Tag Archives: futures

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. 

Futurology ~ Stormy aliens, ice moons, satellite tracks, life as info, smart pill, artificial vocal cords, micro-subs, backwards evolution


Saturn's moons are largely ice – these were photographed by the space probe Cassini
Saturn’s moons are largely ice – these were photographed by the space probe Cassini

Stormy star negates aliens — A red dwarf about 35 light-years from here is spewing powerful, life crushing solar flares. These commonality of these types of stellar objects lead to speculation that our galaxy is less habitable than we thought. A new study published in The Astrophysical Journal suggests planets in orbit around red dwarfs may be subject to tremendously powerful and frequent solar flares, making it difficult — if not impossible — for life to emerge in such systems.
~ So be careful, everyone! We’re still the biggest threat to ourselves. 

Photogenic ice moons — The two Saturnian moons are night and day when you put them side by side, yet they’re made from the same material. Both moons are largely ice, with a dense, rocky core composed of silicate minerals.
But while Enceladus (in the background) is a smooth white snowball from afar (up closer, you’d see craters on its north pole and cracks across its southern ice sheet), Dione’s surface is darker, and distinctly battered. [Main picture, above.]
~ OK, I admit I only posted this story coz I like the picture. 

Lino1

Identifying satellites in real time for your location — Line of Sight is an extraordinary map created by Patricio Gonzalez, an artist and engineer at the open-source mapping startup Mapzen. Using metadata about the thousands of orbiting satellites is available through sources like SatNOGS, Gonzalez’s map monitors satellites as they criss-cross the globe, allowing you to track specific spacecraft or learn when and where you should look to see those passing over your house. You just click on the lines to see what the satellites (or space junks) are.
~ Short comment: ‘cool!’ Long comment: ‘c-o-o-o-o-o-o-l-!!’

Life as information — Michigan State University Professor Cristop Adami takes the analytical perspective provided by information theory and transplants it into a great range of disciplines, including microbiology, genetics, physics, astronomy and neuroscience. Lately, he’s been using it to pry open a statistical window onto the circumstances that might have existed at the moment life first clicked into place.
~ I get it: 1+1 equals kids (sometimes). 

Digestible health centre — Developed by researchers at MIT, a pill-sized sensor uses a tiny microphone to measure acoustic waves produced by the beat of your heart and the rise and fall of your lungs. From there, the sensor calculates your heart rate and breathing rate, wirelessly beaming data to an external receiver. Your doc can download the vitals and immediately analyse them for signs of trouble — without calling you into his office and making you don a paper muumuu.
~ Hope its sugar-coated.

Growing vocal cord tissue — Engineers have for the first time grown vocal cords from human cells. Science reports: “For the first time, scientists have created vocal cord tissue starting with cells from human vocal cords. When tested in the lab, the bioengineered tissue vibrated – and even sounded – similar to the natural thing.”
~ ‘Aaaah!’

Speedy micro-submarines — The new Unimolecular Submersible Nanomachines (USNs) consist of 244 atoms that, when bound together in a particular formation, comprise a single-molecule device that’s powered by ultraviolet light. With each full revolution of the sub’s tail-like propeller, the device moves forward 18 nanometres. The motors run at more than a million RPMs, allowing for a top speed of slightly less than one inch per second.
~ But so far, no torpedoes. 

Microbial animal threw the evolutionary rulebook out the window — One organism seems to have thrown the rulebook out the window: a microbial animal that offers a striking example of evolution run “backwards.” The myxozoa is a microscopic, twelve-celled parasite whose cousins include decidedly macroscopic jellyfish and corals.
~ No intelligent designer, anyway.

Futurology ~ Speed of light slowed, space, medical, robotic and battery tech


Venus has a very choppy and fast-moving atmosphere
Venus has a very choppy and fast-moving atmosphere

Scientists slow the speed of light — Scientists have found a way to slow individual photons within a beam of light.  The researchers liken a light beam to a team of cyclists — while the group as a whole moves at a constant speed, individual riders may occasionally drop back or move forward.
~ Well, I do know how to slow a team of cyclists.

Rosetta in all its glory — The first scientific results from Rosetta at comet 67P have been published, and detail a surprising diversity of features on the 4-kilometer-long duck-shaped comet.
~ And cracks are appearing in the ‘duck’s’ neck.

Dramatic swirling vortex at Venus’s south pole — There’s a mass of swirling gas and cloud located some 37 miles (60 km) above Venus’s south pole. The image above was captured by the Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) aboard ESA’s Venus Express spacecraft.
~ The picture was actually taken several years ago and has only just been released.

Biology-inspired robot flies and walks — A team from LIS, EPFL and NCCR Robotics proposes a new kind of flying robot that can also walk. Called the DALER (Deployable Air-Land Exploration Robot), the robot uses adaptive morphology inspired by the common vampire bat.
~ As long as it doesn’t need blood to work, I’m good with it. 

Cities for a dry, dry future — A recent NPR report takes Los Angeles as an example of how urban water infrastructure will have to change, moving away from aqueduct systems first used in ancient Rome.
~ No more storm water run-off into the sea: LA will need every drop of water.

Flexible brain implants — A team led by MIT professor Polina Anikeeva has harnessed insights from the materials sciences to develop a better wire for deep-brain stimulation. They managed to fabricate flexible wires capable of not only stimulating brain tissue, but delivering drugs and recording brain activity simultaneously, while drastically reducing the side-effects one would expect from a traditional metal implant.
~ Your brain can be more finely controlled …

Startup to 3D-print cars — Local Motors solicits design ideas through crowdsourcing, allows anyone to use open source software to contribute ideas, and then 3D prints car bodies according to the chosen specs in a matter of days. Once 3D printing is complete, the Strati moves to a Thermwood CNC router—a computer-controlled cutting machine that mills the finer details—before undergoing the final assembly process, which adds the drivetrain, electrical components, wiring, tires, gauges, and a showroom-ready paint job.
~ And the motor?

Powered by 2xAAA batteries
Powered by 2xAAA batteries

Tiny synths for skinny jeans — Teenage Engineering has been teasing its tiny PO-12 for nearly a year, and for the NAMM show, officially launching its pocket synth not as a standalone unit, but as a line of little noisemakers that look like Casio calculators with their faceplates snapped off.
~ In my pocket, it would pick up lint, but they sound amazing (watch the video at the link). 

Oxford has a 175 year old battery that still works — There sits, in the Clarendon Laboratory at Oxford University, a bell that has been ringing, nonstop, for at least 175 years. It’s powered by a single battery installed in 1840. Researchers would love to know what the battery is made of, but they’re afraid that opening the bell would ruin an experiment to see how long it will last.
~ Perhaps never has a ‘dry pile’ sounded so attractive.