Saturday, May 18, 2019

“The hills have dolls, snow-bot, toilet paper scare: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY” plus 3 more

“The hills have dolls, snow-bot, toilet paper scare: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY” plus 3 more


The hills have dolls, snow-bot, toilet paper scare: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY

Posted: 14 May 2019 10:21 PM PDT

 

Alabama

Tuscaloosa: A champion will face off against a first-time contender in a paddlewheel boat race Saturday in connection with the city's bicentennial celebration. The race is a family-friendly event meant to recall the importance of river commerce and travel in the city's early history. The Bama Belle, owned and operated by Capt. Craig Dodson, will race for the first time against the Pickett Hastings, owned by the Sherrill family of Tuscaloosa, organizer Ken DeWitt says. The Pickett Hastings is a racing champion built by Ike Hastings, a legendary ship builder and racer, DeWitt says. The race will be at 3 p.m. Saturday, and the public is encouraged to watch along the Riverwalk. Activities including food trucks, face painting and music will begin before the race at 1 p.m. The race is an affiliated event of Tuscaloosa's Bicentennial, a yearlong celebration. May's theme is transportation.

 

Alaska

Juneau: The Alaska House has passed legislation seeking to limit what the state can charge residents of the state-supported elder care facilities known as Pioneer Homes. Rep. Zack Fields, who sponsored the bill, has said it would raise rates to take into account inflation since 2004. But the rates would not be as high as those the Department of Health and Social Services proposed to better cover the cost of services. The bill and the department propose adding new tiers of services. The bill would allow the department to set a rate it deemed sufficient for the most comprehensive level. The bill would limit future rate changes. The department, in a fiscal analysis, said the bill would set in law rates that are 29% less than the cost of providing services.

 

Arizona

Phoenix: Gov. Doug Ducey has signed off on legislation thought up by a Gilbert teenager making lemonade the official state drink. The bill signed by the Republican governor Monday faced an unusual battle for feel-good legislation in the Senate before ultimately passing. Senators originally rejected it in April. The measure by Republican Rep. Warren Peterson passed the House on a 57-3 vote. Senators then brought up several objections. One proposed margaritas instead, another objected to glorifying a sugary beverage, and others thought it was silly to waste time on a lemonade bill while a state budget plan languishes. Democratic Sen. Juan Mendez said pushing the measure as a civics lesson for high school students ignores more important issues many students back – namely gun control.

 

Arkansas

Little Rock: An academic says Chinese tariffs and bad weather during harvest season have hurt the state's pecan industry. Pecans are Arkansas' top nut. The U.S. produces about 80% of the world's pecans. But China, the biggest foreign consumer of U.S.-grown pecans, levied a 47% tariff on U.S. pecans in July in retaliation for tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on a wide variety of Chinese-made goods. The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that University of Central Arkansas associate professor Scott Nadler told roughly 30 pecan growers at a workshop last weekend that China is beefing up its own pecan output.

 

California

Los Angeles: The discovery of a breeding technique for California condors never before tried by any other zoo should help increase the numbers of the critically endangered species, the Los Angeles Zoo announced Monday. There are only about 500 California condors left in the world, and the L.A. Zoo has worked over the past 30 years to refine the process of breeding the birds, with the goal of releasing them back to their native habitat. The new breeding approach involves allowing adult birds to foster more than one chick at a time, says Denise Verret, the zoo's interim director. In the past, once a California condor egg is close to hatching, it has been placed with an experienced foster condor to raise. But if there were more chicks than foster condors available, some were hand-raised by staff, although chicks adapt better in the wild when they are raised by condors.

 

Colorado

Denver: The governor has signed a bill establishing college funds for the state's newborn children for the next two decades. The Denver Post reports that Democratic Gov. Jared Polis signed the bill Monday that sets aside $100 for each child born or adopted in Colorado between 2020 and 2040. The money will initially reside in an investment fund operated by CollegeInvest, a division of the state's Department of Higher Education. Each child's money will be transferred to a post-secondary education savings account established by a parent. If an account is not opened before a child turns 5 years old, the money will remain in the state fund for another child. Officials say the state's contribution is adjusted for inflation and may be more than $100 per child in future years.

 

Connecticut

Hartford: The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities has reached a compromise with unionized firefighters and police on legislation that will provide first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder benefits for up to one year. The agreement announced Monday follows six years of attempts to require the state's worker's compensation laws to cover PTSD for first responders who witness a tragic incident, such as the deadly 2012 Newtown school shooting. Municipal leaders had opposed previous bills, voicing concern about the financial implications. Under the agreement, a PTSD diagnosis must be made by a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist in accordance with national standards. A first responder must experience one of six qualifying events, including viewing a deceased child. The compromise does not provide permanent benefits.

 

Delaware

Dover: The state Senate leader says support for strict gun control measures proposed by fellow Democrats is "almost nonexistent." Senate President David McBride said Monday that as things stand now, none of the bills will be coming out of the Executive Committee that he leads because they lack support for Senate passage. One of the bills resurrects a proposed ban on certain semiautomatic firearms that gun-control advocates call "assault weapons." A second bill bans ammunition magazines holding more than 15 rounds. The third bill requires Delawareans wanting to buy a firearm to first obtain government permission in the form of a state-issued "purchaser card," which would require being fingerprinted. Gun dealers, meanwhile, would be required to submit information on every gun purchase and purchaser for entry into a new state database.

 

District of Columbia

Washington: Leaders of churches and a synagogue that were victimized by violent hate crimes met Monday evening to talk about how they helped their congregants heal. The leaders met at the Washington National Cathedral along with District of Columbia religious leaders and law enforcement. Officials said it's the first time they have all gathered. Leaders from Emmanuel AME in Charleston, South Carolina; the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; and the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, attended the meeting, district officials said. Metropolitan Police Chief Peter Newsham said bias crimes are up in the district, and D.C. police are enhancing security efforts. Christopher Rodriguez of the district's homeland security and emergency management agency said he hoped to learn from the leaders how to develop tools other religious groups can use.

 

Florida

Parkland: Fifty special trombones have been given out to band students throughout the state in honor of a teenager who died in a school shooting here last year. The Sun Sentinel reports that $50,000 worth of the instruments were awarded Saturday in honor of 14-year-old Alex Schachter, who was a trombone player in the marching band at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and was one of 17 people killed by a gunman in February 2018. The instruments were funded by South Florida-based instrument store All County Music and instrument manufacturer Conn-Selmer. The instruments are engraved with a motif combining Alex's name and a trombone. Alex's father, Max Schachter, says because of the gift, his son's love of music is "expanding all across the state." One of the recipients raised several hundred dollars for the Alex Schachter Scholarship Fund by busking with his trombone on a Delray Beach street corner.

 

Georgia

Atlanta: Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter broke his hip Monday at his south Georgia home when he fell while leaving to go turkey hunting, a spokeswoman for the Carter Center said. The 94-year-old former president was treated in Americus, near his home in Plains, and was recovering comfortably after a successful surgery, spokeswoman Deanna Congileo said in a statement. His wife of 73 years, Rosalynn, was with him, Congileo said. In an indication Carter was in good spirits, Congileo said Carter's main concern was that he had not reached his limit on turkeys with the shooting season ending this week. "He hopes the State of Georgia will allow him to roll over the unused limit to next year," the statement said.

 

Hawaii

Honolulu: The mayor of the capital city has proposed a trio of tax increases to cover costs of a forthcoming rail line. The Honolulu Star-Advertiser reports the budget put forward by Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell earlier this year includes tax hikes designed in part to cover the city's rail operations and maintenance. The Democratic mayor says the increases in property taxes on hotels and the most expensive Oahu homes, as well as a new rubbish pickup fee, will take effect in the budget year beginning July 1 if approved by the Honolulu City Council. The Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation estimates costs of $127 million to $144 million per year once the entire 20-mile train line opens. The authority plans a partial opening in December 2020.

 

Idaho

Coeur d'Alene: Officials say inspectors have already intercepted 14 boats carrying invasive mussels into the state nearly a month into inspection season. The Coeur d'Alene Press reported Tuesday that the state has inspected more than 7,000 watercraft so far this year. Officials found 50 boats with mussels of the nearly 110,500 vessels inspected last year. Most of the mussel interceptions last year occurred at the Interstate 90 inspection station east of Coeur d'Alene. The state requires boat owners to stop at the stations. State invasive species manager Nic Zurfluh says quagga and zebra mussels could cause nearly $100 million in damage and lost revenue each year if the species infest Idaho waters.

 

Illinois

Petersburg: The central Illinois settlement where Abraham Lincoln came of age and began his public life is celebrating its centennial as a state park. The donation of land near present-day Petersburg that became Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site will be feted from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Interpreters will staff the site's re-created log buildings, and areas typically off-limits to the public will be open. Lincoln lived in New Salem from 1831 to 1837. He failed as a store owner, became a surveyor and launched his political career as a state legislator. The state accepted 62 acres on May 19, 1919, from the Old Salem Chautauqua Association for $1. It now covers 750 acres. Petersburg is 205 miles southwest of Chicago.

 

Indiana

Terre Haute: Indiana State University says it has received $15,000 to help provide online access to St. Mother Theodore Guerin's letters and journals. Indiana State says the project will digitize approximately 1,500 pages of original documents, translations and transcriptions. The school also will provide access to the digital representations through Indiana Memory and the Digital Public Library of America. Indiana State is assisting the Sisters of Providence of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods Archives. The letters and journals provide insight into the culture and history of 19th-century America, especially in Indiana. In 1840, Mother Guerin and five companions traveled from France to serve the Catholic community in Indiana. The grant comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

 

Iowa

Des Moines: Officials and trail advocates in the state are gearing up to be a part of an ambitious bike trail project planned to connect Washington, D.C., with Washington state. The Great American Rail-Trail – a proposed multi-use trail spanning 12 states, including Iowa, and more than 3,700 miles – has the support of the Iowa Department of Transportation, according to a DOT news release. The trail, mostly composed of defunct railroads turned into walking and biking paths, would wind through several cities including Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Madrid, Brayton and Underwood before hitting Lake Manawa State Park and then the Nebraska border, according to a map of the proposed route. Huge stretches of trails have already been planned in Iowa counties such as Muscatine, Johnson, Marshall and Guthrie.

 

Kansas

Topeka: A state report says safety doors in a Sumatran tiger's enclosure at a zoo were left unlocked before the animal attacked and injured a veteran zookeeper. The report released Friday by the Kansas Department of Labor agreed with the Topeka Zoo's assessment that no equipment failure or other problem with the enclosure led to the April 20 attack. Zookeeper Kristyn Hayden-Ortega was hospitalized after suffering puncture wounds and lacerations to her head, neck and back. Hayden-Ortega had gone into the outdoor area of the tiger's enclosure to clean it. The animal was supposed to be in an indoor area, behind two doors. The report says the doors "had been locked in the open position." The report said the zoo is now requiring that two employees check the doors.

 

Kentucky

Elliottville: Deep in the hills of Eastern Kentucky is a mysterious place where plastic baby dolls live out their final days. Each doll at the home has been abandoned. Some abused. Others are shot full of bullet holes. Some are said to be possessed. Now they rest in peace, decaying away in trees, cages and box springs at the Home for Wayward Babydolls, the work of Cecil R. Ison, a folk artist and "slightly mad scientist" and his wife, Bet. Ison's official title is the director of the International Assembly of Forensic Anthropol Morphologists, which is the study of human-like objects. Ison, 68, first began noticing discarded dolls in the wilderness while working as an archaeologist at the Daniel Boone National Forest. Now he studies them, looking for foregone conclusions of their demise in the decaying resin in what he says is an equally fractured, violent and plastic world.

 

Louisiana

Baton Rouge: The state saw record tourism numbers last year. According to Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser, the state welcomed 51.3 million visitors in 2018. He says that's an increase of 9% over the 47.1 million visitors reported by DK Shifflet, a tourism and travel research company, in 2017. In a news release Friday, Nungesser said visitors spent $18.8 billion, a 7% increase over 2017. Nungesser says tourism growth has enabled the state to generate more tax revenue. He says the state's new tourism brand, Feed Your Soul, has also helped attract more visitors. He says the promotion has helped convey to the world that "no other state can offer the incredible bounty of food, music, history and culture that Louisiana can."

 

Maine

Portland: Officials say they're getting ready to deal with an infestation of a destructive forest pest in one of the city's most prominent public spaces. Portland officials say the parks department has been monitoring oak trees in Deering Oaks Park and has identified a "limited infestation" of browntail moths. The moths are capable of killing trees, and their caterpillars have poisonous hairs that can cause a rash in humans. The city said Tuesday that forestry crews have been clipping branches over the past several months to reduce the threat of the moths. It said a number of trees will also be injected with a spray application. That work can't start until leaves start to grow on the trees, which is anticipated next week.

 

Maryland

Baltimore: A $5.5 billion redevelopment effort in the city that's been touted as one of America's biggest urban renewal efforts is moving forward. Developers and politicians held a ceremonial groundbreaking for the Port Covington initiative Monday. The South Baltimore project aims to transform a mostly industrial waterfront into an 18 million-square-foot mixed-use complex. One of the project's owners is investment banking giant Goldman Sachs. Political leaders have enthusiastically backed the redevelopment vision conceived by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. At the groundbreaking, Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young portrayed it as "vitally important" to the future of Maryland's biggest city. In 2016, Baltimore authorized a $660 million tax increment financing deal to pave the way for the Port Covington plans.

 

Massachusetts

Westport: The town is sick of homeowners and businesses raiding its beaches for free landscaping materials. So the coastal community of Westport has approved a town bylaw that would impose a $250 fine on people who take rocks or vegetation from town-owned beaches. Sean Leach, vice president of the Westport Beach Committee, says he's seen people and commercial landscapers fill up trucks with rocks that they use for fire pits, rock gardens and driveway aprons. He says winter berries and other vegetation are taken by people to be used as Christmas decor. The rock pilfering affects the resiliency of the beaches, which are important in protecting the coast. The town plans to put up signs in beach areas reminding people about the ordinance.

 

Michigan

Detroit: Two national organizations pushing for federal legislation on reparations for descendants of African American slaves are bringing their agendas and messages to the city this summer. The Detroit-based Reparations Labor Union has scheduled a June summit, which later the same week will be followed by the national conference for the Washington-based National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America, also known as N'Cobra. The events come as a national dialogue on reparations is underway. A number of Democratic candidates for president have come out in support of discussing some form of repayment to descendants of slaves. The U.S. has no reparations policy when it comes to African Americans, though legislation creating a study commission has been introduced in Congress. But N'Cobra's Jumoke Ifetayo says the attention is validating the reparations movement.

 

Minnesota

Big Lake: Officials have started work on a $4 million development project at the Northstar Operations and Maintenance Facility in the city. The Northstar commuter rail line travels between Big Lake and the Twin Cities and also links to St. Cloud via bus service. The St. Cloud Times reports that Northstar commuter rail officials say construction on the first phase of overhauls started in April and will continue to November. The changes will permit staff to renovate Northstar's six locomotives and 18 commuter rail cars starting in 2024 or 2025. Business, education, faith and local government groups would like to see the Northstar route expanded to St. Cloud. State lawmakers are considering a bill that Rep. Dan Wolgamott proposed this year that would subsidize the necessary groundwork to lengthen the Northstar route.

 

Mississippi

Mayersville: A civil rights activist who was the first African American woman to win a mayoral race in the state has died. Unita Blackwell was 86. Her son, Jeremiah Blackwell Jr., said she died Monday in Ocean Springs Hospital. Blackwell became active in the civil rights movement in the Mississippi Delta in 1964, when she and other black residents of Issaquena County tried to register to vote but were rejected because of a test rigged against them. She was in the integrated Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party delegation that challenged the state's all-white delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. From 1976 to 2001, Blackwell was mayor of Mayersville, a town of about 500. She received a MacArthur Fellowship genius grant in 1992 for her work on housing and water services.

 

Missouri

St. Louis: A mysterious package addressed to a former senator caused a brief scare when it arrived at a TV station, but it only contained a letter and novelty toilet paper. The package found Tuesday in the mailroom of KSDK-TV, an NBC affiliate, was addressed to former Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill. Fire Capt. Garon Mosby told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch it was deemed suspicious in part because it had heavy tape, no return address and perhaps an odor. Police evacuated KSDK and cordoned off a block before determining that the package contained only President Donald Trump novelty toilet paper and a letter to McCaskill.

 

Montana

Kalispell: Glacier National Park officials plan to capture and mark 10 female grizzly bears as part of an ongoing effort to monitor the population in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem. The Daily Inter Lake reports park officials announced last week that the trapping efforts will continue through October at various spots in the Montana park, which estimates 300 grizzly bears live there. The park says visitors are prohibited from entering the closed bait stations and trap sites, which will be marked by warning signs. The park recommends that visitors travel in groups and make loud noises to avoid surprise bear encounters. Yellowstone National Park announced similar plans Monday to bait and trap grizzly bears through July.

 

Nebraska

Lincoln: Hunters who use specially trained falcons to kill prey could soon be allowed to deploy those birds to get rid of pest animals that damage property. Lawmakers gave first-round approval late last week to a bill that would create a new raptor permit for wildlife abatement. Nebraska already offers hunting permits for falconers, but the new permit would allow them to use the birds against animals that damage property or pose a threat to human health, safety and commerce. One possible example is birds that congregate around airports, creating a safety hazard for aircraft. The measure by Sen. Tom Brewer, of Gordon, advanced on a 37-0 vote. Two additional votes are required before it goes to the governor.

 

Nevada

Carson City: Democrats in the state Senate rolled out a bill Monday that aims to overhaul how the state allocates education funding. The long-awaited measure was introduced during a Senate floor session a day after a Las Vegas-area teachers union announced members had authorized a strike during the next school year if demands for pay raises and resources are not met. Lawmakers have said they want to update the funding process for children who need extra support in areas such as learning English or getting free or reduced-price meals. Democratic Sen. Mo Denis has said Nevada's decades-old school funding formula has only been tweaked since its creation and was designed when students faced different needs. "We've seen that there is an additional cost for English language learners, for special ed, for free-and-reduced lunch kids," he said.

 

New Hampshire

Rochester: A homeless center has settled on a new location thanks to a donation from a local family. Fosters.com reports that Rita and Raymond Laurion have agreed to donate a vacant, 18-acre lot in Rochester to the Homeless Center for Strafford County along with $100,000. In exchange, the shelter will pay the Laurions the $50,000 in federal community development block grant funds that the Rochester City Council awarded it for land acquisition. The center currently operates from October to March in a 3,500-square-foot building in Gonic. With $1 million in donations, the nonprofit wants to expand to a 5,250-square-foot facility. The nonprofit has raised $500,000 so far. The new location is close to several companies that could offer jobs and a bus stop.

 

New Jersey

Newark: Gov. Phil Murphy signed a bill Monday that could allow for the proliferation of electric scooters and bikes throughout the state – a move deemed to be environmentally friendly but a trend that has made pedestrians and motorists pull their hair out in other parts of the country. The bill essentially allows electric scooters and bikes with top speeds of 20 mph to be regulated like basic bicycles, meaning that registration, insurance and a driver's license are not required. The measure is meant to bolster sharing platforms for scooters and bikes as an alternative to cars or other transportation that burns fossil fuels and emits pollutants. "Electric bicycles and motorized scooters offer a fantastic alternative to cars, and their use will serve to cut both emissions and congestion in our cities," Murphy said in a statement accompanying his bill signing.

 

New Mexico

Albuquerque: Environmentalists say the U.S. government must go back to the drawing board or risk violating federal laws if it moves ahead with a plan to restore portions of a national forest in southern New Mexico. The proposed project would cover more than 218 square miles in the Sacramento Mountains over the next decade or two. A combination of prescribed fire, thinning and herbicides would be used to create healthier stands of trees and reduce the wildfire threat. Environmental groups sent a letter to forest officials Monday, asking that a revised study be done. They have concerns about the effects on Mexican spotted owls and other wildlife. Officials said in a draft environmental review released earlier this year that the work would have benefits over the long term.

 

New York

Buffalo: The state is launching a competition to find a new plan for the Buffalo Skyway. Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the contest Monday, inviting urban planners, architects, community groups and others to submit proposals for replacing or reusing the aging bridge spanning the Buffalo River. A panel of judges will review the proposals and pick the winning design late this summer. The first-place team will win $100,000. The 110-foot-tall bridge is expensive to maintain and prone to weather-related closures. It's also blamed for cutting Buffalo off from its Lake Erie shoreline. Cuomo says the winning design could propose removing and replacing the Skyway or reusing it, perhaps as a pedestrian walkway. He says a new vision for the site will help revive a key part of the city.

 

North Carolina

Corolla: A group that keeps an eye on the wild horses on the state's coast says free-roaming dogs have become a threat. Meg Puckett, herd manager of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, says tourists are leaving their pets unleashed, and those pets are chasing and even biting the horses. Puckett said there have been three incident reports in the past week of dogs "chasing and harassing the horses." Puckett says on the group's Facebook page it's lucky that no one was hurt, as spooked, defensive horses are unpredictable and could turn that aggression toward people or trample beachgoers. The fund's mission is to protect and preserve the last remaining herd of Spanish mustangs on the northern Outer Banks. The fund says there are approximately 100 wild horses in the Corolla area.

 

North Dakota

Bismarck: A program that funds developers of farm products in the state is considering grant requests from a dozen projects this quarter. North Dakota's Agricultural Products Utilization Commission provides money every three months for research, marketing, farm diversification, ag tourism and technology. The group meets Wednesday and Thursday in Bismarck to discuss nearly $900,000 worth of requests. They range from about $7,000 for a freeze-dried herb operation in Esmond to nearly $250,000 for an equipment project at Cloverdale Foods in Mandan. The commission is part of the state Commerce Department.

 

Ohio

Port Clinton: High water levels on Lake Erie have been flooding streets and houses along the shoreline, and now people there are bracing for more problems. The water levels are expected to approach record heights this summer. All of the Great Lakes have been rising for several years and now are seeing an increase from winter's melting snow and recent heavy rains. Along Lake Erie, floodwaters closed several streets in Port Clinton last week. Last month, flooding cut South Bass Island in half and temporarily grounded ferries going to the island. The high water levels also are increasing erosion on the shoreline and leaving logs and debris in shallow parts of western Lake Erie. Officials say boaters will need to keep an eye out for floating dangers in the water.

 

Oklahoma

Oklahoma City: Ridership on the city's streetcar system has improved with the arrival of spring weather. The Oklahoman reports the streetcar system recorded 3,943 trips March 16 during St. Patrick's Day weekend and 3,475 trips April 27, the weekend of the Memorial Marathon and Festival of the Arts. Both dates were Saturdays and are two of the four busiest days of the year so far. Records show that since Jan. 1, Saturday generally is the streetcar's busiest day. Overall ridership dipped from 33,240 trips in March to 29,660 in April, but those figures compare to 20,528 in February and represent a roughly 50% gain in overall ridership as winter gave way to spring. Construction of the $135 million system took two years, and it opened to the public in December.

 

Oregon

Bend: At last, Gracie will have a second chance at love. The adored trumpeter swan at the Sunriver Nature Center has been alone since losing her mate, Chuck, on Thanksgiving Day in 2017, when he was illegally shot and killed by a young hunter on the Deschutes River northwest of Sunriver. But on Monday, she was introduced to a new mate, who was transported from the W.K. Kellogg Bird Sanctuary in southwest Michigan. The male, who has not been named, was released at the nature center's Lake Aspen, and he immediately glided toward Gracie. The two swans shared greetings by flapping their wings and bobbing their heads, before swimming together around the lake. It was a positive sign for the nature center and for Oregon's trumpeter swan breeding program that is trying to re-establish the recovering population.

 

Pennsylvania

Erie: In a region that gets about 10 feet of snow a year, imagine never having to shovel it again. Five engineering students at Gannon University have built a snow-removal robot that does the job, the Erie Times-News reports. They say it has 16 miles of battery life and can sweep up to 4 inches of snow. "It was designed to work on sidewalks at schools and businesses," says Mark Wesley, 22, a mechanical engineering major from Butler County. "It would run overnight, while you sleep," says Tenger Batjargal, 23, an electrical engineering major who is an international student from Mongolia. The robot, which uses the chassis and drivetrain from a power wheelchair, was created as part of a senior engineering project. The team presented their findings Friday at Gannon's Zurn Science Center.

 

Rhode Island

Portsmouth: The state's last one-room schoolhouse will remain open at least another year. The Newport Daily News reports Portsmouth Town Administrator Richard Rainer said Monday that town support of the Prudence Island School Foundation is secure for the fiscal year that begins in July. The nonprofit foundation and the Portsmouth School District have an agreement in which the district funds the education program, and the foundation runs the program and maintains the school, built in 1896. Prudence Island is part of Portsmouth. The foundation had said Saturday that the district wants to halt funding by the end of the academic year. Town Councilor Leonard Katzman says he's sure a deal can be reached to keep the school open beyond another year. The foundation currently supports the education of five island children.

 

South Carolina

Greenwood: Tourism officials in one of the state's lesser-known places want its residents to share stories about why it's a great place to be. The newly named Discover Greenwood is asking people to submit stories, pictures and videos to mygreenwoodstory.com saying why they love the city. The Index Journal of Greenwood reports the submissions will be used in a promotional video. Along with changing its name from the Greenwood Visitors and Tourism Bureau, Discover Greenwood also has a new logo. The winners of the submission contest will be announced Sept. 5 at the Uptown Live concert and will win merchandise with Discover Greenwood's new logo.

 

South Dakota

Pierre: Nearly a quarter of the state's school districts have opted for a four-day school week over the past decade, joining an increasing trend toward the altered schedule nationwide. According to the South Dakota Department of Education, 34 school districts, or nearly 23% of the 149 statewide, are maintaining a four-day school week in the current academic year. That's a jump from 9.23% in 2008-09. Only five other states have more than 20% of their districts on the four-day calendar, according to a study published in the National Council of State Legislatures magazine. Nationally, more than 560 districts in 25 states have gone to the calendar, according to the NCSL. Most of the districts are small and rural ones hoping to save money on transportation and other operating expenses, but some urban schools are also making the change.

 

Tennessee

Memphis: The Transportation Security Administration at Memphis International Airport has a Memphis in May-centric request: Please do not bring your barbecue sauce with you in your carry-on luggage. "During Memphis in May, we see an approximate 25% increase in the number of carry-on bags that we have to search at the checkpoint, and BBQ sauce is something that is frequently found," airport spokesperson Glen Thomas says. Signs reminding Memphis in May visitors that barbecue sauce is indeed a liquid and that the limit is 3.4 ounces are found at check-in counters throughout the airport. The TSA advises passengers to instead check their barbecue sauce in their luggage. TSA also advises, but does not require, that passengers check their barbecue seasoning as well. The Memphis in May World Champion Barbecue Cooking Contest starts Wednesday, with events lasting through Saturday.

 

Texas

Nacogdoches: Downtown walking tours of the city boast a unique new component this year. The Daily Sentinel reports one of the stops on the tour, the Milam Masonic Lodge No. 2, recently completed a second-floor museum displaying artifacts such as the sword of Henry C. Hancock, killed at the Battle of Mansfield. "His widow gave the sword to the lodge for safekeeping," says lodge Treasurer Dwayne Prestwood. The oldest masonic lodge in Texas to meet in the same town, the Milam Lodge's members included three signers of the Texas Declaration of Independence, Thomas J. Rusk among them. Among items arranged in glass display cases are an early 1900s Masonic ballot box, a 48-star flag, gavels used by officers throughout its history and a 1930s uniform.

 

Utah

St. George: A giant creature has found a new job guarding a southern Utah business. The "Giant Spider" sculpture will be the new mascot of Morgan Pest Control in St. George starting this week. Artist Deveren Farley says he built the 17-foot sculpture from steel and Utah licenses plates he had bought from the Salt Lake City evidence department. "Giant Spider" had been publicly displayed in downtown St. George as part of an exhibit until April, when Morgan Pest Control purchased the art piece. The eight-legged critter has evoked strong reactions on both sides. Local businesses competed to purchase the sculpture, while some residents complained the creature was too scary for public display. Farley says the reactions make his art fun.

 

Vermont

East Burke: Volunteers have planted hundreds of trees along the banks of the Passumpsic River to keep the water healthy for trout and other river life. More than 100 volunteers planted black willows, American elms, grey birch, a variety of maples and other native trees along the river in East Burke last week to restore and stabilize the riverbank. Clark Amadon, a board member of the MadDog Chapter of Trout Unlimited, the conservation group that led the project, told The Caledonian Record that native trees extend the riparian buffer – a vegetated buffer that protects waterways from adjacent land uses. The buffer helps serve as a filter, improving water quality for fish. Students from East Burke School, Burke Town School, Newark Street School, Riverside and Lyndon Institute were among the volunteers.

 

Virginia

Herndon: A newly elected state House delegate who is Muslim says he was harassed by protesters and asked how he planned to implement Sharia law at his first town hall. Del. Ibraheem Samirah said he's disappointed that the small group of protesters attacked his faith at a Saturday event. Samirah said protesters carried signs denouncing Sharia law and made pointed comments attacking his faith. He said the attacks were especially troubling because they came during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month marked by dawn-to-dusk fasting. Samirah, a Democrat, won a special election earlier this year to represent a northern Virginia district. Sharia is Islamic law, as derived from the Quran and the traditions of Islam.

 

Washington

Seattle: Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill aimed at erasing old misdemeanor marijuana convictions, seven years after voters in the state approved an initiative that legalized the drug. Under the new law signed Monday, judges are required to grant requests to vacate misdemeanor marijuana possession charges that occurred before the drug was legalized, provided the defendant was 21 at the time. The measure goes further than an earlier marijuana pardon process announced by Inslee, which had stricter eligibility requirements. Advocates have called having to list a prior misdemeanor conviction a major barrier to housing and employment and part of a system of barriers that can make it difficult for people with even minor crimes to escape a cycle of joblessness and housing issues.

 

West Virginia

Pipestem: A zip line course has opened at a state park. The new attraction opened last week at Pipestem Resort State Park in Summers County, in the state's south. The state Department of Commerce says in a news release that the 1.5-mile tour lets riders move at speeds up to 50 mph above the Bluestone National Scenic River. At the end of the tour, riders return on the park's tram. ACE Adventure Resort operates the zip line, which is part of $11 million in park renovations. Pipestem is also undergoing improvements to its cabins, lodge, campgrounds, water treatment facility and tram. The project is being funded by state bonds approved last year by the Legislature.

 

Wisconsin

Madison: The Legislature's budget committee on Tuesday voted to spend $3.25 million to combat homelessness as it continues to review Gov. Tony Evers' state budget. Fighting homelessness is a rare area of bipartisan agreement, and Republicans who control the Legislature may be able to reach common ground with the Democratic governor. Evers is recommending spending $3.25 million a year on programs to provide housing assistance, prevent homelessness, and assist people with access to transportation, child care and career placement. The Joint Finance Committee last week began working on Evers' $83 billion, two-year budget and will continue to do so for the coming weeks. Once the Legislature passes a budget, Evers can rewrite their spending plan using his expansive veto powers.

 

Wyoming

Cody: A street gunfighter show will use a real firearm for the first time since an actor mistakenly wounded bystanders with live ammunition three years ago. Actors stage the Wild Bunch gunfighter show for tourists visiting Cody. This year's show will take place Mondays through Saturdays starting June 3. Organizer Kenny Martin tells the Cody Enterprise this year's shows will begin when a woman shoots a real shotgun – loaded with blanks – into the air. Actors in the show have been using prop guns with blocked barrels since 2017. In 2016, an actor mistakenly loaded live ammunition in a real gun. He wounded three spectators when he fired the gun during the act. The accident shut down the show for the rest of that season.

From staff and wire reports

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Why Elon Musk, MIT and a 16-year-old inventor are going after mind-reading technology - Yahoo News

Posted: 11 May 2019 06:00 AM PDT

Merging the human brain with a computer would change our species forever. Researchers are developing technology that can transfer data between computers and our brains. It could even read people's minds.

For now, we have the power to detect brain waves and track electrical pulses within the neurons in our brains. Researchers are using this information to aid the differently abled and make life easier for everyone. Among these researchers is 16-year-old Alex Pinkerton.

In the 1970s, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency first starting funding brain-computer interface research. That market is expected to reach a value of $1.72 billion by 2022, according to Grand View Research .

Big players like Elon Musk and Facebook FB have teased their entrance into the market, while other companies are showing their work in action. CTRL Labs  created a wristband that measures electrical pulses from the brain to the neurons in a person's arm, allowing them to control a computer. And new and exciting research is pouring out of universities like MIT and the University of California in San Francisco .

It may be decades before we're able to transmit our complex thoughts into data through a computer, but watch the video to learn how a 16 year old is using graphene to bring us closer to that reality.

More From CNBC

These images reveal the historic and horrific flooding in Nebraska and nearby states - The Washington Post

Posted: 18 Mar 2019 12:00 AM PDT


Highway 281 is seen damaged after a storm triggered historic flooding on March 16 in Niobrara, Neb. (Office of Governor Pete Ricketts/Reuters) (Handout/Reuters)

From the northern plains to the Midwest, vast areas remain underwater as a disastrous flood event continues, even days after last week's powerhouse storm departed.

States of emergency remain in place for Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin.

Eastern Nebraska and western Iowa, where at least three deaths have occurred, have witnessed some of the worst flooding. As rivers have soared to record levels, levees have failed while bridges and thoroughfares have washed away. Numerous cities and towns are still engulfed in floodwaters.

Scenes of devastation are too numerous to fully capture, but available photographs and imagery offer a sense of the extreme nature of this event.

Waterways exploding in size


Satellite images before and after the flooding in parts of northeast Nebraska. (Sentinel 2/Mike Hollingshead)

Last week's bomb cyclone was the most powerful spring storm in the central United States in decades. In a short amount of time, it unloaded one to three inches of rain, but that by itself didn't cause the monumental flooding. There was also a ton of water packed within snow already on the ground.

As the rain poured down and this snow melted, a massive amount of water was released that ran off along the frozen turf into rivers and streams, rather than soaking into the soil. Those waterways then swelled to historic levels.

Scores of them are still at major flood stage.

The before-and-after scenes of eastern Nebraska's Elkhorn River, from the Sentinel 2 satellite (above), shows the city of Scribner turned into an island, while several nearby communities are inundated.

The river seen passing by Uehling is actually just a small creek that ballooned in size.

Pools of high standing water are apparent all around the region. Similar scenes are evident up and down the Missouri and Platte rivers, shown below.

Dam and levee failures


An aerial view of Spencer Dam after a storm triggered historic flooding, near Bristow, Neb., on March 16. (Office of Governor Pete Ricketts/Reuters) (Handout/Reuters)

"It just looked like the end of the world coming," Niobrara, Neb., Mayor Jody Stark told the Omaha World-Herald.

Stark was describing a wall of water more than a story tall rushing down the Niobrara River and into town when the upstream Spencer Dam was destroyed, unleashing a torrent of water loaded with huge chunks of ice. It all eventually surged into the Missouri River, where the weekend flooding was historic. Numerous levees and dikes failed, flooding nearby communities.

Unbelievable scenes on the ground

Pictures never truly do a disaster justice. But watching whitecaps atop normally dry prairies is something to behold, even on screen.

River floods can be gradual, with slow-rising water, but this is often not the case, and they can turn much more violent. In this instance, fast-moving water has scoured the landscape in sections of eastern Nebraska and surrounding states. In some places, rivers appear to have created new pathways.

Towns and cities underwater

Weather.com has put together a series of stunning before-and-after photos that are worth a look. One example is shown below.

It shows the small town of Bartlett, Iowa, situated near the Missouri River on the Nebraska border. It is completely engulfed by the flood. Scenes of such complete devastation are often reserved for major tornadoes in the region. But water can do serious damage, as well.

Numerous roads and highways damaged and destroyed

"Even in places where bridges remain, they're impassable," tweeted Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), while sharing a photo of a still-standing bridge covered in debris.

Dozens of roads throughout the region have been damaged and destroyed by flooding. It's not just small roads impacted either: Several highways have seen bridges demolished or large sections wiped from the earth by floodwaters. Storm chaser Mike Hollingshead has been keeping track of these locations in eastern Nebraska.

Islands of the Plains

Parts of the Great Plains and Midwest are thought of as being flat as a pancake. While this is true in spots, small changes in elevation can make a big difference. In addition to towns and cities being cut off and temporarily turned into islands, even smaller ones around the region became temporary refuge for livestock.

Dramatic scenes of rescue

Much as in the flooding in New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina or in Houston after Hurricane Harvey, emergency officials looked past personal risks to help those trapped by the rapidly rising waters.

Thousands of rescues have taken place, coordinated by multiple agencies. Chief among them are the Nebraska National Guard and Nebraska State Patrol. These folks have been instrumental in saving lives, as well as giving us a better picture of what's happening in the region with their presence on social media.

Officials under siege

The National Weather Service is tasked with saving lives and property in the face of extreme weather. On Friday, the office in Valley, along the Platte River, had to be evacuated. Rising waters were threatening to encircle them — which later happened.

They weren't alone. Offutt Air Force Base, the home of U.S. Strategic Command, has also faced floodwaters covering about a third of its facility. At least one runway was partially submerged there. A nuclear power plant on the Missouri River that was threatened by flooding was able to continue operating through the weekend.

Neighbors helping neighbors

These kinds of situations have a way of highlighting the best of communities. In addition to the tireless work of law enforcement, rescue personnel and emergency management, communities have come together to assist one another in enduring this trauma.

Not over yet

While many spots have seen water levels peak in this current episode, major rivers will only slowly recede in the hardest-hit areas this week.

Any additional rain could cause some concerns, although fortunately the forecast for the next week or so does not include a lot of precipitation.

As the spring rainy season is just getting underway and episodes of flooding have become more common in these regions, we'll need to continue monitoring weather patterns.

The 5 Best Smart Water Leak Detectors Compared - Residential Tech Today

Posted: 15 Mar 2019 12:00 AM PDT

Clean water, especially in the western U.S. has become both scarce and expensive. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), American homes lose one trillion gallons of water annually due to leaks. This is equivalent to the annual amount of water used in over eleven million homes.

Leaks not only waste water, but the damage to a home from a leak can be incredibly expensive. A 1/8" crack in a pipe can leak two hundred and fifty gallons of water in a single day and the average insurance claim from a leak is almost $7000.

Given the above statistics it makes sense for every smart home system to include technology to detect leaks.

Historically leak detection has been the job of an alarm system. Most alarm panels support both wired and wireless leak detectors. These detectors would be placed in areas of a home that have the highest risk of water damage, such as:

  • Underneath sinks
  • Behind toilets
  • Underneath refrigerators that include cold water dispensers and ice makers
  • Underneath dishwashers
  • Underneath clothes washers
  • Underneath a tank style hot water heater
  • In basements

Unfortunately, just because these are the most likely places for a leak to occur doesn't mean that the leak will follow the rule book and occur in a place where there is a water sensor. For example, a pipe run too close to a poorly insulated wall on the 2nd floor of a home could freeze while the family is on a winter, ski vacation. The resulting leak could destroy the living room, office and other first floor rooms before the water finally reaches a leak detector.

Fortunately, there are now smart leak detectors that monitor the flow of water in the home looking for leaks. Below is a comprehensive review of five cutting edge leak detectors. As you would expect with emerging technology there are significant differences between these products.

A Quick Word About How to Use this Guide

This article is extensive and designed to cover everything a home owner or installer would want to know when seriously researching leak detection devices. To make it easier for you to navigate, use the menu below to jump to different sections of the article. Each section has a "Back to Menu" link at the bottom that will jump you right back here.

Okay. Let's dive in.

TL;DR Comparison Between the 5 Cutting Edge Leak Detectors

  Water Measurement Sensitivity* Additional Sensors Water Saving Features Smart Home Integration Additional Features
Flo by Moen 1 drop per minute Water Pressure, Water Temperature Yes Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, IFTTT Built in Shutoff Valve
Streamlabs Approximately 22,730 drops per minute Room Temperature Yes Amazon Alexa, Google Nest Pipe cutting not required for installation
flume Approximately 900 to 6300 drops per minute) depending on Water Meter None Yes Future Pipe cutting not required for installation, Battery operated sensor doesn't require power outlet
FLUID Approximately 22,730 drops per minute Room Temperature Yes Future – IFTTT and SmartThings Pipe cutting not required for installation
FL-1000 1 drop per minute Water Temperature, Dry Pipe Alarm No IFTTT, Contact Closure, RS-485.

Working on interfaces to SmartThings and Control4

None

* Based on 90,921.8 drops per gallon of water.

The Flo by Moen Leak Protection System

Flo by Moen is more than just a water leak detector. First, it is the only device included in this article that includes a built in shut off valve so it can automatically shut off the water supply to the home in the event of a leak.

Second, Flo by Moen integrates a water pressure sensor. High water pressure puts stress on the plumbing in a home that can lead to premature failures, catastrophic bursts, and leaks. Flo by Moen also uses the pressure sensor in conjunction with a flow sensor to detect very small leaks. The combination of the two sensors makes this product exceptionally sensitive so it can detect leaks as small as one drop per minute.

Finally, the device includes a temperature sensor to send warnings to the homeowners if there is a risk of pipes in the home freezing; which again would lead to a catastrophic bursts or leak.

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A Smart Leak Detector and Mitigator

Flo by Moen learns how a family uses water and leverages this knowledge to detect abnormal water activity and leaks. When abnormal water activity is detected, the device sends alerts the homeowner via their mobile app, text message, email, or even a phone call. Through the app the homeowner has the option of turning off the water or recognizing that this isn't a leak and leaving the water running.

If the homeowner doesn't respond to the alert within 5 minutes, Flo by Moen can take the initiative and automatically turn off the water. It also has 2 additional modes; "away" and "sleep". In away mode the device assumes the homeowner isn't at home using water and it reduces the 5 minute delay before shutting the valve. If the home owner is, for example, filling a pool or using a large amount of water in some other way they can place the device into sleep mode and it will ignore the excessive use of water.

Flo by Moen will warn the homeowner of the following issues

  • Small drip is detected
  • Freeze warning when the temperature inside the Flo by Moen device approaches 32 degrees Fahrenheit
  • High water pressure
  • Low water pressure

Flo by Moen will also send critical alerts for the following conditions

  • Extended water usage when the water in the home is running constantly for an extended period of time
  • High water usage when an excessive amount of water is being consumed.
  • Fast water flow when the flow of water in the main water line is higher than normal
  • Water system shutoff when the device automatically shuts off the water supply to the home because the homeowner didn't respond to a critical alert
  • Flo by Moen also allows the homeowner to troubleshoot plumbing problems. For example, it could inform the homeowner that the water, in the home, has been running for an extended amount of time. It is then up to the homeowner to look around the home to uncover where the leak is. The homeowner might hear water running in a toilet and think that the toilet might have a leaky flapper valve that is wasting water. The homeowner can then simply shut off the water supply to the toilet, use the Flo by Moen App to run a water "health check", and validate whether this fixed the abnormal water activity.

Every night Flo by Moen will turn off the water supply to the home to run a detailed "health check" to assure there aren't any leaks, large or small, in the home. The health check closes the valve and monitors the pressure in the pipe, looking for even the smallest drop that would signify there is a leak. Over time, even a small leak can cause a large amount of damage in a home; including allowing mold to grow.

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System Requirements and Installation

Flo by Moen requires:

  • That the main water line is above ground and accessible inside, or near, the home
  • That the main water line is 1-1/4 inches or smaller
  • That the homeowner has an Android or Apple smart phone (there is also a web interface)
  • That the home has a 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network
  • That there is an outlet near the location on the main water line where the device will be installed (a 25 foot extension chord is also available)
  • Cutting of the main water line for installation

The smart phone app also allows the homeowner to view the real time water consumption, water pressure, and temperature in their home.

All of the above is included with the basic product. The manufacturer also offers additional value-added services, called FloProtect", for a $5 per month subscription. These include:

  • If Flo by Moen has been used properly in the home and there is a leak, Flo will reimburse the homeowner's insurance deductible towards the cost of repairs (up to $2500)
  • Water Concierge – Live chat with tech support to assist the homeowner in solving their plumbing issue
  • Enhanced water usage data by fixture
  • Extended product warranty
  • Flo will provide a letter to the homeowners insurance company verifying that the home is protected by Flo by Moen to assist the homeowner in obtaining a discount on their homeowner's insurance

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Integration with IFTTT

Flo by Moen also integrates with IFTTT. There are IFTTT triggers for all Flo by Moen system alerts. There are also IFTTT actions to open/close the included motorized valve and to set the device home/away mode.

This is a very comprehensive IFTTT service that should provide proper integration with a smart home processor/hub. For example, the smart home system could automatically set the home/away status based on when the alarm system in the home is armed/disarmed.

In addition, integration with an alarm system that includes its own water detectors could trigger Flo by Moen to turn off the water if the alarm system detects a water leak before it is recognized by the device itself. However, the requirement for an alarm system, or smart home processor/hub, to communicate through IFTTT, and not directly through a wired connection between the two devices, is a risk.

For example, a storm could both damage a home, causing a leak, and cause an Internet outage. This would keep the integration through IFTTT from working even though Flo by Moen will detect leaks and shut the valve in the event there is one without an internet connection.

Flo by Moen is a comprehensive product that covers all the bases when it comes to protecting a home from leaks. It includes a sensitive leak detection sensor, the electrically actuated valve to shut the water supply off to the home to minimize the damage from a leak, it doesn't require an active internet connection to detect a leak and close the valve, temperature and water pressure sensors that provide information that the homeowner can use to take proactive measures to protect their home, and optional add-on services to help a homeowner troubleshoot plumbing issues and better understand how water is used in the home.

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The Streamlabs Leak Detector

The Streamlabs leak detector greatly reduces the complexity of installing a leak detector so that it can be accomplished by any homeowner. The Streamlabs detector requires:

  • 2.4GHz Wi-Fi
  • Power outlet within 10 feet of where the Streamlabs detector will be located
  • At least 6 inches of clean, straight, pipe
  • Access to the water inlet supply
  • Apple or Android smart phone

However, the Streamlabs detector can only be mounted to 3/4 or one inch copper, CPVC, or PEX pipe.

The Streamlabs detector doesn't require cutting of the water pipe to install it. Instead the detector simply clamps to the pipe using two of the included zip ties. To measure the flow of water in the pipe the detector beams ultrasonic sound waves both downstream and upstream into the water pipe. It then measures the differences in these signals to determine the rate of flow of water in the pipe.

Setup simply involves:

  • Creating a Streamlabs account
  • Connecting the detector to the homeowners Wi-Fi network
  • Clamping the detector to the water pipe using two zip ties

The Streamlabs detector will then automatically determine the type, and size, of pipe it is clamped to. Finally, it is calibrated by sensing the water in the pipe first with the water flow turned off and then while a toilet is flushed or a faucet turned on to a high flow. All of this is accomplished through the mobile app.

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How the Leak Detector Works

Once setup is complete, major, and minor, leak alerts can be configured using the app. Streamlabs looks for leaks based on two factors:

  1. Length of time that water is flowing
  2. Amount of water that is flowing

This allows the Streamlabs detector to look for small leaks that occur over a period of time and larger leaks, such as a burst pipe. The settings for the time or the volume of water for a leak to be detected are fully configurable using the mobile app.

The device also supports home/away settings. When set to away, any flow of water over 15 seconds will trigger a notification being sent to the homeowner's mobile phone.

In addition, according to Jeff Long, Director of Marketing and Operations, Streamlabs has just release a new leak detection feature called SmartAlerts. This allows homeowners to enroll in a 7-day learning period where the Streamlabs leak detector will learn a family's water usage habits. It will then use this knowledge to determine what constitutes a water leak, and what isn't. For example, if someone in the family takes long showers, using SmartAlerts this won't trigger a leak notification.

Unfortunately, the ultrasonic detection technology that allows this device to be installed without cutting the water pipe has its limitations. The smallest leak that can be detected is one quarter, gallon, per minute. So, it will catch a running toilet or a faucet that was left on but a slow leak of only a few drops per minute that, over time, can lead to moisture and mold cannot be detected.

The Streamlabs leak detector also includes a temperature sensor. With this sensor, the area around it can be monitored to make sure it isn't too cold; which could result in a frozen/burst pipe.

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Limited Smart Home Integration and Support

The smart home integration capabilities of the device are limited. The Streamlabs detector can only integrate with Amazon Alexa and Google Nest. In either case this integration only provides the ability for telling the detector whether the homeowners are home or away. However, Streamlabs does have an open API so more integrations are possible in the future.

Leak notifications are only sent to the smart home app. So, if the homeowner is, for example, on vacation there isn't anything they can do about a leak. There are currently no integration capabilities that could automatically trigger a motorized valve to shut off the water to the home either directly, or through integration with an alarm system.

Even if the homeowner is only an hour away from their home, a major leak of five gallons per minute will dump three-hundred gallons of water into the home before the homeowner arrives to shut off the water supply unless the homeowner was able to contact a friend or neighbor to shut off their water.

The Streamlabs leak detector does provide information on water usage to the homeowner to help save money on their water bill. The homeowner can see the current water usage rate and the rate of use over the current day, month, and year.

Streamlabs does have a community forum; however, it is aimed at troubleshooting problems and as a vehicle for customer support to help people. The company doesn't leverage their community of users to promote more efficient use of water or allow users to compare their usage with the community to better understand how their water savings efforts compare with other users.

According to Jeff Long, Streamlabs is working to develop relationships with smart home automation companies. However, the detector is designed as a product where any homeowner can install it themselves so there are fewer opportunities for a smart home integration company to install Streamlabs than with some of the other leak detectors.

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The flume Leak Detection System

The flume leak detection system, like the Streamlabs detector, doesn't require cutting any pipes to install so the system can be easily installed by a homeowner. Unlike the Streamlabs, the flume water sensor attaches to the home's water meter using a simple, adjustable, rubber strap and leverages the flow sensors in the water meter to detect leaks. The sensor then wirelessly connects with the flume bridge; which in turn connects to the home's Wi-Fi network.

Further simplifying installation, the flume water sensor operates on four lithium ion AA batteries, with an expected lifespan of two years, and can be located up to one-thousand feet from the flume bridge. The requirement of most leak detectors of having a power outlet near where the detector attaches to the main water line can be challenging for many homeowners; especially if the main water line is located in a crawl space beneath the home.

When water flows through a typical water meter it spins a magnetic disc inside the meter. The faster the flow of water through the meter the faster the disc spins. The flume water sensor measures the magnetic field from the spinning disc to measure the flow of water.

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System Requirements and Installation

The flume leak detection system requires:

  • A compatible water meter
  • 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi network

The system is compatible with about 95% of the water meters used in the U.S. There is a list of compatible water meters on the flume website.

The flume leak detection system is reasonably simple to install. The steps include:

  • Insure the smart phone being used for the installation is connected to the home's Wi-Fi network
  • Install the flume water app from the relevant app store
  • Create a flume account
  • Enter profile information including information about how the yard is irrigated, the number of bathrooms, the number of people living in the home, and some additional details
  • Use the smart phone to scan the barcodes on the flume bridge and water sensor
  • Plug in the flume bridge and connect it to the home's Wi-Fi network
  • Place the flume bridge and the water sensor next to each other. This will establish a connection between the two devices
  • Locate the home's water meter and enter information located on the face of the meter (including the manufacturer, model, and size) in the flume water app as well as take a picture of the face of the meter. The picture will be used if help from flume customer service is required
  • Attach the flume water sensor to the meter by stretching the rubber bands connected to the sensor around the meter
  • Run a steady stream of water from a faucet or hose to calibrate the system

Through the app, the homeowner can set a budget for water usage (daily, weekly or monthly), define rules for leak detection, and display detailed reports on water usage. The dashboard page of the app shows the homeowner their water usage for the current day, how the family is doing in keeping their water usage under the budget, and whether water is currently being used; or not.

Budgets can be configured as needed by the homeowner. For example, certain areas of the country have penalties for exceeding a predefined amount of water during a specific time period. A budget could be setup to warn the homeowner when they exceed 75% of that amount to allow the homeowner to take actions so they avoid the penalties.

The app also allows the homeowner to view their detailed water usage for different time periods including minute by minute usage for the last hour.

Because the sensitivity of the flume system is dependent on the measurement sensitivity of the water meter the flume is capable of measuring leaks as small as .01 – .07 gallons per minute; depending on the water meter that has been installed. This isn't as sensitive as some of the other leak detectors. Flume works to overcome this limitation by looking at small leaks over a longer time period. For example, the low flow leak rule can be set to notify the homeowner any time the water is simply left on for 2 hours; no matter how low, or high, the flow rate is.

Finally, the app supports multiple flume leak detection systems installed at multiple houses. For example, a homeowner can install a flume leak detection system at both their vacation home and their primary residence. The app allows them to switch back and forth to view water usage at both locations as well as display notifications from both systems.

This is where the lack of integration with other smart home systems becomes even more of a limitation. Knowing that there is a leak at a vacation home that is hours away doesn't do very much good if the leak detection system can't shut the water off though integration with a motorized water valve.

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Future flume Developments to Expect

Unfortunately, today the flume leak detection system is a stand-alone device that doesn't integrate with other products. However, according to Eric Adler, CEO of flume, they are working on:

  • Nest integration to streamline the process of setting flume home/away modes
  • Direct integration with a motorized shutoff valve

Internally there is an API used for the above, and future, integrations with third party products but flume doesn't make this API public

Other plans the company has are to:

  • Release a web application for customers to interface with the flume as an alternative to their smart phone apps. A very early version is already available to customers and the company is working to squash bugs and increase its stability.
  • Add the ability to identify specific devices that use water in a home through their unique water usage signatures. Flume refers to this as "disaggregation".

Both of these new capabilities are planned for release in 2019.

While flume doesn't currently have any programs for partners, Eric is open to discussing this with interested third parties.

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The FLUID Learning Water Meter

The FLUID learning water meter was launched on Kickstarter in September of 2015. It is still an emerging product. According to Josh Becerra, founder of FLUID, the team is working hard to deliver units to backers three months from now, in April. Josh hopes to also begin selling additional units at that time.

The FLUID, like the Streamlabs leak detection system, doesn't require any pipe cutting to install. It clamps around the water supply line to the home and uses two ultrasonic transducers to measure the flow of water through the pipe.

The FLUID water meter requires

  • 3/4 inch copper pipe supplying water to the home (more pipe options are planned for the future)
  • A power outlet near where the FLUID will be mounted to the water supply line
  • Wi-Fi Network

After clamping the FLUID water meter to the water supply line inside the home, the homeowner simply plugs the power adapter into a nearby power outlet, connects the power supply to the FLUID water meter, downloads the FLUID smart phone app, and using the app connects the water meter to their Wi-Fi network.

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Leak Detection and Optimization Through Machine Learning

The FLUID water meter helps homeowners to better understand their water usage, save water, save money, and detect leaks. Because of the volume of data that FLUID has collected during their development process they've already trained their machine learning model so the meter will be able to detect the unique "signatures" of various fixtures (such as a toilet) and the various appliances that use water.

FLUID can even recognize when multiple appliances, or fixtures, are used at the same time. The system will then report how much water is used for showers, washing clothes, cleaning dishes, watering the lawn, and more.

FLUID detects leaks by watching for constant or erratic water usage. Because signatures of water use for water using appliances and fixtures have been captured by the water meter, FLUID has a unique ability to understand when abnormal water usage occurs that could be a leak. The system then sends a notification to the homeowner describing the issue through the mobile app.

However, the ability for FLUID to capture signatures and identify the devices using water will not be part of the initial release of the product. When the product launches, leaks will simply be detected by looking for abnormal water flow rates and water use over an extended period of time.

The FLUID app provides real time monitoring of water usage. It allows the homeowner to view water usage that has occurred during the day, over the past week, month, or year. A homeowner can also set monthly water consumption goals and track their family's progress towards that goal. In addition, the app will provide the homeowner with helpful tips for conserving water.

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Planned Integrations with the Smart Home

The team at FLUID is planning for integration with both Nest and SmartThings. However, this is not expected to be available at the time of the initial product release. The team also has developed a REST API that can be used for additional integration and they plan on making this API public.

Given the startup nature of the FLUID leak detector, many aspects of the product are still evolving. For example, there is discussion in a press release on the company's web site that products sold to people beyond the initial Kickstarter backers will require recurring fees. However, in my discussion with Josh Becerra their current thinking is that recurring fees will only be charged for premium services that they will deliver in the future.

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The FL-1000 Leak Detector

The FL-1000, by MC Smart Controls, is an emerging product that should be available for purchase in March, 2019. Unlike the other products, the FL-1000 is strictly a leak detector and doesn't include features to help homeowner's save water usage.

According to Lawrence Lebeau, at MC Smart Controls, their research found that homeowners quickly tired of features focused on water savings so they focused all their efforts into making the FL-1000 the most sensitive leak detector they could and to offer it at a lower price because the cost of water savings features wasn't included.

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How the FL-1000 Works

The FL-1000 is inserted into the main water line to a home after the pipe has been cut and a T adapter has been connected to the 2 pipe ends. The T adapter uses a slip fitting system that doesn't require any soldering or crimping.

The FL-1000 utilizes a very sensitive solid state sensor and is capable of detecting leaks as small as 1 drop per minute. The only other leak detector to match this sensitivity is the Flo by Moen; which also requires cutting of the main water line for installation.

The FL-1000 has the best integration features of any of the products in this article. For homeowners there is an interface through IFTTT that will be triggered whenever a leak is detected and can be used to trigger a web based water valve. In addition, there are contact closure outputs. This makes it ideal for integration with an existing alarm system or smart home processor/hub that includes control of a motorized valve in the main water line.

When either the FL-1000 or a water sensor detects a leak the alarm panel or smart home processor/hub can close the motorized valve; cutting off water to the home and stopping the leak from causing further damage. Since the action of the FL-1000 detecting a leak and closing of the motorized valve can all take place locally, within the home, this can work properly even if the Internet connection to the home is down.

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System Requirements and Installation

Installation of the FL-1000 requires:

  • Pipe Sizes of 3/4" x 1/2", 1" Copper 3/4 "x1/2",1"
  • PEX Dimensions W-2" L-5.5" Material
  • Wi-Fi
  • That the homeowner has an Android or Apple smart phone
  • That the home has a Wi-Fi network
  • That there is an outlet near the location on the main water line where the FL-1000 will be installed.

To install the FL-1000 the homeowner, or a plumber, first shuts off the water supply to the home and opens a faucet to drain as much water as possible from the home's pipes. The water supply line is then cut approximately 1 foot down stream of the shut off valve. A T-fitting is then connected to the water line.

Next, the FL-1000 sensor is connected to the right angle opening of the T-fitting. After the water supply line is turned back on and the T-fitting is checked for leaks, power is applied to the FL-1000. The homeowner can then use the app to connect the FL-1000 to their Wi-Fi network.

Using the app the homeowner can create an account, register the FL-1000, configure the FL-1000 for detecting leaks, and calibrate the sensor. Part of the registration includes telling the system the homeowners email address, telephone number, and wireless carrier. This will be used by the FL-1000 to send leak alerts to the homeowner.

With the FL-1000 app the homeowner can setup a fixed schedule of times when the FL-1000 is looking for leaks. Up to three time intervals can be scheduled in the app. However, families today don't have fixed schedules like they did in years past.

Many people work in their homes and leave for appointments on an ad hoc basis. If a fixed schedule doesn't fit the family's life lifestyle, the FL-1000 also integrates with IFTTT and it can be used to set the leak detectors home / away state to disable / enable monitoring

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Locating Leaks Within the Home

In addition to detecting leaks, the FL-1000 can also be used as a tool for locating them within a home. Using the same example that I described earlier (a suspected leaking toilet) the homeowner could turn off the water supply to the toilet, and use the FL-1000 app to run a manual leak test. If the test passes, then the homeowner knows that the toilet is the source of the leak.

In the future, MC Smart Controls is working on integrating lead detection into the FL-1000.

MC Smart Controls will also be selling a version of the FL-1000 specifically designed to detect leaks in an irrigation system. It integrates directly with their smart irrigation controller as well as controllers from some other manufacturers.

Whether MC Smart Control's focus on leak detection without features to help a family save on their water usage is the correct strategy remains to be seen. However, purchasing an FL-1000, with its very sensitive leak sensor, and a device, like the flume, to help the family manage water usage is a strategy that some homeowners might embrace.

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Additional Strategies for Protecting a Home from Leaks

While the devices described above can detect leaks in a home, even when integrated with a motorized water valve, there are limitations. Installing an alarm panel with water sensors at key points in the home, that are at the highest risk for leaks can shorten the time for a leak to be detected; if the leak occurs at a historically vulnerable location. But, this can be an added expense that goes beyond what a homeowner may be willing to spend. Fortunately, there are other options to reduce the risk of leaks in a home, at the most vulnerable locations, which can be recommended, and installed, by an integrator.

Floodstop

One of the most inexpensive investments in leak prevention is to replace the rubber hoses that come with most clothes washing machines with hoses that are covered with a steel braid. This inexpensive fix greatly reduces one of the most common points of a catastrophic leak in a home; a burst washing machine hose.

Even a washing machine hose with a steel braid isn't 100% immune from bursting over time so an additional safety measure is to install a Floodstop for the washing machine. The Floodstop includes both a water sensor that is placed below the washing machine and motorized valves that cut off the supply of water to the washing machine if a leak is detected. The Floodstop also includes a contact closure output so it can be integrated with an alarm panel to trigger a water leak alarm.

In addition, Floodstop manufactures similar devices to protect:

  • Water Heaters
  • Dish Washers
  • Ice Makers
  • Sinks

LeakSmart

LeakSmart is an award winning leak detection system based on wireless sensors that can be placed at strategic points around a home and includes two options for shutting off the flow of water in a home in the event of a leak. The first option is a motorized valve that is installed by cutting the main water supply line. The second option is a motor that clamps to the standard, manual, cutoff valve that is installed in every home. LeakSmart also has devices, like Floodstop, for cutting off the flow of water to appliances that are prone to water leaks.

LeakSmart currently integrates with Nest, Wink, Iris, and Amazon Alexa. They are also planning on direct integration with some of the professionally installed automation systems. In addition, from my discussion with LeakSmart, they are planning on releasing a flow based detector that will integrate with their system later in 2019.

This will be a true hybrid system that detects leak through both water flow monitoring and water sensors at high risk locations. It is also worth noting that the LeakSmart system doesn't require an active internet connection to operate.

If a homeowner doesn't feel that the risk of an internet outage is significant, then a smart leak detector could be integrated, through IFTTT, with a Flo by Moen leak detector to monitor high leak risk locations and close the Flo by Moen valve in the event of a leak. The iHome Control Wi-Fi Dual Leak Sensor is a wirecutter favorite that integrates with IFTTT and could be used this way.

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Integrator Opportunity

Water leaks pose a significant threat to homeowners and I believe that every smart home should include protection from leaks. Integrators can easily leverage the average cost of repairing a leak against the low cost of installing preventative hardware in a discussion with a homeowner as to whether it should be included in the installation of a smart home system.

To further the message of financial advantages of installing a leak detection system a homeowner may be able to obtain a discount on their homeowner's insurance. With the add-on FloProtect service, Flo will provide the homeowner with a letter that can be submitted to the homeowner's insurance company to obtain such a discount; though not all insurance companies will provide one. Integrators, as part of the installation of any leak detection system, can provide a similar letter themselves; as long as they are using high quality parts and proven techniques for protecting the homeowner from water leaks. Again, this can further the economic case for the homeowner to purchase a leak protection system.

Flo by Moen is the only device that combines leak detection and automated water shutoff though flume plans to add this integration in the future. The only alternative that can combine these two functions is for an integrator to install an FL-1000 and leverage the contact closure output to trigger the closing of a motorized shutoff valve. Like the Flo by Moen, this provides a system where the water can be shutoff without requiring an active Internet connection.

Integrators need to be aware that installation of a motorized valve requires periodic exercising of the valve to assure it won't freeze over time; especially, if the home is located in an area with hard water. The Flo by Moen shuts its valve every night as part of the way it measures for leaks so with this device periodic valve exercising isn't required.

Finally, it is always a good idea to protect these devices, along with a motorized valve, with an uninterruptable power supply (UPS) so they can operate during a power outage (Flo by Moen is introducing a battery backup in 2019). In fact, if there is a power outage during the winter, when the home isn't occupied, and the risk of a pipe freezing becomes very high, it is a good idea to immediately turn off the water to the home to avoid the possibility that the UPS battery runs low before the temperature in the home drops to a critical level that would freeze a pipe.

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Areas for Improvement

An issue is that all these leak detectors that include a temperature sensor, except the FL-1000 and Flo by Moen, measure the temperature of the room where the leak detector is located. The FL-1000 and Flo by Moen actually measures the temperature of the water. The homeowner can use the FL-1000 mobile app to set a temperature threshold for freeze alarms being sent by the device.

This can also be done with Flo by Moen but it does require a call to tech support. This is important as water temperatures in certain parts of the country can be quite low during the winter and without the adjustment could potentially trip the alarm.

Measuring the temperature of the room can be problematic. In most cases the leak detector will be installed in the basement of a home, or the crawl space below a home. The temperature of the basement, while typically cooler than the rest of the house during the summer may, in fact, may be warmer than the rest of the home if the heat has failed, during the winter, for an extended period of time. In this case the temperature in an upstairs bathroom might be cold enough for a pipe to freeze but the temperature in the basement might remain too warm for the leak detector to think there was an issue.

It would be much better if the leak detectors that measure room temperature included a battery operated, wireless, temperature sensor that could be located in a place in the home that was vulnerable to freezing pipes. While Flo by Moen will detect leaks and close it's integrated valve without an active Internet connection, room temperature sensors around a house that integrated with a smart home processor/hub could also be used to close the valve on the Flo by Moen through IFTTT; but only if whatever caused the heating system to fail didn't also cause Internet access to be down. If the motorized valve was integrated directly with the smart home processor/hub and both were protected by a UPS then this would eliminate that risk.

Detecting leaks without including some way for the water flow to the home to be automatically shut off is simply inadequate protection. Further, requiring an active internet connection for the water to be shut off after a leak has been detected places the homeowner at added risk.

Today, people spend a great deal of time away from their home at working, socializing, shopping, eating out, vacationing, etc. A system that doesn't automatically shut off the water leaves a homeowner at significant risk for a large amount of damage from a leak, even if they are notified that a leak has occurred.

Motorized water shut off valves are available from a number of manufacturers and can be leveraged to provide a complete leak protection system if the Flo by Moen isn't chosen as the solution for a customer. Some choices are:

When it comes to saving water, none of these devices leverage the power of the community. The folks at MC Smart Controls may be correct that the average person quickly loses interest in initiatives to save water in a home, save energy, etc. However, Facebook, Twitter, and even Reddit have shown us the power of the community to keep people engaged.

These manufacturers should do more to leverage their user community. Individual budgets can be set but there isn't any feedback on how a homeowner's water usage compares to other people with similar demographics.

A single person living in a one bedroom apartment is going to have very different water usage compared to a four person family living in a detached home. The data needs to be better normalized and people with the lowest usage should be incentivized to share their savings techniques with other community members to help fulfill the goal of these devices; reduced water consumption.

Flo by Moen and potentially FLUID have gone the route of charging recurring subscription fees. Flo has done this for add on services including the use of water signatures to identify how much water is used by individual devices in a home and gap insurance that covers a homeowner's deductible in the event of damage from a water leak. FLUID has similar plans.

Let's be honest, people hate subscription fees. On the other hand, people have learned to tolerate ads within apps that support keeping a service free. These companies both use water-use signatures to identify specific devices in a home and could easily have looked at a homeowner's water usage of, for example, a toilet and provided ads of more water efficient toilets that could save the homeowner money on their water bills.

With the specific information Flo by Moen and FLUID have on water usage and the cost of water in the customer's geographic area, the ad could include accurate estimates of the amount of water and money that would be saved by purchasing this advertised, water saving, toilet. This could be a very effective ad that would be valuable to, in this case, a toilet manufacturer and offer real revenue to offset the recurring fees being charged. It also offers real value to the homeowner.

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Future Directions

I believe that insurance companies will begin to drive adoption of leak detection technology into homes. Insurance claims for leaks are such a problem that this is inevitable. Currently some insurance companies offer discounts on homeowner's policies for people who install a water leak detection system. However, I have heard of people who, after insurance has paid a significant insurance claim for a leak, have been forced to install a leak detection system.

I believe this trend will expand and homeowners will have to install leak detection systems or face significant premium increases. It is possible that some insurance companies will even refuse to renew a homeowner's policy without a leak detection system being installed. Products like Flo from Moen and the FL-1000 that either include a shutoff valve or can be integrated with one are the ones best positioned for this.

However, I also believe that a hybrid approach to detection where flow based leak detection is integrated with strategically placed water and temperature sensors, in a home, provides the best possible protection from leaks. Flow based leak detectors have their limitations because they are trying to differentiate between normal water usage and a leak. Because of this the leak from, for example, a broken washing machine hose, can do quite a bit of damage before the leak is detected by the flow based leak detector. Similarly, traditional leak detectors are limited to only being able to detect a leak where sensors have been installed in a home.

Today, only the FL-1000, when connected to a traditional alarm panel that includes water and temperature sensors around a home, can provide hybrid leak protection without an active Internet connection. A similar system can be created by integrating IoT sensors with Flo by Moen using IFTTT. However, the risk to this is that an active Internet connection is required for the sensors to communicate through IFTTT to close the Flo by Moen valve. Whether this risk is an issue for people depends on their personal situation and their ISP. People in major metropolitan areas may have very reliable Internet access while Internet access can be spotty in more rural areas.

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For more from Jay Basen, visit his blog, Topics in Home Automation.

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