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Company demonstrates ‘salmon cannon’ technology’s potential to restore species to the Upper Columbia

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CHIEF JOSEPH DAM, Douglas County – Standing above the point where Chief Joseph Dam prevents thousands of chinook salmon each year from migrating upstream in the Columbia River, Darnell Sam praised new technology that could restore salmon runs all the way to Canada and beyond.

“The salmon spirit gives up its life to feed our families and feed our people. It fed our ancestors,” said Sam, the fisheries committee chairman for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. “Salmon are just like our people. They learn how to overcome, adapt and survive. But they need our help to go back to where their ancestors once were.”

Sam spoke Tuesday to more than 120 people who attended the presentation by Seattle-based Whooshh Innovations CEO Vincent Bryan III.

Bryan first developed the technology as a way to safely move apples during harvest, then met with engineers and scratched out a plan on a napkin to modify the apple-harvesting technology to move salmon over dams. Soon after, Whooshh Innovations was born.

The Whooshh Passage Portal is the big brother of a system made famous in 2014 as the “salmon cannon.” It pushes fish through a tube, which combines the flexibility of rubber and the durability of PVC pipe, up and over a dam without making the salmon struggle up through rushing water like the fish are forced to do in existing fish ladders.

After a salmon enters the system, the fish is scanned by six cameras at three different angles that instantly tell a computer whether the fish is a salmon or an invasive species, like a smallmouth bass, which is diverted. That tube can send the bass back to the water or to a grinder to be eliminated from the system.

If the fish is a salmon, it gets a boost by what’s known as the “burst buster,” a system that pumps mist and cool air to prevent the fish from suffering temperature shock. Pressure equaling a pound per square inch sends the fish sliding and gliding at about 25 feet per second.

The temporary system set up on Tuesday would send a salmon through the 1,000-foot-long tube in less than a minute, Bryan said.

“There is no need to rest and recover. They just go on their way,” Bryan said. “It’s been an unbelievable 10-year effort to get to this point. The technology itself is ready to be deployed.”

Bryan said for a dam like Chief Joseph, on which construction began in 1950, a new fish ladder could cost as much as $160 million or more. While he was hesitant to give a final price, he estimated a permanent Whooshh Passage Portal could be installed for about $14 million and be built in only three months.

“It’s not just an engineering effort,” he said. “Now it’s a political effort. It’s a permitting effort.”

Bryan said initial funding would have to come from private sources. Fish ladders currently allow about 10% of water to move past a dam that could otherwise be used for irrigation or more hydroelectric generation, Bryan said. If that water were used to generate power, Bryan suggested the profits could be used to move fish.

“We could say that we want a piece of the revenue being generated from that water to pay for the system over time,” he said. “The goal shouldn’t be one dam. How can we do this at scale?”

Bryan’s father, Vincent Bryan II, and mother, Carol, purchased several hundred acres near George, Washington, in 1980 and started the Cave B Estate Winery. The Bryans eventually developed the property into the Gorge Amphitheater.

“I helped build the original stage,” Bryan said.

When he was in his teens, Vincent Bryan III said he remembered working at the vineyard and listening to the helicopters transporting salmon up the Columbia River. That thought returned in 2007 after he formed the company, which was developing a way to use water and pressurized tubes to transport delicate fruit. Could it be used to transport fish?

“We started out with tilapia. They seemed quite happy” to go through the tube, he said.

In 2011, the company partnered with federal officials to try the new technology on trout.

“It didn’t hurt the fish. But they told us we needed to redesign the tube because it wasn’t durable enough,” Bryan said.

Company officials then tested it on salmon in Norway, where there are several salmon runs a year. The company kept refining the idea until they began demonstrating the Salmon Cannon.

“We learned in school that the problem was solved with fish ladders 30 years ago,” Bryan said. “But the problem is a lot more complex.”

Since salmon typically stop eating once they reach the fresh water of the Columbia River, they must rely on fat reserves to return to their spawning grounds. In 2016, the company tagged several salmon they sent through the Whooshh Portal and tracked how they did compared with salmon that fought their way through an existing fish ladder.

“Each fish is like a battery,” Bryan said. “They only have so much energy.”

The Whooshh salmon “ended up 100 miles ahead of the fish that went through the ladder,” he said. “We knew we were saving the fish energy, but those results were just huge. We think this will have a pretty big impact on spawning success. That’s the key for improving the runs.”

Sam, 49, of Nespelem, also serves as the Cultural Committee chairman for the Colville Tribe. He said he’s been connecting with other tribes who lost their salmon runs about 86 years ago, when crews began work in 1933 on the Grand Coulee Dam, located just upstream from Chief Joseph.

He remembers first seeing the Whooshh Innovations technology at a demonstration in 2011.

“We saw the possibilities,” Sam said. “We believe in the salmon who is going to make his way back home. We believe in these salmon as much as we believe in everything we have been taught. This is a big day.”

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Amazon PillPack empathy training shows employees what customers feel

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PillPack has an “empathy training” as part of its new hire orientation

Christina Farr, CNBC

“So the cat is dead,” said Rachel Sandler, a new hire at Amazon-owned PillPack, as a pill-shaped candy rolled onto the floor.

Sandler was in the midst of the company’s new hire orientation at its Somerville, Mass., offices in early September. That orientation includes a half hour of “empathy training,” where employees get a better sense of what it’s like to be a typical PillPack customer.

PillPack, which was acquired by Amazon in mid-2018, built its business by focusing on senior citizens who are often juggling at least a dozen medications, with one or more chronic illnesses. The company specializes in delivering all the pills that people need in one simple package, so they don’t have to struggle with multiple bottles. Many of the company’s users have reduced vision, or are hard of hearing, and many struggle with mobility, so the company offers mail delivery and clear labels to make it easier for them.

CNBC was invited to sit in on one of these empathy training sessions in September.

Employees were given a timed test: They had to pack dozens of pills into a box, known as a pillminder, while parsing through complicated and sometimes vague instructions in tiny script, like “take one tablet Monday, Wednesday and Friday night, take two tablets Tuesday and Saturday. Skip Sunday.” To add a further challenge, they wore oversized gloves to restrict their mobility and thick prescription glasses to duplicate poor eyesight.

A pillminder case and pill bottles

Christina Farr, CNBC

In the frenzy, pills flew everywhere. Employees were reminded that an unintended misstep, like a discarded pill on a carpet, could have dire consequences.

“Many of our users have horrible anxiety about a pill getting eaten by a grandchild or a pet,” noted PillPack’s Lexi Borbostina, who was leading the training.

“We can’t ship a service that meets the physical and emotional needs of our user if we don’t have the empathy at the root of what we do,” added Borbostina, the company’s user researcher, who started at PillPack as the first community manager in 2015.

These days, the company delivers most of the medicines that a consumer can get from a household pharmacy to the home. A customers’ meds are packaged in white packets and they are offered automatic refills, 24/7 customer support, and a mobile app with clear instructions about each medication.

The focus on convenience and design is how the company believes it can set itself apart from large competitors, including CVS and Walgreens, and proved to be a big selling point for Amazon at the time of the buy-up.

Slow integration into Amazon

Amazon is known for its commitment to serving everyone with everything. Until last year, however, that didn’t include pharmaceutical drugs.

After years of demurring, Amazon fixed that in May of 2018 when it bought PillPack for $753 million. Since then, the company has squabbled with incumbents in the health-care industry, including a fight with an online prescriptions vendor called Surescripts over patient data and a lawsuit with CVS over a high-level hire.

Amazon has taken a case-by-case approach with each of its acquisitions. The largest among them, like Zappos, Twitch and Ring, have remained standalone brands with their own unique cultures. But Souq, the Middle East marketplace it bought for $580 million was rebranded as Amazon.ae and incorporated into the mothership two years after its acquisition.

It seems to be taking a middle road with PillPack. It has its own offices and brand, but is known now as “PillPack: an Amazon company” and it has a store page on Amazon to advertise the service.

Moreover, CNBC has learned that PillPack CEO TJ Parker spends about half his week in Seattle at Amazon’s headquarters. He and Amazon’s vice president Nader Kabbni, who runs the pharmacy group, are so connected that they share an executive assistant.

PillPack first introduced the optional empathy training in early 2018, while it was still a venture-backed start-up. The company’s design and user experience team came up with the idea as a way to acquaint its young employees who don’t take any meds with the needs of its users. PillPack went through multiple iterations of the training to make it as representative as possible, including with several styles of gloves and prescription labels that aligned with real labels.

The company warns new hires that it’s not easy to step into another person’s shoes.

Before kicking off the exercise, Borbostina cautioned the dozen or so employees huddled around her that she couldn’t “replicate a condition.” At best, she could try to give them some physical challenges to overcome for a temporary period.

The group was then provided with the pill minder, labeled for the days of the week, as well as the pill bottles.

About 10 minutes into the exercise, one employee raised a hand to note that they had finished. Borbostina handed Mike Gionvinco, a software engineer, a guide to check that he’d put the pills in the right place. But he’d made a few mistakes, and needed to start over.

Borbostina noted that the pill minder labels were so tricky because they didn’t match the pill bottle instructions.

As she spoke, more candy pills continued to roll on the floor.

Instructions on a pill bottle

Christina Farr, CNBC

“I can’t stop dropping them,” another employee called out to the group.

After about 30 minutes, most of the workers had either given up or haphazardly completed the exercise. And a discussion started up about how challenging it was.

Borbostina then read a letter from a real PillPack user who wrote in to say that she struggled to manage the medication she needed for her mental health, and that led to things getting worse. That user said she’s now compliant with her meds after finding PillPack. That letter is now framed on the wall of the Somerville office.

At that point, about five people were asked to stay behind to provide feedback on a potential new design for a pill bottle. Jennifer Sarich-Harvey, the company’s design chief, watched quietly as employees weighed in about the depth of the ridge, or the size of the bottle.

“We’re designing for child safety, but also supporting people who have mobility challenges and other disabilities,” said Sarich-Harvey. “Not every industry has that challenge, which is why we have processes for trying to walk in our users’ shoes.”

NOW WATCH: How Amazon could change the pharmacy business



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Reuters Science News Summary

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Following is a summary of current science news briefs.

Alien enthusiasts descend on Nevada desert near secretive U.S. base

Scores of UFO enthusiasts converged on rural Nevada on Thursday for a pilgrimage of sorts to the U.S. installation known as Area 51, long rumored to house government secrets about alien life, as law enforcement officials beefed up security around the military base. Visitors descended early in the day on the tiny desert town of Rachel, a short distance from the military site, in response to a recent, viral social-media invitation to “storm” Area 51 on Friday, raising concerns by local authorities of unruly crowds overwhelming the community.

Bird numbers plunge in U.S. and Canada with people to blame

From grasslands to seashores to forests and backyards, birds are disappearing at an alarming rate in the United States and Canada, with a 29% population drop since 1970 and a net loss of about 2.9 billion birds, scientists said on Thursday. People are to blame, the researchers said, citing factors including widespread habitat loss and degradation, broad use of agricultural chemicals that eradicate insects vital to the diet of many birds, and even outdoor hunting by pet cats.

Arctic expedition to investigate ‘epicentre of climate change’

Scientists from 19 countries are preparing to embark on a year-long expedition to the Arctic, the longest project of its kind, to better understand global climate change. The icebreaker Polarstern is preparing to set sail from Tromsoe in northern Norway, allowing hundreds of rotating researchers to spend the next year close to the north pole.

Scientists reconstruct skeleton of elusive, pre-historic human

Researchers in Israel say they have reconstructed the skeleton of a pre-historic human from a long-extinct and elusive species using DNA found in the pinky bone of a 13-year-old girl who died 70,000 years ago. Little is known about the Denisovans, who were ancient relatives of the more familiar Neanderthals and our own species. Their existence was only recently discovered and has fascinated scientists worldwide.



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Why you don’t need a 5G phone just yet

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In this Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2019, photo, visitors tour an exhibitor booth with a 5G on display at the Smart China Expo in southwest China’s Chongqing Municipality.
Image Credit: AP

No 5G iPhone? No problem. You probably don’t want one anyway.

For most people, it’s smart to stick with a smartphone that isn’t compatible with speedier 5G wireless networks, which are just starting to roll out. That’s the case even if you think you’ll be hanging on to your next phone for a few years.

Not only are the first-generation 5G phones expensive, their antennas and modems typically work only with particular 5G networks owned by specific mobile carriers. That could limit your options if you’re trying to get the faster speeds while roaming overseas or on a rival company’s network – or if you decide to switch providers later.

Experts say second-generation phones in the coming year will address those and other shortcomings. The research firm IDC, calling 2019 “an introductory year at best,” expects 5G phones to make up 9% of worldwide shipments next year and 28% in 2023.

The target market

Samsung, Motorola, LG and OnePlus already make 5G phones that use Google’s Android system. Huawei announced one Thursday, though it’s missing popular Google apps because of a U.S. ban on tech exports to the Chinese company.

Although 5G phones are a niche product, IHS Markit said phone makers haven’t been able to keep up with surprisingly strong demand, especially in South Korea.

Samsung said it has sold 2 million 5G phones worldwide since April and expects to double that by the end of the year. Motorola said it has seen “tremendous engagement and excitement” from customers.

But Motorola said such first-generation products primarily suit early adopters who need to be first on the block.

New iPhones out Friday won’t support 5G. Apple typically waits for technology to mature before adopting it.

The price of 5G

The speedy wireless technology can add a few hundred dollars to phone price tags. For instance, Samsung’s standard Galaxy S10 phone costs $900″ the 5G model costs $1,300, though Samsung said it also showcases the company’s best features, including a larger screen and a better camera. For Motorola, 5G comes as a $350 option for the existing Moto Z series phones.

“This territory is reserved for the leading-edge type of consumer, those willing to sacrifice a bit more money up front to be first,” said Wayne Lam, an analyst at IHS Markit. “Longer term is where the smart money is.”

The price gap is expected to narrow and eventually disappear as 5G becomes a standard feature, Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight said.

Network limitations

Even as phone companies make big claims about revolutionary new applications, 5G coverage is limited to certain neighborhoods in a handful of cities. While 5G phones can still connect over existing 4G LTE networks, “are you willing to spend extra for something you might not see consistently until 2021?” IHS Markit analyst Josh Builta asks.

5G is actually a set of wireless technologies using different parts of the airwaves. Each wireless carrier emphasizes a different flavor of 5G, and each one is selling 5G phones designed specifically for its network.

Wireless networks have a history of Balkanization, although it tends to sort itself out. Verizon and Sprint have been using a wireless technology called CDMA, while AT&T and T-Mobile use an incompatible version called GSM. Early on, phone makers produced separate CDMA and GSM models. But as technology advanced, they were able to pack all the necessary antennas and components into universal phones.

Similar all-in-one 5G phones should be fairly common by next year, experts say.

In fact, T-Mobile CEO John Legere suggested the company is holding back on 5G network expansions until compatible phones come out later this year. T-Mobile’s current 5G phones only work with parts of its planned 5G network. Sprint, which T-Mobile is in the process of acquiring, said first-generation phones are intended to show off 5G benefits to those who live or spend a lot of time in the company’s nine 5G markets.

Verizon didn’t return messages. AT&T isn’t offering 5G to consumers yet, although it has rebranded some existing 4G service as “5G E.”

To wait or not to wait

If you can squeeze another year or two out of your current phone, there will be plenty of 5G phones to choose from – including iPhones – by the time you’re ready to upgrade.

But it’s OK to buy a new, pre-5G phone now if you can’t wait. You can always trade that in for a 5G model later. Even if you stick with 4G, experts say you’ll still see speed bump there as phone companies install new equipment.

And IDC is expecting deals on 4G phones to clear shelves for upcoming 5G models.



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