Futurology ~ Cassini, NASA chainmail, artificial womb, iWalk, plastic-eatin’ bug, speeding cheap drives, DNA treatment, mass-producing organs, seniors’ VR future, mastodon threatens history


NASA’s 3D-printed chainmail — The biggest improvement NASA has made in its 21st century version of chain mail, developed by a team led by Raul Polit Casillas at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, is how it’s manufactured. Instead of a medieval blacksmith spending weeks painstakingly connecting tiny loops of metal, one by one, the material shown above and below is 3D printed by a machine, which means it could be produced as needed on the space station, or on other off-Earth habitats, depending on where we travel in the coming decades.
~ Have at you, space varlet!

Cassini’s latter images — A Deep Space Network receiver picked up a signal from NASA’s Cassini orbiter as it emerged from its first trip through the gap between Saturn and the gas giant’s rings. In the ensuing data came pictures of the planet’s north pole and cloud tops from only 3000 kilometres away, our closest look yet at the upper part of Saturn’s atmosphere, where the pressure is about the same as it is at sea level on Earth, revealing ‘stringy’ clouds and odd lights. So what were we seeing?
~ In September, Cassini’s ‘final’ descent’ – let’s hope its crash isn’t seen as an act of war. 

Artificial womb birthed sheep, humans next? Inside what look like oversized ziplock bags strewn with tubes of blood and fluid, eight fetal lambs continued to develop much like they would have inside their mothers. Over four weeks, their lungs and brains grew, they sprouted wool, opened their eyes, wriggled around, and learned to swallow, according to a new study that takes the first step toward an artificial womb. One day, this device could help to bring premature human babies to term outside the uterus.
~ Can you keep them in the freezer till you want them? 

The iWalk2.0 hands-free crutch is a ‘high-tech peg-leg’ — The single ‘leg crutch’ straps to your leg and provides a built-in shelf upon which you rest your injured foot. It promised a way to walk around normally, arms completely unencumbered.
~ Basically, this is a high-tech peg-leg which gets you mobile again.

Plastic-munching caterpillar — In a chance discovery, a research team from Europe has learned a common insect larva is capable of breaking down the plastic found in shopping bags and other polyethylene-based products. This trash-munching caterpillar could inspire scientists to develop a new chemical process to tackle the growing problem of plastic waste.
~ So is its poo non-biodegradable? 

Optane memory speeds cheap hard drives — The primary reason your cheap laptop loudly chugs along at glacial speeds is because of the hard drive. Cheap laptops use cheap hard disk drives, which are much slower than the solid state drives found in better computers. But Intel’s new Optane Memory changes that. This little US$70 chip makes a cheap hard disk drive run as fast as a solid state drive by using a brand new type of memory.
~ Finally, something usefully revolutionary in the tech world!

DNA-based test much quicker at finding cancer — In the latest trial, reported in the journal Nature, 100 patients with non-small cell lung cancer were followed from diagnosis through surgery and chemotherapy, having blood tests every six to eight weeks. By analysing the patchwork of genetic faults in cells across each tumor, scientists created personalized genomic templates for each patient. This was then compared to the DNA floating in their blood, to assess whether a fraction of it matched that seen in their tumour.
~ Promising. 

Medical researchers have been able to create certain kinds of living cells with 3D printers for more than a decade — Some companies are getting closer to mass production of higher-order tissues (bone, cartilage, organs) and other individually tailored items, including implants.
~ I still want that small, three-fingered, two-thumbed hand in the middle of my chest so I can eat  a sandwich while holding a large iPad with both hands. 

Seniors’ future in VR — A four-years home-bound 78-year-old senior just made a transatlantic voyage while seated upright in his bed. He visited Stonehenge, a favorite vacation site of his; the streets of London’s Russell Square, near his old apartment and the stretch of Broadway where he lived and worked for so many years. Back and forth the man moved his head, his eyes obscured by the Gear VR headset he wore.
~ The bedridden man represents a population that has been forgotten by the VR industry: seniors.

US mastodon find threatens human history narrative — Workers building a new freeway in San Diego in 1993 made a fantastic discovery: a  backhoe operator scraped up a fossil, and scientists soon unearthed a full collection of bones, teeth, and tusks from a mastodon. The mastodons died out some 11,000 years ago.
But the dig site turned out to be even more revelatory and soon had archaeologists swooping in to study a number of stone tools scattered around the bones, evidence of human activity. After years of debate over the dating technology used on the mastodon, a group of researchers now believes that they can date it and the human tools to 130,000 years ago – more than 100,000 years earlier than the earliest humans are supposed to have made it to North America.
~ I would expect this idea could be confirmed with DNA studies. 

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