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WIRED Awake August 18: UK may have less shale gas than predicted

Fracking taking place in Balcombe, West Sussex

Getty Images / WPA Pool

Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, geological research indicates that fracking firms may have overestimated British shale gas reserves, Reddit has launched its own video platform, Google has removed far-right social network Gab from the Play Store and more.

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1. UK shale gas resources likely to be limited

Geological specialist Professor John Underhill of Heriot-Watt University says that his current research has revealed that the UK is likely to have far smaller reserves of shale gas than claimed by fracking firms such as Cuadrilla (BBC News). Prof Underhill told BBC News that the UK’s shale formations are very different to those in the US, where large deposits of gas were trapped in the country’s central regions, well away from the moving edges of tectonic plates. His research, which is still ongoing, indicates that the UK’s shale formations have been warped, lifted and cooled by tectonic action, raising them out of the deep, high-temperature zones needed to generate gas and breaking the chambers that could hold it. He said: “I’m neutral about fracking, so long as it doesn’t cause environmental damage. But the debate is between those who think fracking is dangerous and those who think it will help the economy – and no-one’s paying enough attention to the geology”.

2. Reddit has launched its own video platform

Reddit has launched a new video hosting feature for its users, although it’s currently only available to members of select pre-approved communities (The Verge). The company began beta-testing the service in June with 200 subreddits and is now expanding it to other communities, saying that interested groups can work directly with site moderators and the video team to gain access to the feature. Reddit product manager for video Emon Motamedi says: “One of the big motivations of doing this was bringing more cohesion around the content and conversations. You go to YouTube to watch the video and you come back to Reddit to comment. Because our platform has the best comments on the internet and because it’s such a big use case for our users, we wanted to build that in-house”.

3. Google removes far-right social network from Play Store

Social network app Gab, built as a far-right alternative to Twitter, has been removed from the Google Play Store for violation of Google’s hate speech policy (TechCrunch). Apple rejected it from its App Store in June on similar grounds. Meanwhile, Russia has announced that its service providers won’t cater to The Daily Stormer, the neo-nazi site that triggered the current wave of service denials to sites promoting white supremacist hate and terrorism.

4. Science shows how adding water to whiskey unleashes its flavour

A new study has revealed how and why the bartender’s trick of adding a little water to your whiskey makes it more flavourful (Popular Science). chemists Björn Karlsson and Ran Friedman of the Linnaeus University Center for Biomaterials Chemistry in Sweden examined the behaviour of the molecule guaiacol, associated with the peaty taste of Scotch whiskey in particular. They found that, as the ethanol concentration in a whiskey increases, the guaiacol is trapped away from the surface – and your taste buds – as ethanol clusters at the top. Adding water prompts the formation of denser alcohol clusters that sink to the bottom, allowing the flavour-packed guaiacol to rise to meet your lips.

5. Meet Method-2, the Korean megabot straight out of sci-fi

In March 2017, the Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos appeared piloting a gigantic robot prototype at the company’s Machine-learning, home Automation, Robotics and Space exploration (MARS) conference (WIRED). Standing at four metres tall, Method-2’s cockpit, housed in its torso, is just big enough for one person. The pilot’s hands are connected to two mechanical levers that transmit movement to its huge aluminium hands. The robot is the culmination of a research project that began in 2014, when industrial designer Vitaly Bulgarov received a mysterious inquiry. Jin-Ho Yang, CEO of the South Korean firm Hankook Mirae Technology, contacted Bulgarov with a request. He wanted to “create something that’s only been possible in comics and films”. Three years later, the result is up and running (well, walking). Method-2, which Bezos took on a wild test run, is not just any robot. It is, its creator says, the first manned bipedal robot capable of moving 1.5 tonnes while synchronously translating the movements of its pilot. If the passenger lifts an arm, Method-2 also lifts an arm – the only difference being that the latter weighs 148kg and has fingers that are around 30 centimetres long.

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6. This mesmerizing timelapse reveals how workers build escalators

Under London’s streets, Crossrail crews are installing 54 escalators in six stations – a process that’s surprisingly mesmerizing when compressed into a two-minute timelapse video (WIRED). Each escalator will climb a 30-degree angle, most of them at a stately 1.8kph. That will allow you plenty of time to take in the view as you ascend from the station. 200 million people will take the new line in and out of London each year, part of a £14.8bn billion project includes 10 new stations (and another 30 that have been improved) and 42 kilometres of new tunnel.

7. Xbox One X pre-orders expected to open next week

Microsoft is reportedly set to open pre-orders for the new Xbox One X following a briefing to present the console at this weekend’s Gamescom 2017 trade show (VG24/7). The company’s official Twitter feed confirms that viewers will be able to watch the presentation revealing pre-order info this Sunday, August 20 at 20:00 BST. As revealed earlier this year, the One X will have a 6 teraflop GPU that runs at 1.17GHz, 12GB of RAM, full 4K/HDR support and a 4K Blu-ray drive and be fully backwards compatible with existing Xbox One games.

8. Stand-alone Star Wars film treatment to focus on Obi-Wan Kenobi

A new stand-alone Star Wars film focusing on Obi-Wan Kenobi is reportedly in the early stages of development (TechCrunch). Disney is reportedly in talks with director Stephen Daldry (The Hours, Billy Elliot) to helm the project, and Ewan McGregor has previously said he’d be interested in reprising the role. It’s one of a handful of stand-alone films currently in consideration for the franchise, alongside potential movies about Jabba the Hutt and bounty hunter Boba Fett.

9. Explore dissatisfaction among a robot working class in Mike Bithell’s new game

Indie developer Mike Bithell, of Thomas Was Alone and Volume fame, has released Subsurface Circular, a short, conversation-driven sci-fi adventure revolving around the disappearance of a robot worker (Eurogamer). Set 50 years in the future on the eponymous underground railway system, the game casts you as a robot detective who must talk to your fellow sentient machines to unravel the mystery, as robotkind begins to wonder whether it can truly be free in its role as Earth’s new working class. Subsurface Circular is out now for Windows and macOS on Steam at a launch price of £3.83.

10. Watch the story trailer for Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite

A new cinematic trailer has been released for Capcom’s forthcoming Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite, the latest fighting game to merge the Street Figher creator’s game characters with the Marvel Comics Universe (VG24/7). The game’s full launch roster of fighters has also been revealed, including Gamora, Ghost Rider and Mega Man’s Zero, as well as previous instalments’ favourites such as Chun Li and Thor, all lining up to combat the villainous merged form of Ultron Sigma. Marvel Vs Capcom: Infinite comes out on September 19 for PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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