WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio (AFRL) – The Air Force Research Laboratory’s Aerospace Systems Directorate successfully flew the XQ-67A, an Off-Board Sensing Station, or OBSS, uncrewed air vehicle Feb. 28, 2024, at the General Atomics Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility near Palmdale, California.
The XQ-67A is the first of a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms, or ACP. Following the success of the XQ-58A Valkyrie, the first low-cost uncrewed air vehicle intended to provide the warfighter with credible and affordable mass, the XQ-67A proves the common chassis or “genus” approach to aircraft design, build and test, according to Doug Meador, autonomous collaborative platform capability lead with AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate. This approach paves the way for other aircraft “species” to be rapidly replicated on a standard genus chassis.
This new approach also responds to the challenge of great power competition by speeding delivery of affordable, advanced capability to the warfighter.
“This approach will help save time and money by leveraging standard substructures and subsystems, similar to how the automotive industry builds a product line,” Meador said. “From there, the genus can be built upon for other aircraft — similar to that of a vehicle frame — with the possibility of adding different aircraft kits to the frame, such as an Off-Board Sensing Station or Off-Board Weapon Station, [or OBWS].”

AFRL’s XQ-67A Off Board Sensing Station, or OBSS, designed and built by General Atomics, took its maiden flight Feb. 28 from Gray Butte Field Airport, Palmdale, California. XQ-67A completed several test points and safely recovered on the first of a series of flight tests. The XQ-67A is the first of a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms, or ACP.(Courtesy photo.)
AFRL’s XQ-67A Off Board Sensing Station, or OBSS, designed and built by General Atomics, took its maiden flight Feb. 28 from Gray Butte Field Airport, Palmdale, California. XQ-67A completed several test points and safely recovered on the first of a series of flight tests. The XQ-67A is the first of a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms, or ACP.(Courtesy photo.)

So, what is an autonomous collaborative platform?

“We broke it down according to how the warfighter sees these put together: autonomy, human systems integration, sensor and weapons payloads, networks and communications and the air vehicle,” Meador said.

“We’ve been evolving this class of systems since the start of the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Technologies, [or LCAAT], initiative,” he added.
The major effort that initially explored the genus/species concept was the Low Cost Attritable Aircraft Platform Sharing, or LCAAPS, program, which fed technology and knowledge forward into the OBSS program that culminated with building and flying the XQ-67A, Meador said.
“The intention behind LCAAPS early on was these systems were to augment, not replace, manned aircraft,” said Trenton White, LCAAPS and OBSS program manager from AFRL’s Aerospace Systems Directorate.
In late 2014 and early 2015, the initial years of the LCAAT initiative, the team began with some in-house designs, for which Meador credits White, who led the studies early on that evolved into the requirements definition for the Low Cost Attritable Strike Demonstrator, or LCASD, Joint Capability Technology Demonstration. The LCASD team defined, designed, built and tested the XQ-58 for the first time in 2019.
“The first generation was XQ-58, and that was really about proving the concept that you could build relevant combat capability quickly and cheaply,” White said.

The OBSS program built upon the low-cost capability that LCASD proved by leveraging design and manufacturing technology research that had taken place since the first generation and was directed to reduce risk in the development of future generations, White added.
“We had always intended from the start of LCAAT to have multiple vehicle development spirals or threads of vehicle development,” White said. “Then once the vehicle is proven ready, you can start integrating stuff with it, such as sensors, autonomy, weapons, payloads and electronics.”
With the XQ-67A, the team is using the platform-sharing approach or drawing leverage from automotive industry practices.
“We are looking to leverage technology development that’s been done since XQ-58, since that first generation,” White added.
With advancements in manufacturing technology since the XQ-58, the team aimed to use that system and the technology advancements to create a system design with lower cost and faster build in mind.
“It’s all about low cost and responsiveness here,” White said.

AFRL’s XQ-67A Off Board Sensing Station, or OBSS, designed and built by General Atomics, took its maiden flight Feb. 28 from Gray Butte Field Airport, Palmdale, California. XQ-67A completed several test points and safely recovered on the first of a series of flight tests. The XQ-67A is the first of a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms, or ACP.(Courtesy photo.)
AFRL’s XQ-67A Off Board Sensing Station, or OBSS, designed and built by General Atomics, took its maiden flight Feb. 28 from Gray Butte Field Airport, Palmdale, California. XQ-67A completed several test points and safely recovered on the first of a series of flight tests. The XQ-67A is the first of a second generation of autonomous collaborative platforms, or ACP.(Courtesy photo.)

The team began discussing LCAAPS in 2018, focusing on the notion of “can we provide the acquirer with a new way of buying aircraft that is different and better and quicker than the old traditional way of how we build manned aircraft,” Meador said. “Which means we pretty much start over from scratch every time.”
Instead, the team considered the same approach that a car manufacturer applies to building a line of vehicles, where the continuous development over time would work for aircraft, as well.  
“It’s really about leveraging this best practice that we’ve seen in the automotive and other industries where time to market has decreased, while the time to initial operating capability for military aircraft has increased at an alarming rate,” White said.
With this genus platform, White said a usable aircraft can be created faster at a lower cost with more opportunities for technology refresh and insertion if new models are being developed and rolled out every few years.

AFRL harnesses science and technology innovation for specific operational requirements to ensure meaningful military capabilities reach the hands of warfighters. The XQ-67 is the first variant to be designed and built from this shared platform, White said.

“The main objectives here are to validate an open aircraft system concept for hardware and software and to demonstrate rapid time-to-market and low development cost,” he added.
This project looked at incorporating aspects of the OBSS and the OBWS to different capability concepts. The OBSS was viewed as slower while carrying sensors but have longer endurance, while the OBWS was considered faster and more maneuverable, with less endurance but better range.
“We wanted to design both of those but figure out how much of the two you can make common so we could follow this chassis genus species type of approach,” Meador said.
XQ-67A has been just over two years in the making, moving quickly through the design, build and fly process. While the team initially worked with five industry vendors, AFRL decided at the end of 2021 to exercise the opportunity to build the General Atomics design.
This successful flight is initial proof that the genus approach works, and aircraft can be built from a chassis.
“This is all part of a bigger plan and it’s all about this affordable mass,” Meador added. “This has to be done affordably and this program — even though there’s an aircraft at the end that we’re going to get a lot of use out of — the purpose of this program was the journey of rapid, low-cost production as much as it was the destination of a relevant combat aircraft.”

This signals to other companies that there is a new approach to constructing an aircraft, moving away from the conventional method of starting from scratch, Meador said.
“We don’t have the time and resources to do that,” Meador said. “We have to move quicker now.”

For museum professionals, dissatisfaction like this can be difficult to swallow. We like to think of our institutions as places for respite, learning, and enjoyment. We want our audiences to be challenged and delighted and for our institutions to become cherished within our communities. But are we fulfilling our missions and visions when audiences are leaving frustrated due to the inability to access the information we are presenting? Should positive experiences be a rarity for some parts of our community? Is it equitable for certain audiences to have to work for the same access that others do not? I would hope the answer to these questions would be a resounding no.

Nonetheless, the blind and visually impaired community remains a chronically underserved group in museums, due to a reliance on largely visual exhibition design elements. This dependency on the visual can make content inaccessible to these visitors, who make up an estimated seven million people in the US alone, causing them to feel disappointed or unwelcome.

By integrating the blind perspective into their practices and elevating their accessibility measures, museums can reach wider and more diverse audiences, making negative experiences fewer and further between. But in order for this to be possible, our institutions must first shift away from seeing those who have disabilities as an outlying “problem” that needs a special solution. Instead, we need to think holistically about the interplay between visitors and our environment, across a wide spectrum of ability. When a person with a disability is having trouble within a designed environment, it often means that those without disabilities are too. In that sense, harnessing the perspectives of people with disabilities can reap universal benefits, helping point to limitations in our visitor experience that might be weakening it for everyone.

This effect can be especially potent when applied to blind audiences, since a reliance on visual information is so ingrained in museum practices. To illustrate how museums can transform their work when they integrate this perspective, this post shares examples of institutions that have done so using a variety of techniques, which other museums can emulate for the benefit of all visitors.

Example 1: The Museum of the Gateway Arch

A recent renovation allowed the Museum of the Gateway Arch in St Louis, Missouri, to become a more welcoming environment where all visitors feel they can take ownership of the space. To achieve this outcome, the museum implemented universal design (UD), defined as “the design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” The principles of UD are as follows:

  • Equitable use: The design is usable by people with a variety of ability levels.
  • Flexibility in use: The design acknowledges a range of abilities and preferences.
  • Simple and intuitive use: The design should be easy for anyone to understand, regardless of their prior knowledge.
  • Perceptible information: The design communicates necessary information to the individual regardless of their sensory abilities.
  • Tolerance for error: The design takes into account that individuals may make mistakes during its use. Employing this principle lessens negative consequences, unintended actions, or hazards during the experience.
  • Low physical effort: The design can be used comfortably by anyone with minimal fatigue or difficulty.
  • Effective size and space for approach and use: The design is an appropriate size for anyone who may interact with it. This might mean having adjustments for a user’s size, shape, and mobility level.

To employ these principles, exhibition designers at the museum developed multiple means of forming connections with history, allowing visitors to explore through both sight and touch. For example, the museum provides a tactile model of the Gateway Arch and its surrounding grounds, situating visitors with visual and touchable elements representing structures, plants, and walking paths. Another model features a metal buffalo figurine coupled with a piece of mounted fur, so that visitors can understand both the form and texture of the animal. The museum also has plans to incorporate audio guidance in future exhibitions. UD has allowed visitors at the Museum at the Gateway Arch to have a more hands-on learning experience while also crafting a space that is more accessible to visitors with a variety of disabilities, including the blind community.

Example 2: Tiflológico Museum (Museum for the Blind)

Established in 1992, the Tiflológico Museum in Madrid, Spain, aims to serve visually impaired visitors through primarily tactile exhibition elements. It advertises itself as a museum that is meant to be both seen and touched, providing components that align closely with UD principles. This is a major contrast to a typical museum experience, often decorated with “do not touch” signs to deter viewers from handling objects within the galleries. While the space is catered toward blind individuals, all visitors are encouraged to participate in touch-based installations that explore both art and architecture. This includes reproductions of well-known monuments as well as tactile pieces created by blind artists displayed with vibrant colors and raised patterns. In addition to these models, the museum presents devices that have been used by the blind community throughout history, giving sighted viewers an understanding of the assistive technology that is essential for visually impaired users. By centering itself around the blind experience, the Tiflológico Museum has become a unique and interactive space that can be enjoyed by all groups of visitors.

Example 3: The High Museum of Art

An example of an immersive museum experience that draws upon the blind perspective is Outside the Lines at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, GeorgiaOutside the Lines is an immersive maze experience created by Bryony Roberts, an architect, designer, and scholar, and Monica Obinski, the High Museum’s Curator of Decorative Arts and Designs. The designers worked closely with the Center for the Visually Impaired in Atlanta to create the installation, leading them to incorporate a variety of textures and textiles, encouraging all visitors to touch, experience, and play within the maze. While the design is visually intriguing, it does not rely on the visual to engage and immerse visitors. Roberts describes the space as “active, unpredictable, and multi-sensory…crossing the lines that are often drawn between the experiences of people with disabilities and without disabilities, in public space.” With accessibility standards, UD principles, and the blind perspective in mind, museum professionals can create meaningful and inclusive immersive exhibitions similar to Outside the Lines for the enjoyment of all audiences.

Example 4: National Gallery of Prague

Another example of exhibition design informed by the blind experience is the National Gallery Prague’s 2018 Touching Masterpieces exhibition. For Touching Masterpieces, Geometry Prague and NeuroDigital partnered with the museum and the Leontinka Foundation for the blind and visually impaired to transform its best-known sculptures into virtual objects that could be felt through haptic glove technology. When visitors wore them, the gloves vibrated and gave feedback to mimic what it might feel like to run your hands over the artworks. While the project was specifically designed to give blind individuals the most accurate representation of the 3D objects as possible, it created a fuller experience for all visitors, giving them access to a sensory experience they would not otherwise have. As one participant in the exhibition put it in a video published by Geometry Prague:

“Art is not always explainable just by words. The element of touching it and feeling it is missing…reading about it is not the full experience. It shouldn’t be.”

Though this specific technology is not as easily applied to most two-dimensional artworks, there are similar technologies available for translating visual information into tactile equivalents. Likewise, while a virtual reality experience such as this one may not be realistic for every museum, lower-tech alternatives coupled with audio description might have a similar impact.


By acknowledging and embracing the blind perspective, museums and cultural institutions can move towards greater cultural inclusivity while also improving exhibition design and enjoyment for everyone. The case studies within this article use universal design, assistive technology, and virtual reality to create more well-rounded and multi-sensory experiences for all visitors. When design elements are developed to reach beyond sight alone, audiences have the opportunity to participate in more enhanced experiential learning. The experience of blindness can provide a unique and nuanced perspective to the museum environment, enhancing visitor engagement and allowing audiences to develop even deeper connections with the objects and stories found within our exhibition spaces.

In early 2024 most parts of Kenya, including Nairobi, experienced unusually high temperatures. The World Meteorological Organisation described the hot weather as a global phenomenon: record high temperatures were recorded in 2023. January 2024 has been recorded as the hottest month on record so far worldwide. Gilbert Ouma, the coordinator of the University of Nairobi’s Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation, and an associate professor at the Department of Meteorology, answers some key questions.

What is unusual about the weather in Nairobi?

The annual average temperatures for Nairobi are normally moderate, between 24°C and 25°C on the higher side and 17°C-18°C on the lower side. These are generally very comfortable temperatures. However, in the December-January-February period, maximum temperatures are normally high, ranging between 26°C and 27°C.

This year, temperatures in February went up to between 29°C and 30°C, even hitting 31°C. This is about 6°C higher than normal Nairobi temperatures. That is a big difference and our bodies are bound to feel the difference. If such an increase is sustained for a long time, it can lead to a heat wave.

But in Nairobi’s case, the high temperatures have been on and off, so we can’t really talk of a heat wave. What Nairobi has had is a wave of hot weather that the human body can easily adjust to.

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Why is the weather suddenly hot?

The winds that pass over Kenya from December to February every year are from the north. They blow mainly through continental areas, including some deserts. These winds flow in waves and periodically bring hot weather, the kind that has prevailed recently across east Africa.

The temperatures that are prevailing in Kenya are also dictated by the path that the winds take from the north. If the path is straight (over land mass), then we end up with these high temperatures that we have experienced in the early months of 2024. If the winds follow a path that curves into the Indian Ocean, then the temperatures get moderated, resulting in cooler weather and rainfall in Kenya and other parts of east Africa.

Also, because of climate change, average global temperatures are rising. The temperatures last year were the highest on record. So the relatively high temperatures that we normally experience during this season (December-January-February) may be considerably higher.

Another thing to note is that the December to February season is always a dry season in Kenya, but December and January of 2024 were wet because of the late el Niño rains. The el Niño phenomenon is normally experienced in this region within the September-October-November season. The temperatures which were supposed to be high in December and January were therefore moderated by those rains. So, when the rains ceased, the usual heat suddenly set in, making February feel very hot.

Kenya and its eastern African neighbours have all experienced the hot weather. The region is now moving towards the March-April-May season when the rainfall belt comes back around the equator and the sun will be overhead. The rainfall is expected to moderate the high temperatures.

What’s the effect of rising temperatures?

Aside from the hot weather at this time of year, the global climate is changing and average global temperatures are rising. The annual temperature for Africa has been increasing at an average rate of 0.13°C per decade since 1910, but this has more than doubled to 0.28°C since 1981. The normal minimum temperatures and the maximum temperatures are rising. This will lead to changes in extremes, such as storms. A storm is a way that the atmosphere discharges excess energy to regain equilibrium. When the energy builds in the atmosphere up to over certain levels, the excess has to go somewhere. The excess energy build-up due to the greenhouse gas effect, which leads to climate change, requires dissipation. This is usually achieved through intense storms, leading to more frequent extreme rainfall events. On the other hand, the other extreme of very low rainfall will also occur, and so we will get more droughts. The total amount of rains will go up in some places and down in others.

There will also be an impact on ecosystems. A number of species will not survive the changing climate. For instance, mosquitoes cannot thrive in temperatures below 17°C and above 35°C. So when the average temperatures of places go beyond this range, mosquitoes would find it difficult to survive. However, the temperatures of some places whose temperatures were not within this range may change and get within it. For such places, malaria will become a problem when previously there was no malaria there.

The long term effect would be bad on people’s health. It could lead to heat stroke and chronic conditions such kidney disease, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. It could also cause respiratory problems such as asthma.

Researchers present the world's oldest long-necked marine reptile
The fossil of the long-necked marine reptile Trachelosaurus fischeri. Credit: SMNS, Liliana Reinöhl

An international team of scientists led by Dr. Stephan Spiekman, Dr. Eudald Mujal and Prof. Dr. Rainer Schoch, paleontologists at the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, has re-examined the fossil of the reptile Trachelosaurus fischeri, which was first described at the beginning of the 20th century.

Comparisons with new fossil finds of a similar marine reptile from China show that Trachelosaurus fischeri is the world’s oldest long-necked marine reptile. The scientists have published their research findings on the 247-million-year-old fossil from Sachsen-Anhalt, Gemany, in the Swiss Journal of Palaeontology.

Trachelosaurus fischeri was already discovered back in the 19th century in layers of Buntsandstein (Middle Triassic) in Bernburg an der Saale, Germany, and it was subsequently added to the collection of Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. The specimen is currently on loan to the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart, where it was re-examined by specialists.

Trachelosaurus fischeri was first described in a publication in 1918, but controversy remained as to what kind of reptile this fossil actually represented. This is because Trachelosaurus fischeri has a unique anatomy, including an unusually large number of vertebrae, and because of the relatively poor preservation of the fossil: The skeleton is incomplete and its remains are scattered all over the rock in which it was preserved.

“Through research on Chinese fossils of the long-necked marine reptile Dinocephalosaurus, which I published with colleagues just a few weeks ago, we were able to solve the mystery of Trachelosaurus fischeri. The anatomy shows us that it is closely related to Dinocephalosaurus.

“Trachelosaurus fischeri is the first fossil of this reptile group to be found outside of China. It is also the oldest long-necked marine reptile known to date,” says Dr. Stephan Spiekman, an expert on this group of animals at the State Museum of Natural History Stuttgart.

Researchers present the world's oldest long-necked marine reptile
Skeletal reconstruction of Trachelosaurus fischeri and comparison with other long-necked, aquatic tanysaurians. Credit: Swiss Journal of Palaeontology (2024). 

After the great mass extinction at the Permian-Triassic boundary 252 million years ago, there was a very rapid diversification of new  species on both land and in the water at the beginning of the Triassic period. These included the first long-necked marine reptiles. How these complex evolutionary biological developments took place is an important subject of research.

The scientists suspect that Trachelosaurus fischeri was washed into a shallow water area 247 million years ago, as footprints of land-dwelling animals are also preserved on the rock in which the fossil is preserved.

For the researchers, the find and its re-evaluation are another step toward a better understanding of  at the beginning of the Triassic period. The history of the fossil shows the importance of historical  and university collections for natural history research, emphasize the authors of the study.

New discoveries from various parts of the world regularly enable scientists to reinterpret what was already discovered many years, sometimes even centuries, ago and carefully being kept in museums.

Fixing space-physics mistake enhances satellite safety
The Van Allen radiation belts provide a natural analog to artificial radiation belts that could occur after a high-altitude nuclear explosion. In this image, the red lines circling Earth is an artificial belt of high intensity, and the yellow regions are the natural belts; LEO/MEO/GEO refer to low-Earth orbit, medium Earth orbit and geostationary Earth orbit. Credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory

Correcting 50-year-old errors in the math used to understand how electromagnetic waves scatter electrons trapped in Earth’s magnetic fields will lead to better protection for technology in space.

“The discovery of these errors will help scientists improve their models of artificial radiation belts produced by high-altitude  and how an event like that would impact our space technology,” said Greg Cunningham, a space scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. “This allows us to make better predictions of what that threat could be and the efficacy of radiation belt remediation strategies.”

Heliophysics models are important tools researchers use to understand phenomena around the Earth, such as how electrons can become trapped in the near-Earth space environment and damage electronics on space assets, or how Earth’s magnetic field shields us from both  and particles in solar wind.

Cunningham is particularly interested in studying the Van Allen radiation belts because they provide a natural analog to artificial radiation belts that could occur after a high-altitude nuclear explosion.

“In an artificial radiation belt, electrons produced by a nuclear explosion can become trapped in the Earth’s magnetic field in the same way as naturally occurring radiation belts,” Cunningham said. “When these electrons become trapped in the inner radiation belt for many years, they could destroy existing satellites and make it impossible to deploy new ones.”

Researchers in the heliophysics community have long been using quasilinear theory, which explains plasma turbulence, to understand particle scattering. Simulation models based on the theory play an important role in understanding how to protect .

But through his research, Cunningham tried to rederive papers based on quasilinear theory and discovered errors in the longstanding equation used across the space-physics community.

“In certain types of models, this error can really impact the answer you get; you can get orders of magnitude difference in the scattering rates,” Cunningham said. “Now, researchers who have written papers over the last 20 or 30 years can go back and take a look and see whether or not this affects their work.”

“The error went undiscovered for so long simply because the research community didn’t think the original authors, who are highly cited researchers in the field, could have made this mistake,” he added.

Cunningham’s paper detailing the errors was recently published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Space Physics.