Category Archives: Futurology

Futurology ~ Stolen star, Hauema ring, Titan methane storms, Moon atmosphere, Quantum puzzle, drone-slayer, Deep Learning, robots-camouflage, stay-home Stone Age


Naftali Tishby, a computer scientist and neuroscientist from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, presented evidence in support of a new theory explaining how deep learning works

Our nearest neighbouring star may have been stolen — Less than five light years away sit three stars orbiting each other. You probably remember that one of them, Proxima Centauri, has a planet orbiting in its habitable zone — which got us really excited about the possibility of life. But what if that star was stolen?
~ Tell it to the judge, I say.]

Ring discovered around dwarf planet around Haumea — Haumea was recognised by the International Astronomical Union in 2008 as one of five dwarf planets alongside Pluto, Ceres, Eris and Makemake. They are located beyond Neptune, 50 times farther away from the sun than Earth. By comparing what was seen from different sites the La Silla Observatory team could reconstruct not only the shape and size of the object itself but also the shape, width, orientation and other properties of its newly discovered rings.
~ A job for space Jif?

Intense methane rainstorms on Titan — Titan is the largest of Saturn’s 60 moons and is roughly the size of Mercury. It has an atmosphere, volcanoes, mountains, and sand dunes. And like Earth, Titan features free-flowing liquid at the surface, manifesting as rivers, lakes and seas. It has regional weather patterns and severe seasonal liquid-methane rainstorms.
~ Yeah, not really selling it. 

When the Moon had an atmosphere — New research suggests that long ago, an atmosphere briefly popped into existence as a result of intense volcanic activity. Around three to four billion years ago, powerful volcanic eruptions shot gases above the Moon’s surface faster than they could escape, creating a transient atmosphere that lasted for about 70 million years.
~ 70 million years is transient?

Australian scientists save 30-year-old Quantum puzzle — The scientific community has been working on this one for more than 30 years. Australian scientists from Griffith University just worked out how to measure things with with single particles of light to a higher precision than ever before – on a quantum level.
~ Dang, I thought I was about to solve that one. 

Humanity gets a laser-shooting, drone-slaying dune buggy — Small consumer drones are fairly benign nuisances, buzzing around beaches, filming neighbourhoods from 100 metres up, and hopefully keeping clear of airports. To US armed forces fighting overseas, though, small drones can be huge threats. They can be rigged with explosives and firearms, or simply deployed as surveillance tools. So Raytheon has rolled out an answer at the Association of the United States Army Exposition in Washington: a laser-shooting, drone-killing dune buggy.
~ Um, ‘hoorah’?

Deep Learning explained in new theory — The magic leap from special cases to general concepts during learning gives deep neural networks their power, just as it underlies human reasoning, creativity and the other faculties collectively termed ‘intelligence.’ Experts wonder what it is about deep learning that enables generalisation – and to what extent brains apprehend reality in the same way. But a new theory seems to explain it.
~ Experience, basically … why is this so surprising?

Robot camouflage informed by the octopus — Scientists have engineered a material that can transform from a 2D sheet to a 3D shape, adjusting its texture to blend in with its surroundings. They mimicked the abilities of an octopus, which can change both shape and color to camouflage. This is a first step toward developing soft robots that can hide in plain sight, robotics expert Cecilia Laschi writes of the research.
~ Oh no, where did I put that washing machine?

Staying home changed the Stone Age — A new study by scientists at the University of the Witwatersrand suggests that at about 58,000 years ago, Stone Age humans began to settle down, staying in one area for longer periods. The research provides a potential answer to a long-held mystery: why older, Howiesons Poort complex technological tradition in South Africa, suddenly disappear at that time.
~ Yet no TV …

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Futurology ~ Higgs twin, 3D Graphene, super-accurate time, asphalt batteries, Puerto Rico solar, new chopper, Neanderthal discoveries


Bell finally has its tilt-rotor military helicopter replacement ready

The Higgs Boson’s twin could reveal our universe’s dark sector — The words most powerful particle accelerator, the Large Hadron Collider at the CERN laboratory near Geneva, has failed to find any of the hoped-for particles that would lead physicists beyond the Standard Model of particle physics. But it’s possible the LHC has been producing such pivotal new particles all along, and that we’re just not seeing them.
~ I’m definitely not seeing one. 

Laser light forges graphene into the third dimension — The wonder material graphene gets many of its handy quirks from the fact it exists in two dimensions, as a sheet of carbon only one atom thick. But to actually make use of it in practical applications, it usually needs to be converted into a 3D form. Now, researchers have developed a new and relatively simple way to do just that, using lasers to ‘forge’ a three-dimensional pyramid out of graphene.
~ So soon we may move from ‘wonder’ to ‘usable’?

How accurate a clock do you really need, honestly? A team of physicists lead by Sara Campbell at the National Institute of Standards and Technology used the weirdness of quantum mechanics to create the most precise atomic clock yet. This clock employs atoms vibrating in three dimensions, using laser light to trap them in a sort-of miniature modular bookcase where they count down the tiniest measurable time units. The clock could one day help scientists devise some mind-boggling experiments.
~ They’re my favourite kind of experiments. 

Rice University adds asphalt to speed Lithium metal battery — The Rice lab of chemist James Tour developed anodes comprising porous carbon made from asphalt that showed exceptional stability after more than 500 charge-discharge cycles. A high-current density of 20 milliamps per square centimeter demonstrated the material’s promise for use in rapid charge and discharge devices that require high-power density.
~ So now I’m picturing all the battery manufacturers lining up to get their asphalt. 

Elon Musk says Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries, solar — After Puerto Rico was hit by hurricane Maria, Tesla quickly started shipping hundreds of its Powerwall batteries there to try and get power back on to some houses with solar arrays. Now, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took to Twitter to say that Tesla could rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid with batteries and solar on a bigger scale. Puerto Rico’s electricity rates were already quite high at around $0.20 per kWh and reliant on fossil fuels.
~ Unfortunately there are issues arising with installers ripping off desperate clients. 

Osprey-derived V-280  may finally be ready to replace US military helicopters — When fully operational, the V-280 Valor should offer double the speed and range of the conventional helicopters it’s aiming to make redundant. The V-280 is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than the massively complex V-22, which dates to the late ’80s. Bell designed and built the V-280 from scratch, always with an eye on making it easy to assemble and maintain, with lessons learned from building the V-22, a joint project with Boeing.
~ This could be a revolution for the military, sure, but easy-to-fly must surely have non-military benefits, to, around freight and accessibility?

Humans today have even more Neanderthal DNA than we realised — A international team of researchers has completed one of the most detailed analyses of a Neanderthal genome to date. Among the many new findings, the researchers learned that Neanderthals first mated with modern humans a surprisingly long time ago, and that humans living today have more Neanderthal DNA than we assumed.
The resulting study, now published in Science, confirms a bunch of things we already knew about Neanderthals, while also revealing things we didn’t know.
~ I think I’d worked this out just from following Twitter and the news. 

Futurology ~ 4th wave, Pluto’s ice shards, low-tech for Venus, EVs, bot builders, McLaren body armour


NASA is going low-tech for an attempt at a usable rover for the inhospitable surface of Venus. It has built in wind turbines that distributes power to the treads

A fourth gravitational wave has been detected  — Astronomers have made a new detection of gravitational waves and for the first time have been able to trace the shape of ripples sent through spacetime when black holes collide. The announcement, made at a meeting of the G7 science ministers in Turin, marks the fourth cataclysmic black-hole merger that astronomers have spotted using Ligo, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.
The latest detection is the first to have also been picked up by the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, providing a new layer of detail on the three dimensional pattern of warping that occurs during some of the most violent and energetic events in the universe.
~ Can’t think of a smart-arse thing to say about this, so I will leave that up to the researchers: “Overall, the volume of universe that is likely to contain the source shrinks by more than a factor of 20 when moving from a two-detector network to a three-detector network.” So there. 

Pluto’s skyscraper ice shards — When NASA’s New Horizons space probe zipped past Pluto in 2015, it revealed portions of the dwarf planet’s surface were strewn with what could only be described as gigantic blades of ice, many of which extended into the Plutonian sky for hundreds of metres. Finally, after nearly two years of research, a team of scientists think they have figured out the nature of these odd features and how they came to appear on the surface.
~ I would have picked something to do with temperature …

Low-tech rover destined for Venus — The surface of Venus is, at approximately 450°C (850° Fahrenheit), hot enough for paper to spontaneously combust. Its atmosphere, an oppressive mix of carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and sulfur dioxide, is dense enough to crush a submarine. While certainly inhospitable to humans, is almost just as rough for robots. The last time a bot visited the surface of Venus was in the mid-’80s, when the Soviet Union sent its Vega lander to capture data about the planet’s soil. It lasted for less than an hour.
So NASA is going low-tech and is working on a boxy, tank-like bot that rolls around on treads (main picture, above), making it impervious to Venus’ rough terrain. Those treads are powered via a wind turbine that captures the planet’s whipping wind gusts and stores that power inside springs before distributing to the various systems on the rover.
~ It’s also using light refectors rather than fragile radio. 

Chinese researchers carry out Base Editing  to correct  mutation — Chinese researchers have taken tissue from a beta-thallasemia patient, created cloned embryos from that patient’s cells, and used a genetic editing technique known as Base Editing to correct the gene mutation that causes beta-thallasemia. The embryos were not implanted in a womb, so no actual babies were created during the procedure.
~ “Precise chemical surgery” indeed. 

Toyota, Mazda and, ah, Denso collaborate for electric cars — With governments around the world increasingly mandating some percentage of their countries’ car companies’ sales be of electric vehicles, the onus is on those brands to find more efficient and cost-effective ways to develop new models. Toyota is spearheading a new enterprise with the help of Japanese partner Mazda [which gives Ford a look-in, with it’s 33% stake in Mazda] and electronics powerhouse Denso to create standardised technology for EVs that the car brands can share in the future.
~ One suggestion: Denso should maybe consider changing its name to Clevero. 

Vacuum company Dyson aims to build a radically different electric car — The billionaire who revolutionized the vacuum cleaner said 400 engineers in Wiltshire had been working since 2015 on the £2.5 billion project.  Dyson says the car’s electric motor is ready, while two different battery types were under development that he claimed were already more efficient than in existing electric cars. Dyson said consumers would have to “wait and see” what the car would look like.
~ Going by Dyson’s other products, the mind boggles. And unlike most of their other products, they’ll hope it doesn’t suck. 

Bot armies that build things — At SRI International in Silicon Valley, researchers have developed perhaps the most impressive microbot army yet: the MicroFactory. It’s an ant colony made robotic, with half-millimeter machines zipping around to construct truly impressive structures. It could well be a glimpse at a future where 3-D printers give way to swarms of robots that cooperatively build stronger, more complex structures. The setup of the MicroFactory is fairly straightforward. The foundation is a circuit board that generates a magnetic field. The little robots themselves are magnets
~ I will really start to worry when their evolution passes from human direction. 

McLaren body armour — Developed by McLaren Applied Technologies for a “client X”, the armour is designed to “help protect vital organs after surgery”. The fully wearable composite shield does the job of the rib cage — protecting vital organs including the heart and the lungs, with the garment providing further protection from unexpected low energy impact.
According to McLaren, it’s designed to conform precisely to the client’s physique and is manufactured from a combination of materials, including carbon, Zylon and Dyneemafibres, as well as “highly-toughened resin”.
~ I guess this is really throwing down the Zylon and Dyneemafibre gauntlet to the other supercar companies …

Futurology ~ A word about the future, strange in the Solar System, NZ AI baby, cars and wheels, molecular robots, tooth vaccine, Aboriginal migration


A New Zealand company has constructed an artificial intelligence baby that plays the piano

A note about this once-a-weekend blogpost, which I call Futurology (another entry in a succession of words I have tried to invent over the last three decades). I started this as there was a lack of Apple news on weekends and I’d discover all sorts of non-Apple-related links in my week of web crawling. I start out in space, but I don’t stay there: the column moves on to interesting inventions, and when theres revelatory news about the past, back in time, so don’t be put off by a picture of an asteroid or something, glance down to see if there’s anything else that interests you!

Is it an asteroid? A comet? Both? Observations by the Hubble Space Telescope are revealing new details about a strange binary asteroid that’s performing double-duty as a comet. It’s the first time scientists have ever seen such a thing.
Back in 2006, Spacewatch discovered an asteroid named 300163 (2006 VW139). Astronomers using the Pan-STARRS telescope detected some comet-like activity coming from the object in 2011, so it was also given a comet designation of 288P. But things have changed again. When the object made its closest approach to the Sun last year, a German-led team of scientists used the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope to make observations, revealing not one but two asteroids. Which means it’s a binary system.
~ Well, I’ve committed that catchy name to memory!

Disturbing New Zealand AI baby plays the piano — A New Zealand company called Soul Machines has built a disturbingly lifelike virtual baby powered by artificial intelligence software. BabyX, the virtual creation of Mark Sagar and his researchers, looks impossibly real.. The work is built off the research of Mark Sagar, the company’s CEO, who is on a quest to mimic human consciousness in a machine. Sagar used to work at Weta creating lifelike faces for films like King Kong and Avatar and is now building these very realistic looking virtual avatars and pumping them full of code that not only handles things like speech but that also replicates the nervous system and brain function.
~ And your AI baby future is Aryan … 

Electric cars of the future — This year’s Frankfurt show, the largest of its kind in the world, was packed with designs that preview all those new models coming over the next few years. If you want to see where the auto industry’s headed over the next decade and beyond, just take a whirl through the gallery above, and get ready for a real shock.
~ EVs still aren’t making an impact, but they all soon. 

3-wheeler retro-futurist car — The proposed specs on the NOBE, with a design is clearly based on a late ’50s to early ’60s-era European automotive design vocabulary, are that its electric, making a maximum 45kW, or 60 horsepower –  pretty substantial for something like this. That 60hp seems to be spread over three motors each making 20hp.
~ It has a novel charging method, too. 

Wheels and tyres that adjust to conditions — Continental has a tyre concept that can adjust itself to suit the weather conditions and your driving intentions. The Continental ContiAdapt is a smart wheel which can change between four different pre-set widths to suit wet, uneven, slippery and normal road conditions. “Micro-compressors” in each wheel expand or contract the variable width rim to suit the driving conditions – normal road conditions call for a small contact patch and high tyre pressure, where a larger contact patch and lower pressure means more grip for slippery conditions.
~ So rich people in the best cars can feel even safer, no doubt.

Molecular robot builds molecules — Scientists at The University of Manchester in the UK have created the world’s first “molecular robot” that is capable of performing basic tasks including building other molecules. The tiny robots, which are a millionth of a millimeter in size, can be programmed to move and build molecular cargo, using a tiny robotic arm. Each individual robot is capable of manipulating a single molecule and is made up of just 150 carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen atoms.
~ Anyone seen that molecular robot? 

Chinese vaccine against tooth cavities — Scientists at Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences developed low side effects and high protective efficiency using flagellin-rPAc fusion protein KFD2-rPAc, a promising vaccine candidate to banish tooth decay. In rat challenge models, KFD2-rPAc induces a robust rPAc-specific IgA response, and confers efficient prophylactic and therapeutic efficiency as does KF-rPAc, while the flagellin-specific inflammatory antibody responses are highly reduced.
~ Hope it fixes rat-breath at the same time!

Australian migrations via Aboriginal artefacts — Decades after collection, hair samples long filed away in small manila envelopes have become a source of DNA for Ray Tobler and Alan Cooper. Specialists in ancient DNA at the University of Adelaide, they wanted to know how humans first migrated across this continent, thousands of years ago.
~ Yes, thousands of years before white invaders ‘discovered’ Australia. 

Futurology ~ Goth Jupiter, future tech, lasers, fertile bacteria, supercomputer engineering, hydrogen buses, Voynich manuscript


The Voynich Manuscript has finally been deciphered. No clues from the drawing, then…

Hubble observes ‘Goth Jupiter’ — Over a thousand light years away, there’s a planet that isn’t conforming to your so-called rules. The planet reflects at most 6.4% of the light that hits it. WASP-12b is already a highly-studied planet, according to a Hubble release. The planet has a radius twice Jupiter’s and is incredibly close to WASP-12a, with a year lasting around a single Earth day. Its 2600°C surface stretches like an egg from its nearby sun.
~ Bit hard to get real science from it, surely, at that distance. 

What future tech do you think we’ll actually have in the future? A recent survey conducted by IT training firm CBT Nuggets revealed a little about what we think will and won’t happen in the future. For example, nearly a third of those surveyed didn’t think printable food would ever be possible – but a company managed to do just that by using edible ingredients instead of traditional plastics in 2014.
~ Indeed, even Kitchen Things in NZ sells a pancake printer.

Speaking of which, I always thought we’d have more lasers in this era — This clip from Pete’s Shredder shows an engraver at work, carving out Roy Lichtenstein’s 1964 piece “Ohhh…Alright…” onto anodised aluminium. The speed at which the beams work tricks your brain into thinking the video is sped up. It’s not. You’re watching the engraving in real-time.
~ Gatling-laser-art.

Designer bacteria could fertile itself — Peanuts, peas, and many types of beans are climate-friendly because they basically make their own fertiliser. But most of the world’s biggest food crops – corn, wheat, rice – aren’t so hospitable to nitrogen-fixers. Which is why they require so much artificial fertiliser to grow. So if we could redesign those to fertilise themselves
~ It should be a logical next step. After all, most plants already root themselves. [LOL –Antipodean-only joke,]

Astonishing engineering behind supercomputer — Summit, a supercomputer nearing completion at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, opens for business next year. Then it will be the United States’ most powerful supercomputer and perhaps the most powerful in the world. Modelling the astounding number of variables that affect climate change, for instance, is no task for desktop computers in labs. Some goes for genomics work and drug discovery and materials science. If it’s wildly complex, it’ll soon course through Summit’s water-cooled circuits.
~ It sounds like it will generate so much heat, it will be contributing to global warming while it tries to solve it. 

The OneStep 2 is the first camera from Polaroid Originals — This new brand under the Polaroid umbrella is dedicated to revamping the company’s classic cameras for the digital age. The US$99 OneStep 2 takes after the original in plenty of ways, with a compact, molded plastic body in black or white. The viewfinder is tucked into the left-hand corner just above the exposure knob; the red shutter button is on the right. A redesigned rainbow logo runs across the bottom of the camera, paying homage to the original’s striped decal.
~ It even has a film-pack!

Tesla remotely extended the range of its cars for Hurricane Irma — Tesla unlocked its range-limited vehicles for Florida customers, extending the range of their vehicles to facilitate an easier evacuation from the storm.
As a Tesla spokesperson confirmed to Electrek, Florida owners of Model S and Model X 60 and 60D vehicles temporarily received the full mileage capability of the vehicles’ 75 kWh battery packs. The estimated 338km range of the 60 and 60D has been unlocked to achieve approximately 30 more miles.
~ Sounds like an invitation to hack your own Tesla to improve it, if you ask me. 

Australian hydrogen buses — South Australia’s always been on the front foot when it comes to renewable energy – even Tesla has given it the thumbs-up. On Friday, the state government revealed its Hydrogen Roadmap, which “sets out clear pathways to capitalise on South Australia’s competitive advantages” and will “accelerate the State’s transition to a clean, safe and sustainable producer, consumer and exporter of hydrogen”.
One of the key objectives is to get a small fleet of six buses sorted for Adelaide Metro, which will be powered by hydrogen fuel cells. The government is currently asking for tenders for production and delivery of the vehicles.
~ Hydrogen vehicles have been promised sine the 1950s. 

Last week, the cryptic Voynich manuscript, filled with strange glyphs and diagrams, has left the halls of head-scratchers — Yes folks, thanks to historian Nicholas Gibbs, we finally have a pretty definitive explanation of the purpose of the former literary enigma. Gibbs’ explanation is the first to explain nearly all aspects. In some ways, it was written in an ancient code – if you consider abbreviations and shorthand a form of encryption. Turns out the Voynich manuscript isn’t a reference for magic spells, alien communication or an ancient tabletop role-playing game. In fact, it’s mostly plagiarised medical knowledge, much of it related to herbs.
~ Oh. Boring! Dang.

Futurology ~ Aliens watching us, Mars life, SpaceX mystery, Siri’s voice, power advance, purple scroll splotches, lost lingos, Wooly Rhino


It might look like a Star Wars set, but it’s Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, Egypt, which houses the oldest continuously-run library in the world.

Other worlds could spot the Earth — A group of scientists from Queen’s University Belfast and the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany have turned exoplanet-hunting on its head, in a study that instead looks at how an alien observer might be able to detect Earth using our own methods.
They found that at least nine exoplanets are ideally placed to observe transits of Earth, in a new work published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.
~ We may not be the only galactic voyeurs.

Traces of life on Mars — There is direct evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet, we have yet to find any microbes there. But new discoveries from NASA’s Curiosity rover have brought forth more compelling evidence of habitability on Mars. Researchers studying Curiosity’s data say the rover has detected boron in the 3.8 billion year-old Gale crater.
~ All that life may have been dead for billions of years, but still.

The fifth mystery mission of the US Air Force’s X-37B space plane is now underway — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the robotic X-37B lifted off on September 7th at 10am EDT (1400 GMT) from historic Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The Air Force is known to possess two X-37Bs, both built by Boeing. The uncrewed vehicles look like NASA’s now-retired space shuttle orbiters, but are much smaller. Most X-37B payloads and activities are classified.
~ So shush.

Apple made Siri should more human — When iOS 11 hits millions of iPhones and iPads around the world sometime after the 12th September, the new software will give Siri a new voice. Siri will take more pauses in sentences, elongate syllables right before a pause, and the speech will lilt up and down as it speaks. The words will sound more fluid and Siri will speak more languages, too. It’s nicer to listen to, and to talk to.
~ Sir is still the bomb for solving maths problems asked in plain language.

Power company kills nuclear plant, plans US$6 billion in solar, battery investment — After being unable to complete the Levy County Nuclear Plant a few years ago, Duke energy abandoned it, leaving ratepayers on the hook. Duke is now in the process of settling legal action as a result. As part of the settlement Duke will construct (or acquire) 700MW of solar capacity over four years in the western Florida area, construct 50MW of battery storage, undertake grid modernisations and install 530 electric car charging stations.
~ Constructive justice.  

High tech science solves 800 year scroll mystery — Eight hundred years ago, teenager Laurentius Loricatus accidentally killed a man in Italy. He then headed to a cave where he lived for 34 years, whipping himself to atone for his sins. Today, his story lives in the Vatican Secret Archives, on a piece of parchment covered in purple spots. This kind of damage is common on ancient parchment, but why? A team of Italian researchers interested in better understanding the ancient text decided to identify the microbes responsible for the splotching, and applied brand new techniques in order to do so. The researchers probably couldn’t have guessed some of the culprits. The team has offered new ways of understanding the ageing of these scrolls for the future.
~ Now they really know Loricatus was a  masochistic nutter. 

Lost languages discovered in one of the world’s oldest continuously run libraries — Saint Catherine’s Monastery, a sacred Christian site nestled in the shadow of Mount Sinai, is home to one of the world’s oldest continuously used libraries. Thousands of manuscripts and books are kept there, some of which contain hidden treasures. A team of researchers is using new technology to uncover texts that were erased and written over (‘palimpsests’) by the monks who lived and worked at the monastery. Some were inscribed in long-lost languages rarely seen in the historical record. Two of the erased texts were inked in Caucasian Albanian, a language spoken by Christians in what is now Azerbaijan – it only exists today in a few stone inscriptions.  Other hidden texts were written in a defunct dialect known as Christian Palestinian Aramaic, a mix of Syriac and Greek.
~ The work is becoming urgent, as the Islamic State’s presence in the Sinai Peninsula has made Saint Catherine’s monastery even harder to reach. And they hate history. 

Evolutionary glitch hit the Wooly Rhino — A new study looking at Coelodonta antiquitati, the extinct woolly rhino from the area that’s now the North Sea and the Netherlands, found that the number of individuals with extra cervical ribs – portentous of genetic glitzing – was especially high. This condition probably brought about their demise.
~ I actually prefer my own theory: a Neanderthal craving for Wooly Rhino jumpers and sporty knitwear. 

Futurology ~ New wave, Korean star explosion, Saturn’s pole, alien looks, Burtonesque Venus probe, bacterial beats, human population mapped, Mexican man mystery, Neanderthal glue, ancient sharp-toothed whales


If your genital bacteria formed a band

New gravitational wave source detected — The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Louisiana and Washington state has three times detected gravitational waves. These are ripples in the fabric of space-time, emerging from colliding black holes. But scientists have been hoping to detect ripples from another type of cosmic cataclysm, not massive enough to collapse into a black hole. It may just have happened
~ They may be emitted by neutron stars. 

Stars found responsible for explosion spotted in the 1400s — On the night of March 11, 1437AD, in what is now modern-day Seoul, a new star appeared in the sky, seemingly out of nowhere. The newcomer shone for 14 days before fading into the darkness. Korean astronomers noted the mysterious star and its brief stint in the sky in their records. Centuries later, modern astronomers studying these records determined that what the Koreans had seen was a cosmic explosion called a nova. Michael Shara and his researcher colleagues have spent the last nearly 30 years looking for the star responsible for this nova. In a new paper published Wednesday in Nature, they say they’ve finally found it.
~ Apparently if the search range had been expanded a little, the team would have four this years earlier. 

Cassini stares into Saturn’s polar abyss — This week, NASA released a photo of Saturn’s north pole The doomed spacecraft recorded on April 26, the day it started its Grand Finale. It’s almost poetic to have a photo of Cassini staring into the void before it perishes within it.
~ Cassini has only three orbits left in its 20-year-long journey.

What would aliens look like? Gizmodo spoke to astrobiologists about what extraterrestrial life might look like if we ever find it. Most didn’t think any of them would be even remotely human.
~ We saw some at Charlottesville, waving swastikas. 

NASA’s Tim Burtonesque probe concept — Venus is a toxic wasteland. Still, the second planet from the Sun deserves a little more attention. A team of researchers NASA’s Jet Propulsion has Laboratory dropped its latest design for a ‘clockwork’ rover they hope would be able to explore Venus — and the concept art is delightfully twisted.
~ There are probably lots of Burtonesque probe concepts they’d best avoid. 

Scientists created music from human bacteria colonies — The microbiome is made up of all the bacteria that are part of our bodies – the stuff living in our gut and our belly buttons and between our toes. To translate the microbiome into music, researchers took swabs of bacteria from their armpits, belly buttons, feet, mouth and yes, even their genitalia, then sealed those swabs onto laser-cut records. They assigned a certain region of the record to each region of the body and incubated it. In essence, the record player doubles as a petri dish plated with human bacterial cultures. An algorithm then translates images of the bacterial colonies into sound, using data points such as bacterial density and location on the record.The symphony of all that bacteria winds up sounding like some kind of etherial beatscape from outer space. You can have a listen here.
~ The mouth bacteria is delightfully peppy. 

Facebook has mapped the entire human population of Earth — Facebook doesn’t only know what its 2 billion users “Like,” it now knows where 7.5 billion humans live, everywhere on earth, to within five metres (15 feet). The company has created a data map of the planet’s entire human population by combining government census numbers with information it’s obtained from satellites, according to Janna Lewis, Facebook’s head of strategic innovation partnerships and sourcing. The mapping technology, which Facebook says it developed itself, can pinpoint any man-made structures in any country on earth. Facebook is using the data to understand the precise distribution of humans around the planet.
~ It’s all about figuring out internet quality to reach customers with advertising. Gah!

Oldest human remains on the North American continent — An ice-free corridor between the Americas and Asia opened up about 12,500 years ago, allowing humans to cross over the Bering land bridge to settle what is now the United States and places beyond to the south. History books have conveyed that information for years to explain how the Americas were supposedly first settled by people, such as those from the Clovis culture. At least one part of the Americas was already occupied by humans before that time, however, says new research on the skeleton of a male youth found in Chan Hol cave near Tulum, Mexico. Dubbed the Young Man of Chan Hol, the remains date to 13,000 years ago, according to a paper published in the journal PLOS ONE.
~ Mexico is well over 4000 miles away from any Bering land crossing. 

Secrets of Neanderthal glue revealed — Neanderthals were manufacturing their own adhesives as far back as 200,000 years ago. We typically think of fire, stone tools, and language as the “killer apps” of early human development, but the ability to glue stuff together was as much a transformative technology as any of these. The Neanderthals used tar for hafting — the practice of attaching bones or stone to a wooden handle to create tools or weapons. It was a force multiplier in engineering, allowing these ancient humans to think outside the box and build completely new sets of tools.
~ I bet they weren’t sniffing it, either. 

Ancient sharp-toothed whales upend Cetacean history — How ancient aquatic creatures evolved into giant filter-feeders remains a biological mystery. New research shows that ancient whales had razor-sharp teeth similar to land-based carnivores – an observation that’s upsetting a prevailing idea that ancient whales used their teeth for filter feeding.
~ They need a missing link to remove this.

Futurology ~ Interstellar unlock, diamonds on Uranus, Aussie probe, Musk spacesuit, tiny Mercedes, China fast train, ‘clean’ meat, DNA encryption, ancient wine, Babylonian trigonometry


The Space-X program has a new space flight suit, unveiled by Elon Musk

Odd interstellar observation could unlock Dark Matter mystery — An international team of astronomers found a series of strange shapes in data coming off of distant sources of radio waves. They hypothesise that the dips come from some mysterious sources passing in front of the light, maybe black holes or the centres of clusters of stars. If their hypothesis is correct, they think they may have found a new way to probe those sources – sources with masses difficult to observe by other means.
~ Blips and dips taking on huge importance. 

Diamonds on Neptune and Uranus — Researchers using the Linac Coherent Light Source at Stanford have demonstrated in the lab, with one of the brightest sources of X-rays on the planet, that the depths of these ice giants are perfect for the formation of diamonds.
~ Ooh, I know, let’s have a space war over the rights to them!

Probe still talks to Australia — For the 40 years since NASA launched the two Voyager space probes on their mission to explore the outer planets of our Solar System, Australia has been helping the US space agency keep track of the probes at every step of their epic journey.
CSIRO operates NASA’s tracking station in Canberra, a set of four radio telescopes (dishes) known as the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC).
Four decades on and the Australian tracking station is now the only one with the right equipment and position to be able to communicate with both of the probes as they continue to push back the boundaries of deep space exploration.
~ I’m amazed Australia even lets any signals in, myself. Shouldn’t they be quarantined in a concentration camp for a few years first? And only released, if they survive, when they’re lives have been completely ruined?

Musk’s new spacesuit — Elon Musk’s new Space-X spacesuit is white, in contrast to the very blue spacesuits unveiled by Boeing in January. These are not, strictly speaking, “space suits.” More properly they are they are flight suits designed to be worn during the ride to space and back again on the ride back down to Earth. They have a limited time in which they can operate in a full vacuum and are not intended for spacewalks. 
~ Wonder if it smells a bit musky inside. 

Big power from tiny Mercedes engine — The forthcoming Mercedes ‘hypercar’  Project One gets most of its oomph from a turbocharged 1.6-litre V6 engine. That may seem minuscule for this sort of use case, but this machine is a close cousin to the one that powered the car Lewis Hamilton drove to an F1 championship in 2015. Changes have to do with how, and how high, the engine revs.
~ Only oligarchs need get excited, and then you’ll be driving it at 10% of it’s potential anyway. Haha, sucks to be you.

China relaunches world’s fastest train — Seven pairs of bullet trains will be operating under the name Fuxing, meaning rejuvenation, according to the South China Morning Post. The trains will once again run at 350kph, with a maximum speed of 400kph (248 mph).
Following a fatal crash in 2011, the high speed train service reduced its upper limit from its then-record holding 350 km/h (217 miles/hour) to 250-300 km/h (155-186 miles/hour). It is reported the train service will use monitoring systems to automatically slow the trains in case of emergency. The Beijing-Shanghai line will begin operating on 21st September and will shorten the nearly 1319km (820 mile) journey by one hour, to four hours thirty minutes. Nearly 600 million people use this route each year, providing a reported $1 billion in profits . The Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei route begins operation now.
~ Wonder how the ticket price stacks up to air travel? It’s much less polluting, of course.  

Laptop batteries running homes — DIY Powerwall builders from around the world are harvesting old laptop batteries and turning them into powerful batteries capable of supplying energy to their entire homes. “It’s the future. It’s clean, simple, efficient and powerful,” Jehu Garcia, one of the most popular powerwall builders, told me. He and people like him are deciding for themselves what the future of alternative energy will look like, instead of waiting for technology companies to shape it for them.
~ Yep, it’s all green and clean … and then they die and you need to get rid of them. 

Gates and Branson fund ‘clean’ meat — A large global agricultural company has joined Bill Gates and Richard Branson to invest in a nascent technology to make meat from self-producing animal cells. Memphis Meats produces beef, chicken and duck directly from animal cells without raising and slaughtering livestock or poultry, and raised $17 million from investors including Cargill, Gates and billionaire Richard Branson, according to a statement Tuesday on the San Francisco-based startup’s website.
~ Fake cow, chicken and yuck.

Protect your DNA with encryption — Bejerano and Boneh published a paper in Science about a cryptographic ‘genome cloaking’ method. The scientists were able to do things like identify responsible mutations in groups of patients with rare diseases and compare groups of patients at two medical centres to find shared mutations associated with shared symptoms, all while keeping 97% of each participant’s unique genetic information completely hidden. They accomplished this by converting variations in each genome into a linear series of values. That allowed them to conduct any analyses they needed while only revealing genes relevant to that particular investigation.
~ Honestly, though, you’re just not that important. There are billions of you. Literally.

Italians have been tanking up on wine for ages and ages — In a study published in Microchemical Journal, researchers describe their big find of a jar dating back to the early 4th millennium BCE. After chemically testing the piece of pottery, the team found traces of tartaric acid, which is one of the main acids in wine. Its salts – called tartrates – were also found in the jug.
~ Six thousand years of boozing, wow!

Babylonians may have invented trigonometry — The Plimpton 322 tablet, discovered in the early 1900s in what is now Iraq, has long divided mathematicians confused by its columns and rows of numbers. But researchers from the University of New South Wales now say the 3700-year-old broken clay tablet is a trigonometric table. That would mean the Babylonians were 1000 years ahead of the Greeks, who are credited with creating trig.
~ So generations of school students have been cursing the wrong people. 

Futurology ~ TRAPPIST, self-extinguishing civilisations, NZ Milky Way, bacteria balloons, algae steroids, Wind and solar health, out-tanking EV, Penguin code, forever-glider


Artist’s rendering of the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system. (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Everyone’s favourite alien system is a cranky old grump — Trappist-1, the ultracool dwarf star system which was first announced back in February, has garnered a lot of interest because it harbours seven Earth-size planets. At least three of those planets are within the habitable zone that can support liquid water and potentially, life. As we’re all clamouring to understand this alien system, a duo of researchers has figured out some pretty salient information about its star’s age. They estimate it’s between 5.4 and 9.8 billion years old. Our Sun, by comparison, is only about 4.5 billion years old.
~ But has it retired yet? Anything living on these might be very ancient and hardy. Besides …

Astrophysicist believes technologically-advanced species extinguish themselves — Why haven’t we heard from intelligent life elsewhere in the universe? Retired astrophysicist Daniel Whitmire explains that using the principle of mediocracy (a statistical notion that says, in the absence of more data, that your one data point is likely to be ‘average’), that not only are we the first intelligent life on Earth but that we will likely be the only (and thus the last) intelligent life on this planet…
Unfortunately that isn’t the worst of it. Coupled with the Great Silence, it implies the reason we haven’t heard from anyone is that intelligent life, when it happens anywhere else in the universe, doesn’t last and when it does it flames out quickly and takes the biosphere with it (preventing any other intelligent life from reappearing. Sorry dolphins!).
~ Luckily, it usually appears that we’re far from ‘advanced’

Unintended experiment tracks a solar flare to the edges of the System — On 14 October 2014, our Sun let out a great big burp, a coronal mass ejection that swept through the Solar System at an incredibly fortuitous angle, because several spacecraft (and one intrepid Martian rover) detected the solar blast, resulting in an unprecedented experiment that stretched all the way from Venus to outer reaches of the Solar System.
~ Data was combined from a  variety of probes and satellites, and even Mars rovers.  

Milky Way from New Zealand — Christchurch’s Paul Wilson constructed a 113-megapixel photograph that captures the galaxy shimmering above a tumbling shoreline and reflected in the dark water of a dark part of the South Island.
~ Wow!

NASA launching bacteria balloons — These enormous balloons are part of a project aptly named the Eclipse Ballooning Project, and will be used to run several experiments, one of which could help researchers preparing for a mission to Mars. Of 75 balloons, over 30 of them will carry small samples of an extremely resilient strain of bacteria called Paenibacillus xerothermodurans over 24,384m above Earth. The P. xerothermodurans samples will be attached to thin, aluminium “coupons” and attached to the outside of the balloons. According to the researchers, Earth’s stratosphere is similar to the surface atmosphere on Mars, so they will be able to get some idea of how bacteria might behave there.
~ Sounds mental. 

Our life came from algae on steroids — What was life really like here on planet Earth before animals were big enough to leave fossils behind? How did living things turn from dinky capsules of genetic material into the intelligent, complex organisms that do things like fart and type curse words into posts on the internet? Scientists think they have found the answer… in algae steroids.
~ This supposition is based on the increasing diversity of organic compounds found in rock samples. Metallica, anyone?

Wind and solar health benefits surpass all subsidies — A paper in Nature Energy suggests the benefits we receive from moving to renewables like wind and solar that reduce air pollution exceed the cost of the subsidies required to make them competitive with traditional fossil fuels. Berkeley environmental engineer Dev Millstein and his colleagues estimate that between 3000 and 12,700 premature deaths have been averted because of air quality benefits over the last decade or so, creating a total economic benefit between $30 billion and $113 billion. The benefits from wind work out to be more than US7 cents per kilowatt-hour, which is more than unsubsidized wind energy generally costs.
~ So, Big Coal and Big Oil, how do you come back to that? Start paying your lobbyists even more immediately, I guess. 

Electric off-roader out-torques a tank — A Utah startup has just released the specs on the Nikola Zero, a four-seat UTV (utility task vehicle, or what you may know as a side-by-side) guaranteed to make you grin like a lunatic if you ever drive one. The less crazy version produces 415 horsepower and 3,675 foot-pounds of torque. But most people will probably take leave of their senses and go for the thoroughly crazy version, good for 555 horsepower and 4,900 foot-pounds of torque.
~ So this begs the question: did Nikola Tesla have a middle name for another electric vehicle startup? 

Scientists crack penguin undersea code — When Gentoo penguins swim into the open ocean to hunt for food, they often produce wierd buzzing sounds that marine biologists assume is a form of communication. By strapping cameras to the backs of these aquatic birds, scientists have finally figured out the purpose of these odd vocalisations.
~ ‘Hey, I have this weird thing strapped to me, can you help me get it off?’

Smart forever-glider — After learning a clever trick from birds, a sailplane featuring run-of-the-mill RC technology includes artificial intelligence that researchers are developing to pilot it. Using data from sensors that monitor air temperature, wind direction, altitude and other metrics (in addition to speed and location data from GPS), the AI pilot can detect when the sailplane is suddenly gaining altitude, indicating it has located a rising thermal, as birds do.
~ And us humans re generating more and more of these, thanks to our generous efforts to warm the planet. 

Futurology ~ Einstein’s test, Trappist music, big Dawn, moon cellphone, accelerator gold mine, ancient deep, Sahara Solar for EU, app injects AR, NZ Tesla salt power, squishy robot future, ancient skull


Another Einstein theory passes another test — A team of scientists used 20 years of data from several telescopes to watch how three stars orbited the centre of our own Milky Way Galaxy, Sagittarius A*. They have created a general relativity theory test in a mass regime that isn’t well-tested today. The theory checks out, yet again, for Albert Einstein’s expanded theory of motion and gravity, the theory of general relativity.
~ For now.

Program allows you to make songs with the sounds of planets orbiting the ultracool dwarf star TRAPPIST-1 — The player is part of a bigger program, aptly called System Sounds, which is the brainchild of a group of astronomers who have been studying the “resonant chain” of the TRAPPIST-1 star’s seven Earth-sized exoplanets, which were announced to the world back in February. A resonant chain describes how the alien planets’ gravitational tugs work together to keep them all in stable and circular orbits around each other and their host star.
TRAPPIST-1 represents the longest resonant chain “that has ever been discovered in a planetary system“.
~ Team with Belgian beer. Mmm. 

Massive spacecraft reporting back on asteroids — Dawn is 19.8 metres (65 feet) from tip to tip and it has an ion drive! But Dawn also has a serious job to do. Launched in 2007, it has been investigating Ceres and Vesta, two mysterious protoplanets in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter. These are smallish, truly ancient bodies, remnants of the early solar system (protoplanets are bodies that formed early on, some of which turned into actual planets like Earth) with plenty of secrets to tell – secrets that Dawn has been unravelling.
~ Ion drives start slow, but after 10 years Dawn is travelling at 40,233kph (25,000 miles per hour). 

Cellphone tower for the moon — The German company Part Time Scientists, which originally competed for the Google Lunar X Prize race to the moon, plans to send a lander with a rover in late 2018 to visit the landing site of Apollo 17 (NASA’s final Apollo mission to the moon, in 1972.) Instead of using a complex dedicated telecommunication system to relay data from the rover to Earth, the company plans to rely on LTE technology – the same system used on Earth for mobile phone communications – because the German startup is preparing to set up the first telecommunication infrastructure on the lunar surface.
~ Boy, aliens are going to love this. 

Particle accelerator in gold mine searches the stars — It took more than the 10 minutes to get down, the accelerator was sent so deep,  with the elevator slowed to a crawl to protect Caspar’s delicate, antique belt and pulley as it descended from the ground floor to the “4850 Level”— this is 1478 metres (4850 feet) underground, where the dirt floors are studded with metal tracks and a light breeze blows. The Caspar team wants to learn how stars a little older than the sun synthesize heavy elements.
~ Well, isn’t that the burning question on everybody’s lips?

Ancient deep-sea creature discoveries — Last month, scientists aboard the NOAA ship Okeanos Explorer visited a poorly-explored deep sea area about 1500km west of Hawaii. From giant sea spiders and rare snailfish through to comb jellies and glass-like corals, these are some of the weirdest critters we’ve seen in a while.
~ Clearly they haven’t watched the New Zealand parliament live feed. 

Sahara solar could help power the EU — In the global race to ditch fossil fuel reliance for more renewable energy sources, Europe is already making some impressive strides. That is likely to ramp up considerably thanks to a new European Union plan to build a large solar plant in the Sahara desert with the ability to generate enough power to keep much of Europe juiced up.
~ Endangering 12 lizards and three scorpions. 

Gaming company turning Starcraft into an AI lab — The new release of the StarCraft II API on the Blizzard side includes a Linux package made to run in the cloud, and with support for Mac (and that other platform). It also has support for offline AI vs. AI matches, and those anonymized game replays from actual human players for training up agents, which is starting out at 65,000 complete matches, and will grow to over 500,000 over the course of the next few weeks. StarCraft II is such a useful environment for AI research basically because of how complex and varied the games can be, with multiple open routes to victory for each individual match.
~ So one day, super intelligence can win a pointless game of something. 

iOS app injects the internet internet into real life — Mirage is an iOS app that’s the first to marry augmented reality’s hidden-world appeal with social media’s shareable, re-mixable content. And in doing so, it’s making AR not simply a technology of curiosity, but one of connection.
~ You know, it’s ‘augmenting’ reality. 

New Zealand salt gets Tesla power — A 250kW Tesla Powerpack system has been integrated with a a 660kW wind turbine at a a salt manufacturing factory at the top of New Zealand’s South Island. The first project of its kind in Australasia, it’s about to be switched on.
Vector Energy Solutions is the company working with Dominion Salt to integrate the battery storage system, which aims to meet 75% of the site’s energy needs on-site, rather than from the national grid. The system will be fully functional before the end of the year, Vector reckons.
~ Sustainable salt …

Squishy robot future — Many researchers advancing the field of robotics are actually engineering simpler bots designed to reliably perform very basic tasks. So instead of one day facing a terrifying future filled with terminators, these squishy rolling doughnuts might be our biggest threat. Yoichi Masuda and Masato Ishikawa detail their work on these bots in a paper, Development of a Deformation-driven Rolling Robot with a Soft Outer Shell, published for the 2017 IEEE International Conference on Advanced Intelligent Mechatronics. The researchers have designed this robot to function like the simplest of machines: the wheel, in this case made from a soft material that’s squished and stretched by a set of four wires connected to an inner core.
~ Easy to pack and carry, as well. 

13-million-year old skull tantalises — The unexpected discovery of a 13 million-year-old infant ape skull in Kenya is offering a tantalising glimpse of a new species that lived well before humans and apes embarked upon their very different evolutionary paths.
~ It’s a remarkable discovery as a complete skull this old has never been found before. 

Futurology ~ Titan/fluke life, space mining, neutrino smack, 330TB tape, 3D metal printing, waste-gobbling maggots, robo-time, Tardigrades continue to mystify, toothy-mass extinction


Potential building block of lie life discovered in Titan’s atmosphere — Saturn’s moon Titan is a world of contrast; both eerily familiar and strikingly alien. Its calm seas and enormous sand dunes might remind you of Earth, until you learn that what’s flowing across Titan’s surface is not water, but liquid hydrocarbons. Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere seems to have some of the ingredients for biology, but any life forms evolved to thrive at temperatures of -178°C would be practically unrecognisable.
~ What if they introduce themselves in a civil manner? 

New theory suggest life wasn’t a fluke — Biophysicist Jeremy England made waves in 2013 with a new theory that cast the origin of life as an inevitable outcome of thermodynamics. His equations suggested that under certain conditions, groups of atoms will naturally restructure themselves so as to burn more and more energy, facilitating the incessant dispersal of energy and the rise of entropy or disorder in the universe. Now he’s testing his theory in computer simulations.
~ The rise of exceptional structures sure seems understandable.

Luxembourg passed space mining law — Last week Luxembourg’s parliament unanimously passed an asteroid mining law (which goes into effect Tuesday) that gives companies ownership of what they extract from the celestial bodies…
~ Well, if you can’t be a world power …

Gnarlier space junk — There’s plenty out there already, but thousands and thousands of satellites are set to launch to low-Earth orbit before 2025, adding greatly to the problem.
~ Smallsat revolution indeed …

Neutrino smacks into atom — In a study published last week in Science, Juan Collar’s group observed a new type of neutrino interaction: a neutrino bumping into an atomic nucleus, a process known as coherent elastic scattering.
~ An important matter. 

330TB on a tiny tape cartridge — Sony developed a new type of tape that has a higher density of magnetic recording sites, and IBM Research worked on new heads and signal processing tech to actually read and extract data from those nanometre-long patches of magnetism. Sony’s new tape is underpinned by two novel technologies: an improved built-in lubricant layer, which keeps it running smoothly through the machine, and a new type of magnetic layer.
The new cartridges, when they’re eventually commercialised, will be significantly more expensive because of the tape’s complex manufacturing process.
~ ‘Data is king’, Sony sputters. 

New microbe thanks to beer — In May 2014, a group of scientists took a field trip to a small brewery in an old warehouse in Seattle, Washington – and came away with a microbe scientists have never seen before. In so-called wild beer, the team identified a yeast belonging to the genus Pichia, which turned out to be a hybrid of a known species called P. membranifaciens and another Pichia species completely new to science. Other Pichia species are known to spoil a beer, but the new hybrid seems to smell better.
~ Well if I patented it, it would be microbe, but if you did: yorcrobe.

Australian electric highway — Australia is taking the electric car revolution one step further by announcing an A$4 million super-long electric highway, or a series of fast-charging electric vehicle stations. Queensland’s Electric Super Highway will be almost 2000 kilometres long, stretching from the Gold Coast on the state’s southern border to Cairns in the far north. 18 charging stations will span the highway, and all will allow vehicles charge in 30 minutes.
~ And there’s an entrepreneurial opportunity right there, as what will you do in the 30 minutes?

3D metal printing is about to go mainstream — Massachussetts company Desktop Metal is preparing to turn manufacturing on its head, with a 3D metal printing system that’s so much faster, safer and cheaper than existing systems that it’s going to compete with traditional mass manufacturing processes… Plenty of design studios and even home users run desktop printers, but the only affordable printing materials are cheap ABS plastics. And at the other end of the market, while organizations like NASA and Boeing are getting valuable use out of laser-melted metal printing, it’s a very slow and expensive process that doesn’t seem to scale well.
Desktop Metal is an engineering-driven startup whose founders include several MIT professors, and Emanuel Sachs, who has patents in 3D printing dating back to the dawn of the field in 1989.
~ Exciting!

Waste-gobling maggots — Aiming to reinvent the toilet, sanitation company The BioCycle is using black soldier maggots to convert waste into products like biodiesel. Meanwhile, ­EnviroFlightfeeds leftovers from brewing and ethanol production to larvae, whose poop makes a lovely food for prawns.
~ ‘Black soldier maggots’? Good lord!

Men to lose the most jobs to robots — They’re coming, in ever increasing numbers, for a certain kind of work. For farm and factory labor. For construction. For haulage. In other words, blue-collar jobs traditionally done by men.
~ Hobby time!

Companion robots — Kuri’s creators call it a “companion robot,” but this is no Furby. Kuri belongs to a new class of machines that actually are intelligent, and actually make useful assistants at home. They help disabled people with routine daily tasks, and soon they’ll remind the elderly to take their medication. Kuri’s more of an all-purpose companion, a member of your family that also happens to play music and take video.

Lake robot fights toxic algae bloom —  The Environmental Sample Processor ESPniagara sits on the floor of Lake Erie’s western basin, where it collects algae from the surrounding water, analyzes microcystin (a small, circular liver-toxic protein), and uploads results for researchers at the end of every test.

Tardigrade still fascinates — You’re probably aware that nature’s most badass animal is undoubtedly the tiny tardigrade, or water bear. They might be small, but unlike your weak butt, they can live a life without water, withstand temperatures from -328 to 304 degrees Fahrenheit, and even survive the depths of space. How did evolution make such a strange creature, and who are its relatives?
~ But the name that sounds like something issued to me at high school. 

Terrifying ocean predator changes the history of mass extinction — Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, the Earth was in a really bad place. At the boundary of the Permian and Triassic periods, our biosphere experienced its most dramatic mass extinction event (so far), one so utterly complete that it has been solemnly termed the Great Dying. Precious little was spared, and it’s generally been thought that it took many millions of years for life to stand back up again. But a recently-discovered fossil dating to just after the Great Dying is helping to erode our vision of a slow post-extinction recovery, showing that ecosystems recovered very quickly, were thriving – and were full of teeth.
Rows upon rows of razor-edged teeth.
~ And you were wondering why our human antecedents left the oceans …

 

Futurology ~ lil Interstellar, origami robots, NASA flight times, embryo edits, age of anti-age, Zika drones, med-maggots, Woolly Mammoth comeback, what we expected in ’87


Humanity’s first ‘interstellar’ spacecraft — Last year, extraterrestrial exploration venture Breakthrough Initiatives announced an ambitious plan to send lots of tiny spacecraft to our nearest neighbouring star system, Alpha Centauri. The project ‘Breakthrough Starshot’ is focused on launching lightweight ‘nanocraft’ to the stars at rip-roaring speeds. Recently, the project took a big leap toward, having achieved its ultimate goal by successfully sending six test craft into Low Earth Orbit.
~ Or, it’s that bit that fell out of my toaster.

Inspired by the traditional Japanese art of origami, self-folding robots can go places and do things traditional robots cannot — A major drawback to these devices, however, has been the need to equip them with batteries or wires. Researchers from Harvard have found a new way to overcome this problem, by designing folding robots that can be controlled using a wireless magnetic field.
~ I just imagine a medical one of these in my body, and some brat hacking it … eek!

NASA to cut flight time in half — For almost a half-century there’s been a clear speed limit on most commercial air travel: 1062kph/660 miles per hour, the rate at which a typical-size plane traveling at 9144 metres/30,000 feet breaks the sound barrier and creates a 48km (30-mile) wide, continuous sonic boom.
That may be changing. NASA says it will soon begin taking bids for construction of a demo model of a plane able to reduce the sonic boom to something like the hum you’d hear inside a Mercedes-Benz on the interstate. The agency’s researchers say their design, a smaller-scale model of which was successfully tested in a wind tunnel at the end of June, could cut the six-hour flight time from New York to Los Angeles in half.
~ Of course, landing in Wichita would achieve the same time reduction.

Embryo edit — The first known attempt at creating genetically modified human embryos in the United States has been carried out by a team of researchers in Portland, Oregon. The effort, led by Shoukhrat Mitalipov of Oregon Health and Science University, involved changing the DNA of a large number of one-cell embryos with the gene-editing technique CRISPR. Mitalipov is believed to have broken new ground both in the number of embryos experimented upon and by demonstrating that it is possible to safely and efficiently correct defective genes that cause inherited diseases.
~ And you thought it was for potatoes. 

Tech to end faux SOS calls — A researcher at Carnegie Mellon University has developed an intelligent system that is helping the US Coast Guard to distinguish and weed out prank mayday calls that cost it up to millions of dollars a year when it leads to flying or motoring out for pointless rescue missions. The program, created by Carnegie Mellon’s Rita Singh, creates a barcode of a person’s voice, deciphering whether the caller really is on a boat or actually in a house somewhere. It can unmask repeat pranksters since it can pick up telltale markers and match them up.
~ AI will get you. 

Scientists working on anti-aging — Implants of stem cells that make fresh neurons in the brain were found to put the brakes on aging in older mice, keeping them more physically and mentally fit for months, and extending their lives by 10-15% compared to untreated animals.
Another effort involves advanced machine learning, a horde of lab mice, and the blood of 600 especially long-lived Estonians. And there’s always a mysterious emu gene
~ Now I am picturing long-lived Estonian emus with brain implants. 

Anti-Zika mosquito factory — A  white Mercedes Sprinter van began a delivery route along the streets of Fancher Creek, a residential neighborhood on the southeastern edge of Fresno, California. Its cargo was 100,000 live mosquitoes, all male, all incapable of producing offspring. As it crisscrossed Fancher Creek’s 200 acres, it released its payload, piping out swarms of sterile Aedes aegypti into the air. It’ll do the same thing every day until the end of December.
~ And eventually, if they still have libidos anyway, the mosquito problem will literally die out. 

Maggot med-bots — Tiny cylinders of hydrogel, a synthetic material that sucks up or spits out water depending on its temperature, have been developed by Franck Vernerey, whose lab is at the University of Colorado Boulder, to induce these makeshift medicinal maggots to creep through tubes by cycling them through warm, then cool water.
~ Yuck! How about a nice laser-curtain thing that looks cool instead? 

Wooly mammoth recreation may now actually be possible — Dr George Church is the inventor of CRISPR and one of the minds behind the Human Genome Project. He’s no longer content just reading and editing DNA; now he wants to make new life. In Ben Mezrich’s latest book, Wooly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures, Church and his Harvard lab try to do the impossible, and clone an extinct Woolly mammoth back into existence.
~ And then they’ll turn out to be friendly and cuddly, and then what will Spielberg do? 

What we thought we’d have now, 30 years ago — Fifty years ago the first Consumer Electronics Show was held in New York City, giving local nerds a sneak peek at all the electronic toys arriving in 1967. Twenty years later, Art Vuolo attended the Summer edition of the trade show with a giant camera on his shoulder, giving us a wonderful time capsule of what was drool-worthy 30 years ago.
~ Smart people,  please. If only. 

Kuiper Belt object, lighter proton, Trappist tides, gravity affect, squishy heart, science song, Indian solar rail, Galaxy mag online, sturdy Tardigrades


NASA captures impossible glimpse Of Kuiper Belt object billions of kilometres away — In about a year and a half from now, the New Horizons Spacecraft will whiz past a distant Kuiper Belt object named 2014 MU69. This rocky relic of the ancient Solar System, located about 6.4 billion kilometres away, just passed in front of a distant star, resulting in one of the more extraordinary eclipses ever captured by scientists.
~ Nice catch.

The Proton is lighter than we thought — You can’t weigh the universe’s smallest particles on a bathroom scale. But in a clever new experiment, physicists have found one such particle – the proton – is lighter than previously thought. The researchers found the mass to be 1.007276466583 atomic mass units. That’s roughly 30 billionths of a percent lower than the average value from past experiments: a seemingly tiny difference that is actually significant by three standard deviations. The result both creates and clears up mysteries, and could help explain the universe as we know it.
~ 4.

Massive tides could boost TRAPPIST-1’s prospects for life — Earlier this year, Earthlings rejoiced when scientists announced the discovery of three rocky exoplanets in the habitable zone of TRAPPIST-1, an ‘ultracool dwarf’ star located just 39 light years away. Soon after, astronomers brought us back to Earth, pointing out that it might be hard for life to survive on a world in such a tight orbit around such a dim star. But the debate has now taken yet another delicious twist, this time, in favour of aliens.
~ For Earthlings really now how to party, ultra cool dwarf. 

Scientists measure gravity effect entity particles for the first time — Humans will probably never explore the area around a black hole, at least while you’re alive. That’s mostly because most black holes are too far away, and even if we could travel to them, it’s unlikely we’d survive their gravitational pull. That means that if we want to study the wacky effects extreme gravity might have, we need to get creative — which is exactly what an international team of physicists has just done.
~ Quick, make more Well semimetal. 

Squishy artificial heart — Researchers in Europe have created a soft artificial heart that mimics the real thing. It still isn’t ready for prime time, but the approach, in which the developers used silicone and 3D-printing, could revolutionise the way patients with heart disease are treated.
~ Are, don’t it just melt your heart! (Yikes!)\

Science picks ‘best’ song — Is there one song, or one kind of song, that’s generally more enjoyable? Recently, author Tom Cox tweeted some musings on the philosophy behind what makes the “best song ever”. A significant portion of the internet, however, argued that he was full of crap because the best song of all time is Toto’s classic 1982 hit, Africa.
~ I still shudder in pure revulsion whenever I hear even one note of any Beegees’ disco-era material. What say you, science? 

India to save thousands of litres of fuel with solar carriages — India’s massive diesel-guzzling railway network is getting serious about its experiments with solar. On July 14th, Indian Railways rolled out its first train with rooftop solar panels that power the lights, fans, and information display systems inside passenger coaches. The train will still be pulled by a diesel-powered locomotive, but a set of 16 solar panels atop each coach will replace the diesel generators that typically power these appliances.
~ I guess people will be dissuaded more from riding on the roofs, then. 

Galaxy online — Galaxy magazine was a pulpy, science fiction paradise from 1950 to 1980, publishing some of the most important futuristic voices of the 20th century — to say nothing of the amazing cover illustrations. And you can read hundreds of issues from its heyday online, all thanks to Archive.org.
~ Yay!

Tardigrades would be tardy survivors — Microscopic tardigrades, also known as “water bears”, are the toughest animals on the planet, capable of withstanding intense radiation, extreme temperatures, and even the vacuum of space. In a fascinating new study, researchers have shown that tardigrades are poised to survive literally anything that nature throws at them — and that of the animals alive today, they will be the last ones standing before the Sun annihilates the Earth billions of years from now.
~ I’m still not sure I’m jealous, though.