Buggies controlled over the internet may ride to the rescue of desert tortoises

Could mobile, internet-controlled RC buggies and live-streaming video be the last great hope for the survival of desert tortoises in Southern California?

A group called Hardshell Labs certainly thinks so. Led by nature-loving environmentalists, game makers and roboticists, the group is currently responding to the decline in numbers of its favorite slow-moving, shelled reptiles — mainly as the result of predation by ravens.

“Until they’re about 7 to 10 years of age, tortoises are particularly vulnerable to ravens, which can peck right through their shell,” telerobotics expert Michael Austin told Digital Trends. “In the last 35 to 40 years in the southwest desert in California, the raven population has exploded by 1,000 percent, and that’s had an enormous impact on tortoise survival rates. The number of tortoises is down by around 90 percent.”

That’s where the RC buggies come in. Operating under the name Guardian Angel, the live-streaming buggies are about the same size and speed as tortoises, and have an uncanny effectiveness when it comes to scaring off ravens.

The idea is that users from all over the world can take control of the RC rovers and use them to follow alongside the tortoises as, well, their guardian angels. Hardshell recently completed tests of a web-controlled unit, and the concept seems to be gaining traction.

“People could be shadowing the tortoises from Singapore over the internet,” Austin continued. “They could be anywhere in the world and still driving a rover right alongside them.”

It’s a quirky idea to be sure — but it’s part of a bigger mission Hardshell Labs wants to be involved with. “Imagine people all over the world repelling predators, capturing invasive species, spotting and reporting poachers, observing and logging animal behaviors, identifying plant species — from their computers,” the group writes in a statement. “Remote-controlled vehicles with webcams and GPS can go anywhere — the ocean floor, unexplored rainforests, even Mars. Why not use these tools in games that make a difference?”

Whether adding a gaming aspect to the idea of conservation can work out or not remains to be seen. But for Austin, and for Hardshell Labs’ founder Tim Shields, the overriding message is clear. “Everyone hates environmentalism,” Austin said. “Nobody wants to hear about it, ever. It’s depressing. If you make what we’re doing fun, then people get interested. It’s simple.”

Health & Fitness

Immune cell discovery takes us one step closer to a universal flu vaccine

A group of international researchers have made a discovery which could take us one step closer to the universal, one-shot flu vaccine that people around the world have been dreaming of.
Home Theater

The best movies on Netflix in February, from 'Buster Scruggs’ to 'Roma'

Save yourself from hours wasted scrolling through Netflix's massive library by checking out our picks for the streamer's best movies available right now, whether you're into explosive action, witty humor, or anything else.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (February 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Gaming

This list of PlayStation 4 exclusives puts its competitors to shame

The PlayStation 4's game library and incredible selection of exclusive games could make anyone with an Xbox One or Nintendo Switch think twice. Here's our list of the latest and greatest PS4 exclusives.
Gaming

These are the must-have games that every Xbox One owner needs

More than four years into its life span, Microsoft's latest console is finally coming into its own. From Cuphead to Halo 5, the best Xbox One games offer something for players of every type.
Photography

NASA celebrates Earth’s incredible natural beauty with free photo book

NASA has published a fabulous new book featuring stunning imagery captured by its satellites over the years. A hardback version is available for $53, though it can also be downloaded to ebook readers for free, and enjoyed online.
Deals

This new all-in-one flashlight is a power bank, lighter, and screwdriver

The Pyyros modular flashlight can perform numerous field tasks, from hammering to starting fires. If you back it on Kickstarter now, you can score some savings on this innovative flashlight and multi-tool, but act fast: This early-bird…
Movies & TV

Hilarious new Kickstarter aims to fix Scorcese’s last scene in The Departed

A fan of The Departed and apparent hater of rat-as-symbolism imagery has launched a Kickstarter campaign to digitally erase the rodent from the end of Martin Scorsese’s 2006 movie.
Emerging Tech

Baristas beware, Bbox cafe uses robots to brew your morning coffee

Want your morning coffee and pastry prepared by robot? Bbox, a new coffee shop in downtown Berkeley, California, lets customers place their order by app and then uses automation to take care of the rest.
Emerging Tech

This ridiculous new flamethrower makes Elon Musk’s look like a cigarette lighter

The XL18 Flamethrower is a flame-shooting beast on steroids, capable of firing off bursts of flame more than 110 feet in length. The best part? You can order it over the internet today.
Emerging Tech

SpaceX just nailed its most challenging Falcon 9 rocket landing to date

If you've been following the SpaceX launch calendar, you know this week marks the first launch from Cape Canaveral in two months. We have the details on where you can watch the launch live.
Emerging Tech

Touchdown! Japan successfully lands its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on asteroid Ryugu

Japan's space agency has just completed the latest stage of its extraordinarily complex mission, successfully landing its Hayabusa2 spacecraft on an asteroid millions of miles from Earth.
Emerging Tech

Delivery drones: NASA to test advanced traffic control system for cities

Delivery drone services are edging closer as NASA prepares to demonstrate its advanced drone traffic management system, which it claims offers safe and effective control of autonomous aircraft in urban areas.
Emerging Tech

Kickstarter campaign aims to help make 3D-printed space habitats for Mars

Mars X-House is an ambitious project that's intended to create a prototype future Mars habitat using 3D printing. And, thanks to a new Kickstarter campaign, you can be a part of it.