In today’s Bulldog wrapup of technology and life science news:
- Air traffic control is moving to texts from voice
- A disabled former Indy race car driver gets special driver’s license for largely autonomous car
- First baby is born with DNA from three parents
- Plus: Watch the BBC video on the DNA story
- Germany orders Facebook and WhatsApp to stop data sharing
- Pilots, air traffic controllers shifting to text messaging
Airline pilots and air traffic controllers are on schedule to switch to text communications at most of the nation’s busiest airports by the end of the year, a milestone that holds the potential to reduce delays, prevent errors and save billions of dollars in fuel cost, says the Federal Aviation Administration.
Controllers and pilots will still use their radios for quick exchanges like clearance for takeoff and in emergencies and situations where time is critical. But the nation’s air traffic system is gradually shifting to text messages for a majority of flying instructions.
- Disabled man gets license, shows driverless tech’s potential
Former Indy Racing League driver Sam Schmidt has done a lot in the 16 years since an accident left him paralyzed from the neck down. He runs a racing team and a foundation. He’s raced a sailboat using his chin. But the man who raced in the Indianapolis 500 hasn’t been able to drive around his neighborhood — until now.
On Wednesday, Schmidt is set to receive the first license restricted to an autonomous vehicle in the U.S. The license allows him to drive on Nevada roads in his specially modified Corvette, which requires no hands on its steering wheel or feet on its pedals. Schmidt uses head motions to control the car’s direction.
Fully driverless cars — several steps beyond the car that Schmitt is driving — are expected to reach U.S. roads in the next five to ten years, and the disabled community is eager for their arrival. More than 4 million people in the U.S. need assistance with daily tasks like eating or leaving home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Others have less severe disabilities but are still unable to drive.
Disabled people are less likely than the non-disabled to be employed and are more likely to experience poverty, the bureau says. But that could change with the arrival of self-driving cars.
“It’s coming. We’re looking for something to help us get that level of independence,” Schmidt told The Associated Press.
Schmidt is the bridge to that future. His car isn’t fully autonomous; it uses four cameras to monitor his head and transmit his movements to the tires. He breathes into a tube to accelerate and sucks the air out when he wants to brake.
- Baby born with DNA from 3 people, first from new technique
Scientists say the first baby has been born from a controversial new technique that combines DNA from three people — the mother, the father and an egg donor.
The goal was to prevent the child from inheriting a fatal genetic disease from his mother, who had previously lost two children to the illness.
- VIDEO: Watch the BBC report at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IiZEnEHcDkE
The birth of the boy is revealed in a research summary published by the journal Fertility & Sterility. Scientists are scheduled to present details at a meeting next month in Salt Lake City.
The magazine New Scientist, which first reported the birth, said the baby was born five months ago to Jordanian parents, and that they were treated in Mexico by a team led by Dr. John Zhang of the New Hope Fertility Center in New York. It’s not clear where the child was born.
The technique is not approved in the United States, but Zhang told the magazine, “To save lives is the ethical thing to do.”
A spokesman for the fertility center said Zhang was not available for further comment on Tuesday. Others involved in the research referred questions to Zhang.
The mother carries DNA that could have given her child Leigh syndrome, a severe neurological disorder that usually kills within a few years of birth. Her two previous children died of the disease at 8 months and 6 years, the research summary said.
The technique involved removing some of the mother’s DNA from an egg, and leaving the disease-causing DNA behind. The healthy DNA was slipped into a donor’s egg, which was then fertilized. As a result, the baby inherited DNA from both parents and the egg donor.
The technique is sometimes said to produce “three-parent babies,” but the DNAcontribution from the egg donor is very small.
- Germany orders end to Facebook/WhatsApp data sharing project
German data protection authorities on Tuesday ordered Facebook to delete data, such as phone numbers, it has received from its subsidiary WhatsApp.
Facebook acquired the global messaging service two years ago and announced this summer that WhatsApp would begin sharing the phone numbers of its users with the social network as part of a program to synchronize the two businesses.
But Hamburg’s Commissioner for Data Protection ruled that Facebook “neither has obtained an effective approval from the WhatsApp users, nor does a legal basis for th edata reception exist.”
“After the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook two years ago, both parties have publicly assured that data will not be shared between them,” the agency said in a statement. “The fact that this is now happening is not only a misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection law.”
Facebook, whose German operations are based in Hamburg, questioned the ruling.
“Facebook complies with EU data protection law,” the company said in a comment emailed to The Associated Press. “We will work with the Hamburg DPA in an effort to address their questions and resolve any concerns.” The company added it planned to appeal the ruling.