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Concrete plane takes flight

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South Dakota School of Mines & Technology students have made aeronautical history with their concrete airplane recently taking flight.

The flight was quick and wobbly with the landing equally erratic, but it was enough for the record books. The 18-pound plane held its own during a crash landing to become the second known concrete plane to fly and the only one to stay intact upon landing.

The only other concrete airplane known to have flown was designed at the prestigious Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) in Daytona Beach. That plane crashed and was destroyed, according to Mines advisor, M.R. Hansen, Ph.D., an expert in concrete design. ‚”My friend, Dr. Mark Fugler, concrete advisor at ERAU, was my inspiration to try this project. Their concrete airplane did fly first and proved that it could be done. Our goal was to do that and have it land safely.‚”

Mission accomplished: ‚”Ours flew and sustained some damage on landing but was not destroyed. So, you could say this is the first concrete airplane to fly and land,‚” said Hansen, who notified Embry-Riddle of the School of Mines’ milestone.

The plane, with a wingspan of 40‚”, was designed and built entirely by three SDSM&T seniors who recently graduated. David Haberman and Tyler Pojanowski, both mechanical engineering majors, and Seth Adams, a civil and environmental engineering major, worked on the plane for a year as part of their senior design project. Hansen and Lidvin Kjerengtroen, Ph.D., advised them throughout.

The group had just one shot to test a year’s worth of work.

Watching the concrete plane taxi 200 feet along the runway at the Central States Fairgrounds was a bit unnerving, said Pojanowski.

‚”I was really nervous. We put a lot of time into it to see if it would work or not, and once it took flight I was shocked. The numbers said it would fly, but numbers and actually seeing it fly are two different things. Seeing it was exciting and proved that what we did during the semester was true,‚” Pojanowski said.

Haberman produced calculations to determine the take-off and lift distances, and what he projected is what they saw. The main goal was for the plane to take flight and to survive the landing.

Once the wheels were off the ground it was over in a matter of mere seconds, thanks to weight-balance issues associated with flying any plane. ‚”There wasn’t much time because once it got air it just went over, it flipped over. I was freaked because I was really close to it and was worried it was going to hit me,‚” Pojanowski said.

Though made with carbon fibre reinforcement, it is concrete, after all, and a bold, yet fragile design to attempt to fly. And once it comes crashing down it would not be unreasonable to expect disintegration. In fact, that was Haberman’s initial thoughts when he saw a cloud of dust.

‚”I was initially kind of disappointed because I saw a puff of smoke and thought it had exploded. I was excited to see it all in one piece. I think the smoke was some of the concrete kind of grounded against the asphalt,‚” explained Haberman, who was operating the remote control.

The plane sustained a crack in the fuselage and wing but otherwise remained intact, thanks in part to the students’ design plans and decision to reinforce the concrete to a safety factor of two, which meant it was twice as strong as it needed to be strong without being too heavy. Adams, one of Hansen’s students, used the same concrete mixture that went into the university’s award-winning concrete canoe. It’s a light mixture with extra carbon fiber reinforcement.

‚”Everything in aviation you want to be high strength and low weight, and concrete is the exact opposite. That’s why the professors did the project, to challenge engineers, to see what we could do. The thing I’m most proud of is ‚Ķ we did it with two MEs (mechanical engineers) and one civil (engineer),‚” Haberman said, pointing out their success was accomplished with a small team.

The issues with the plane flipping on its back while in flight weren’t completely unexpected. Learning to balance a remote-controlled plane while in flight is tricky and requires practice, a unique problem for students who hoped for a smooth landing so they could display their concrete airplane afterward at the Senior Design Fair.

‚”There is a lot more to aerodynamics and landing a plane than people realize. Even a regular remote-controlled plane of this size, which would normally weigh 4 to 5 pounds, those are hard to get up in the air and land,‚” Haberman said. ‚”Landing wasn’t as big of a priority. The goal wasn’t so much to get it to land or even fly it around that much. It was more to get it up in the air and to prove that we could fly it and get it off the ground.‚”

Which they certainly did.

‚”We could’ve tried to fly this one again just to prove it flew again and to try and see if we could land it more softly, but we just wanted to leave something to the school to show what we did, and leave it in one piece,‚” said Haberman, adding that the history-making concrete airplane will hang on display in the SDSM&T’s Center for Advanced Manufacturing and Production laboratory.

Hansen is already looking ahead to the next challenge. ‚”Phase III, hopefully next year, will add servo-controlled ailerons to control turning and help with a smooth landing,‚” he said.

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Prepare for deepfake impact

Is the world as we know it ready for the real impact of deepfake? CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, CEO at ESET SA, digs deeper

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Deepfake technology is rapidly becoming easier and quicker to create and it’s opening a door into a new form of cybercrime. Although it’s still mostly seen as relatively harmful or even humorous, this craze could take a more sinister turn in the future and be at the heart of political scandals, cybercrime, or even unimaginable concepts involving fake videos. And it won’t be just public figures that bear the brunt. 

deepfake is the technique of human-image synthesis based on artificial intelligence to create fake content either from scratch or using existing video designed to replicate the look and sound of a real human. Such videos can look incredibly real and currently many of these videos involve celebrities or public figures saying something outrageous or untrue.

New research shows a huge increase in the creation of deepfake videos, with the number online almost doubling in the last nine months alone. Deepfakes are increasing in quality at a swift rate, too. This video showing Bill Hader morphing effortlessly between Tom Cruise and Seth Rogan is just one example of how authentic these videos are looking, as well as sounding. If you search YouTube for the term ‘deepfake’ it will make you realise we are viewing the tip of the iceberg as to what is to come.

In fact, we have already seen deepfake technology used for fraud, where a deepfaked voice was reportedly used to scam a CEO out of a large sum of cash. It is believed the CEO of an unnamed UK firm thought he was on the phone to his boss and followed the orders to immediately transfer €220,000 (roughly US$244,000) to a Hungarian supplier’s bank account. If it was this easy to influence someone by just asking them to do it over the phone, then surely we will need better security in place to mitigate this threat.

Fooling the naked eye

We have also seen apps making DeepNudes where apps were able to turn any clothed person into a topless photo in seconds. Although, luckily, this particular app has now been taken offline, what if this comes back in another form with a vengeance and is able to create convincingly authentic-looking video?

There is also evidence that the production of these videos is becoming a lucrative business especially in the pornography industry. The BBC says “96% of these videos are of female celebrities having their likenesses swapped into sexually explicit videos – without their knowledge or consent”.

recent Californian bill has taken a leap of faith and made it illegal to create a pornographic deepfake of someone without their consent with a penalty of up to $150,000. But chances are that no legislation will be enough to deter some people from fabricating the videos.

To be sure, an article from The Economist discusses that in order to make a convincing enough deepfake you would need a serious amount of video footage and/or voice recordings in order to make even a short deepfake clip.

Having said that, In the not-too-distant future, it may be entirely possible to take just a few short Instagram stories to create a deepfake that is believed by the majority of their followers online or by anyone else who knows them. We may see some unimaginable videos appearing of people closer to home – the boss, our colleagues, our peers, our family. Additionally, deepfakes may also be used for bullying in schools, the office or even further afield.

Furthermore, cybercriminals will definitely use such technology to spearphish victims. Deepfakes keep getting cheaper to create and become near-impossible to detect with the human eye alone. As a result, alt that fakery could very easily muddy the water between fact and fiction, which in turn could force us to not trust anything – even when presented with what our senses are telling us to believe.

Heading off the very real threat

So, what can be done to prepare us for this threat? First, we need to better educate people that deepfakes exist, how they work and the potential damage they can cause. We will all need to learn to treat even the most realistic videos we see that they could be a total fabrication.

Secondly, technology desperately needs to develop better detection of deepfakes. There is already research going into it, but it’s nowhere near where it should be yet. Although machine learning is at the heart of creating them in the first place, there needs to be something in place that acts as the antidote being able to detect them without relying on human eyes alone.

Finally, social media platforms need to realize there is a huge potential threat with the impact of deepfakes because when you mix a shocking video with social media, the outcome tends to spread very rapidly and potentially could have a detrimental impact on society.

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A career in data science – or your money back

The Explore Data Science Academy is offering high demand skills courses – and guarantees employment for trainees

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The Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) has announced several new courses in 2020 that it says will radically change the shape of data science education in South Africa. 

Comprising Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics and Machine Learning, each six-month course provides vital digital skills that are in high demand in the market place.  The full time, fully immersive courses each cost R60 000 including VAT. 

The courses are differentiated from any other available by the fact that EDSA has introduced a money back promise if it cannot place the candidate in a job within six months of graduation and at a minimum annual starting salary of R240 000.

“For South Africans with drive and aptitude, this is the perfect opportunity to launch a career in what has been called the sexiest career of the 21stcentury,” says Explore founder Shaun Dippnall.

Dippnall and his team are betting on the explosive demand for data science skills locally and globally.

 “There is a massive supply-demand gap in the area of data science and our universities and colleges are struggling to keep up with the rapid growth and changing nature of specific digital skills being demanded by companies.  

“We are offering specifically a work ready opportunity in a highly skills deficient sector, and one which guarantees employment thereafter.”

The latter is particularly pertinent to young South Africans – a segment which currently faces a 30 percent unemployment rate. 

“If you have skills in either Data Science, Data Engineering, Data Analytics or Machine Learning, you will find work locally, even globally. We’re confident of that,” says Dippnall.

EDSA is part of the larger Explore organisation and has for the past two years offered young people an opportunity to be trained as data scientists and embark on careers in a fast-growing sector of the economy.  

In its first year of operation, EDSA trained 100 learners as data scientists in a fully sponsored, full-time 12-month course.  In year two, this number increased to 400.  

“Because we are connected with hundreds of employers and have an excellent understanding of the skills they need, our current placement rate is over 90 percent of the students we’ve taught,” Dippnall says. “These learners can earn an average of R360 000 annually, hence our offer of your money back if there is no employment at a minimum annual salary of R240k within six months.

“With one of the highest youth unemployment rates in the world – recently announced as a national emergency by the President – it is important that institutions teach skills that are in demand and where learners can earn a healthy living afterwards.”

There are qualifying criteria, however. Candidates need to live in close proximity (within one hour commuting distance), or be prepared to live, in either Johannesburg or Cape Town, and need to be between the ages of 18 and 55. 

“Our application process is very tough. We’ll test for aptitude and attitude using the qualifying framework we’ve built over the years. If you’re smart enough, you’ll be accepted,” says Dippnall.

To find out more, visit  http://www.explore-datascience.net.

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