1,100 pounds

___This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo, Israel, late in 2016. (Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics via AP)

Lilium Jet

German technology company Lilium Aviation is working on a two-seater aircraft that will take off vertically using 36 electric fan engines arrayed along its wings. The aircraft will hover and climb until the fans are turned backward slowly. After that, it flies forward like a plane using electric jet engines. The company has been flight-testing small scale models. The aircraft will have an estimated cruising speed of up to 190 mph and a range of 190 miles.

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AeroMobil 3.0

The Slovakian company AeroMobil has developed a car with wings that unfold for flight. It uses regular gasoline and fits into standard parking spaces. It can also take off from airports or “any grass strip or paved surface just a few hundred meters long,” according to the company’s website. Driver and pilot licenses will be required.

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EHang 184

Chinese drone maker EHang has been flight-testing a person-carrying drone in Nevada. The vehicle is a cockpit with four arms equipped with rotors. Takeoff and landing targets are pre-programmed. A command station in China will be able to monitor and control the aircraft anywhere in the world, company officials say.

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S2

Joby Aviation of Santa Cruz, California is developing a two-seat, all-electric plane with 12 tilt rotors arrayed along its wings and tail. The aircraft takes off and lands vertically and can achieve speeds up to 200 mph, according to the company’s website.

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Transition/TF-X

Terrafugia, based in Woburn, Massachusetts, began working a decade ago on a car folding wings that can fly or be driven on roads that’s called the Transition. The company says it plans to begin production of the Transition in 2019. Terrafugia is also working on a “flying car” called the TF-X — a car with folding arms and rotors for vertical takeoff and landing.

___This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo, Israel, late in 2016. (Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics via AP)

Volocopter

This two-seater, electric multicopter from German company e-volo has 18-rotors and looks like a cross between a helicopter and a drone. It is controlled from the ground, eliminating the need for a pilot license.

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Zee

This Mountain View, California, aircraft developer bankrolled by Google co-founder Larry Page says on its webpage that it is working on a “revolutionary new form of transportation” at the “intersection of aerodynamics, advanced manufacturing and electric propulsion.” Company officials declined to provide details about Zee’s projects.

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This image provided by Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics shows an Israeli-made flying car. Urban Aeronautics conducted flight tests of its passenger-carrying drone call the Cormorant in Megiddo,… (Urban Aeronautics/Tactical Robotics via AP) More


Evidence shows that marijuana works for pain, the medical reason most people want it — but doctors still have questions

Kevin Loria,Business Insider

marijuana cannabis pot weed bud nug(Shutterstock)

The most common reason that people seek out medical marijuana is for chronic pain.

According to a report released earlier in January by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM), that makes a lot of sense.

One of the strongest conclusions of the report, which provides basically the most comprehensive, up-to-date look at what all available research on cannabis tell us, is that there is conclusive or substantial evidence (in general, enough to make a firm conclusion) that cannabis or cannabinoids, found in the marijuana plant, can be an effective treatment for chronic pain.

This matters because it has implications for how we treat pain and how we assess the value of medical marijuana. It also helps illustrate how — despite its DEA Schedule I status that declares it has “no currently accepted medical use” — most research indicates there are indeed potentially important medical uses for cannabis.

But at the same time, doctors still want more research to help them decide when marijuana might help a patient and when something else is a better idea.

How marijuana can help

Pain itself is a weird and complex thing. It’s subjective and personal and can’t be precisely measured with a test. That’s because even when it’s pain associated with a part of your body, it’s really your brain that’s telling you to hurt. If a pinched nerve in your spine is causing your back to spasm, your brain’s way of telling you that something is wrong is to make you feel an ache that might throb constantly or make you feel an explosive jolt if you worsen the pinch with certain movements.

But all those sensations are coming from your brain, telling you to take action to deal with some part of your body. And everyone reacts to these stimuli in different ways.

That’s why there are so many different ways to treat pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs reduce inflammation by blocking the chemicals your body creates in response to an injury that cause that inflammation. Opioids bond to opioid receptors you already have in your body, which can cause feelings of euphoria and block sensations of pain. We know that acetaminophen (Tylenol) can treat some forms of pain, but we don’t know how it works or why. Even non-pharmacological treatments can stop your brain from telling you to feel hurt, with interesting research showing that meditation and virtual reality can both effectively treat pain.

According to the NASEM report, studies show that both inhaled marijuana (vaporized or smoked) and cannabinoid compounds that come from the cannabis plant (like THC, mostly responsible for the high, or cannabidiol, CBD, one of the most medically promising of the hundreds of chemical compounds found in marijuana) work for pain. This is likely largely related to natural cannabinoid receptors that we already have in our body and that doctors think play a role in pain control. But the exact mechanisms showing how marijuana relieves pain are not fully understood yet.

marijuana pot weed flower bud dispensary store(John Locher/AP)

It’s no surprise that people seek out cannabis for chronic pain, as it’s incredibly — in some ways disturbingly — common. About 100 million Americans suffer from chronic pain, about one-third of the population, and it’s difficult to treat, especially in cases where the cause is unclear. Such pain is the leading cause of long-term disability. In some cases, opioids may be the best treatment for this pain, but the rapid rise in opioid addiction over the years makes many people want to find safer solutions.

With that in mind, cannabis seems like a good option. In states that have legalized medical marijuana for pain, addiction and opioid overdose rates have dropped.

But doctors still have questions.

Why some doctors are still hesitant to suggest marijuana

“Usually when you make decisions about which drug you are going to take for pain, you make that decision based on the type of pain you have and the relative risks for side effects,” says Ryan Vandrey, an associate professor of psychiatry who researches marijuana at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

When it comes to marijuana, “millions of people are using different types of cannabis products for supposedly therapeutic purposes,” says Vandrey. That introduces a lot of uncertainty to the equation. The marijuana bought at one dispensary in California is going to be very different from an oil bought at another Colorado medical marijuana shop; both will be different from a cannabinoid drug designed to help with pain. All of these substances fall under the cannabis umbrella, but depending on their specific cannabinoid content and the means through which they are ingested, they’re going to have different effects. All those people using those products for therapeutic purposes are “lacking information about which types of products to choose, what doses to use, and how cannabis compares to other medications,” according to Vandrey.

There’s already uncertainty over whether the pain relief from marijuana is on the scale of an over-the-counter drug like ibuprofen, or, more powerful, able to relieve the same pain as an opioid. Different sorts of cannabis products might fill different roles. With all of these questions, it’s hard for doctors to know when recommending marijuana makes the most sense, even if studies indicate that it works.

More research will be needed before we have answers to those questions, and as the NASEM report, Vandrey, and other researchers Business Insider has interviewed all point out, there are obstacles that make it hard to study marijuana.

But clearly, if it’s effective — especially if it can replace more dangerous drugs like opioids — that research is important.

 

Hello, Death Star: Russia Had a Secret Cold War Space Station Equipped with Cannons

The clandestine celestial war between superpowers isn’t over. It’s just getting more high-tech.
BY JAMES BAMFORD

Hello, Death Star: Russia Had a Secret Cold War Space Station Equipped with Cannons

Back in 1968, three Apollo 8 astronauts circled the moon on Christmas Eve and returned home, where they were greeted with a ticker-tape parade and honored on the cover of Time. Far out of sight from these public celebrations, however, another group of astronauts was training to reach space. Unlike the Apollo program, these spacemen were part of a clandestine military operation that had less to do with peaceful exploration of the heavens and much more to do with wreaking havoc in them.

One of those secret astronauts was retired Vice Adm. Richard Truly, who later headed NASA. “You just couldn’t tell anybody about it,” he recalled to me in 2007. “Nobody.” The details of the program—called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) and run by the Air Force and the intelligence community’s National Reconnaissance Office (NRO)—were revealed last year when the NRO partly declassified more than 800 files and photos.

The project, which was in place from 1963 to 1969, aimed to spy on and thwart the Soviet Union in space. According to the declassified documents, one objective was to explore the feasibility of attacking Moscow’s satellites by knocking them out of orbit or firing projectiles at them. The program also included an elaborate plan to capture a Russian spacecraft in orbit, swaddle it in heat-shield material, and send it back to Earth for inspection. Yet despite Washington’s best efforts to keep these experiments under wraps at the time, its main adversary discovered the operation.

In fact, Moscow equipped its secret manned space station, Almaz, with a rapid-fire cannon, according to chief designer Vladimir Polyachenko. If a U.S. spacecraft attempted “to inspect or even attack the Almaz, we could destroy it,” Polyachenko told PBS in 2007. He also said that in 1975, cosmonauts test-fired the cannon, making the Soviet Union the first nation to weaponize an orbiting spacecraft.

For budgetary reasons, Washington’s MOL never got off the ground. Many of the astronauts transferred to NASA’s Space Shuttle program, but specifically to the clandestine side operated by the Air Force and NRO. Between 1982 and 1992, it conducted 11 shuttle missions that remain top secret. Given what operations were underway by the Air Force, it’s clear that foreign-satellite destruction was a high priority. In 1985, for instance, an Air Force pilot flying an F-15 fighter jet fired a missile at a failing U.S. satellite in low-Earth orbit. Until that day, no other country had annihilated a spacecraft with a weapon.

It would take 22 years before another power emulated that move: In 2007, Beijing launched a missile that demolished a Chinese weather satellite. Not to be outdone, Washington blasted another of its malfunctioning satellites the following year.

Back then, some might have argued that the space race had resumed. However, the NRO documents make it clear that the race never lapsed.

Back then, some might have argued that the space race had resumed. However, the NRO documents make it clear that the race never lapsed. They reveal that from its onset, the Space Age consisted of two very distinct parts: one in the spotlight, run by NASA, to explore the universe; and another in the darkness, run by the Pentagon, to militarize the universe. Today, NASA exists without a shuttle, pays Russia for rides, and wrestles with budget problems. Yet Washington continues to expand its secret space program—sending planes into orbit and developing satellites that have potentially offensive capabilities.In 2001, a commission recommended that Washington “vigorously pursue the capabilities…to ensure that the President will have the option to deploy weapons in space.” A year later, President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia. In 2004, the secretary of the Air Force issued a document that codified its space-warfare policies and called for “space superiority,” which was defined as “freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack.”

While President Barack Obama vowed at the start of his first term not to militarize space, he did the opposite when he approved the launch of a number of military spacecraft that could double as both intelligence collectors and weapons systems. As recently as June, Gen. John E. Hyten, commander of the Air Force Space Command, issued a white paper that reiterated the push for “a force capable of achieving space superiority.” Coincidentally, circling above Earth at the time was an orbital test vehicle, the X-37B (of which the Air Force has two). First launched in 2010, the unmanned plane is capable of remaining in space for up to two years at a time. Although the Air Force refuses to disclose the X-37B’s activities, its design is very similar in size, shape, and capabilities to the X-20 Dyna-Soar from the 1960s, which was crafted to be manned by a single pilot and to launch a nuclear weapon from space. Washington’s discreetness now has some—China, in particular—wondering whether the X-20 has come full circle in the X-37B.

In June, Beijing debuted its own mysterious spacecraft into the galaxy. It is equipped with a long mechanical arm, ostensibly to scoop up space junk. But given the enormous amount of space debris and the maneuverability of the vehicle, some fear that its real purpose is to disable or destroy U.S. satellites in the event of a conflict.

To be sure, the more satellites spinning in space, the greater the chances that they collide, an accident that could be wrongly interpreted by an adversary. Of the roughly 1,300 active satellites, 568 are American—about 120 of which are military or intelligence spacecraft—more than double the number belonging to China and Russia combined.

One alternative to orbital calamity, of course, is orbital diplomacy. While the 1967 Outer Space Treaty bars the placement of weapons of mass destruction in orbit or outer space, it is silent on conventional weapons. The 1979 Moon Agreement bans the militarization of the moon and other celestial bodies, but it has not been ratified by the United States, Russia, China, or any other nation.

In 2008, China and Russia proposed an agreement to ban such arms. The U.N. General Assembly finally adopted a version of their proposal last December. The United States, arguing that the agreement is flawed and unverifiable, opposed it.

Without Washington’s buy-in, there is little incentive for others to adhere to the treaty. Other countries with military satellites in orbit, such as India or Israel, may also begin exploring defensive and offensive capabilities to protect their space assets.

Although Donald Trump said little about space during his campaign, he indicated plans to initiate a military buildup, which could very well include the cosmos. But he has a key question to answer: Is humanity better off with a celestial Wild West or with an orbital order, however imperfect?

A version of this article originally appeared in the November/December 2016 issue of FP magazine.

Illustration by Matthew Hollister