The Arctic is experiencing its version of a heatwave: climate extremes to continue in 2017

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) has confirmed that 2016 was the warmest year on record, and early indications suggest 2017 will be much the same.

In the WMO’s annual statement on the State of the Global Climate, the organisation claimed that provisional data suggests the year-on-year rise in global temperatures will continue into 2017, with the Arctic already experiencing the “Polar equivalent of a heatwave” at least three times this winter, and Antarctic sea ice being recorded at record low levels.

“We are seeing other remarkable changes across the planet that are challenging the limits of our understanding of the climate system. We are now in truly uncharted territory,” said World Climate Research programme director, David Carlson.

Image courtesy of WMO

According to the WMO, warming in 2016 was boosted by strong El Niño conditions, a phenomenon that occurs in the Pacific Ocean and has a global impact on weather patterns.

The El Niño event contributed to global sea levels rising, while at the same time the very warm ocean temperatures contributed to significant coral bleaching and death, which had an impact on marine food chains, ecosystems and fisheries.

Global sea ice extent also dropped more than 4 million square kilometres below average last November, an unprecedented anomaly for that month.

“This report confirms that the year 2016 was the warmest on record – a remarkable 1.1 °C above the pre-industrial period, which is 0.06 °C above the previous record set in 2015. This increase in global temperature is consistent with other changes occurring in the climate system,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.

“Globally averaged sea surface temperatures were also the warmest on record, global sea levels continued to rise, and Arctic sea-ice extent was well below average for most of the year.”

The WMO report also revealed that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere reached the symbolic benchmark of 400 parts per million in 2015 – the latest year for which WMO global figures are available.

Having passed that symbolic benchmark, the level of carbon dioxide will not drop for many generations because of the long-lasting nature of CO2.

Taalas pointed out that the influence of human activities on the climate system continues to become more and more evident with many noteworthy extreme events occurring in 2016.

Severe droughts have brought food insecurity to millions in southern and eastern Africa and Central America, while Hurricane Matthew caused widespread suffering in Haiti as the first category 4 storm to make landfall since 1963. Heavy rains and floods also affected eastern and southern Asia.

“The entry into force of the Paris Agreement under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on 4 November 2016 represents a historic landmark. It is vital that its implementation becomes a reality and that the agreement guides the global community in addressing climate change by curbing greenhouse gases, fostering climate resilience and mainstreaming climate adaptation into national development policies,” said Taalas.

“Continued investment in climate research and observations is vital if our scientific knowledge is to keep pace with the rapid rate of climate change,” added Taalas.

The WMO’s annual statement on the State of the Global Climate in 2016 will be presented to UN member states and climate experts at a high-level action event on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Agenda in New York on 23 March, and is available to view here.

Valve’s ‘Knuckles’ controller brings individual finger control to VR

With a prototype first revealed at the company’s Steam Dev Days conference last October, Valve’s new ‘Knuckles’ controller is now being shipped to developers as a prototype, while a blog post unveils a few more of the specs.

What’s important about the new controller is that it on only utilises an ‘open hand’ design that will mean you don’t have to spend your entire time gripping the controller like a weapon, but  it also features basic tracking for individual fingers.

The device is similar to the current HTC Vive motion controller, positioning in 3D space via Steam’s Lighthouse tracking system, but looks to build to the next stage of what can be done with motion control in VR. Specifically, Valve is looking to bring a much greater presence of your virtual hand into the market.

Moreover, they’re looking to make that virtual hand feel far more natural. With the controller able to grip onto your hand – think somewhat similar to securing your Wiimotes to your wrist – you’ll be able to operate in the virtual space with an open hand. While it may seem a small thing, it brings a whole new realism to any kind of grabbing or catching motion.

In addition, the ability of the Knuckles to track the movement of individual fingers could prove a real game-changer to virtual reality experiences.  Using a number of capacitive sensors to detect the state of your hands when your finger is on a button, or particular part of a controller, the controller will, according to the dev post, “return a curl value between zero and one, where zero indicates that the finger is pointing straight out and one indicates that the finger is fully curled around the controller”.

In essence, this means that the controller will be able to sense fine gradations of movement in each of your fingers, rather than relying on a binary “open” or “closed” status. Beyond lending a more organic feel to the use of your virtual hand, this will also allow users to make use of a range of hand gestures currently unavailable with VR controllers. A screenshot from a new version of SteamVR Home displays the possibilities with a Knuckles user’s avatar throwing up devil horns.

Images courtesy of Valve

It’s worth noting that this isn’t a perfect tracking system. While farther along than, for example, the Oculus Touch controllers, which allow you to slightly open your fingers while tracking the three non-index fingers together via an analog trigger, the Knuckles aren’t exactly ‘full’ finger tracking. Ideally, controllers will reach the point of knowing where your fingers are at all times with pinpoint precision. Until then however, the Knuckles are no small step forward.

The current Knuckles controller dev kit reportedly has a battery life of three hours and requires an hour of USB Micro charging to fill up (if accurate, these numbers put it roughly in the same realm as Vive controllers in regards to battery). We’ll have to wait on confirmation of this and other details,

Elon Musk speaks to LA's mayor about his Boring Company

Elon Musk said this week that he has held “promising conversations” with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, regarding the potential of bringing his recently formed Boring Company to the city. One of the ideas reportedly under consideration would see an express line to LAX airport from LA’s Union Station being built.

Source: Tech Crunch

Atari is back with a new console

Last week, Atari began teasing a new product called the Ataribox. Now, in an exclusive interview with GamesBeat Atari CEO Fred Chesnais has confirmed that the pioneering video game company is working on a new game console. “We’re back in the hardware business,” said Chesnais.

Source: Venture Beat

Nasa find 10 planets that could potentially host life

Nasa has added a further 219 candidates to the list of planets beyond our solar system, 10 of which may be about the same size and temperature as Earth, and may host life. Scientists found the candidates in a final batch of Nasa’s Kepler Space Telescope observations of 200,000 sample stars in the constellation Cygnus.

Source: The Guardian

Tesla Model S told driver to put his hands on the wheel before fatal crash

Federal regulators said on Monday, the driver of a Tesla Model S, who was killed in a collision while the car was in autopilot mode, did not have his hands on the steering wheel for a prolonged period of time despite being repeatedly warned by the vehicle that having his hands on the wheel was necessary.

Source: Ars Technica

Uber founder Travis Kalanick resigns

Having last week said that he was taking an indefinite leave of absence, Uber boss Travis Kalanick resigned as chief executive of the company this week after pressure from shareholders. His resignation comes after a review of practices at the firm and scandals including complaints of sexual harassment.

Source: BBC

Facebook defends against injunction to remove Oculus Rift from sale

Facebook and Oculus want a federal judge to let them continue selling Rifts despite a jury deciding Oculus stole another company’s computer code. Lawyers for Facebook said halting the sale of Oculus Rifts “would serve no one but ZeniMax, who would use it only as leverage to try to extract money from Oculus”.

Source: Bloomberg