Tag Archive: Technology


London to New York in Less than an hour: The X-51A Waverider is designed to ride on its own shockwave, accelerating to about Mach 6

Perhaps Han Solo said it best in Star Wars when, describing his hyper-fast smuggling spaceship the Millennium Falcon, he said, “It may not look like much, but it’s got it where it counts.”

While the Air Force might take exception to being likened to the Falcon, in reality the platypus-nosed X-51A Waverider hypersonic flight test vehicle really doesn’t look like much. But it definitely has it where it counts.

On Tuesday, the unmanned 25-foot-long vehicle will be dropped off of the wing of a converted B-52 bomber off the California coast and try to fly for 300 seconds at science fiction-like speeds of Mach 6, over 4,500 mph – fast enough to fly from New York to London in less than an hour.

It is the Pentagon’s latest test as it studies the possibilities of hypersonic flight, defined as moving at speeds of Mach 5 (about 3,400 mph) and above without leaving the atmosphere. The technology could eventually bring missiles or airplanes to the other side of the planet in minutes instead of hours.

The Air Force and the Pentagon are not saying much about Tuesday’s test, but the military could use such technology for reconnaissance aircraft, cruise missile-like weapons or vehicles that could carry people or cargo so fast adversaries would not have time to react, according to military analysts.

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Over the past couple of years 3D printing has become more and more impressive, capable of quickly and efficiently creating a large range of objects. But one professor from the University of Southern California has dared to dream even bigger, developing a 3D printing system that could effectively print an entire home in less than a full day.

Called Contour Crafting, the process involves utilizing a gigantic 3D printer that is placed overhead an empty lot where the home will be built. The machine builds walls with multiple layers of concrete, adding plumbing and electrical wiring as it goes and eventually leaves a complete home that only needs doors and windows to complete.

If that wasn’t impressive enough, the system can also robotically paint walls or add tiles to the floors. Although Contour Crafting was created with the thought of easy to build, low cost housing in mind, the process can be modified to create luxurious homes or larger buildings.

This might just look like a microscope image of some strange, small life-form. But actually its a view of a massive 281-gigapixel image of a zebrafish embryo, which can be zoomed in on to show sub-cellular levels of detail.

The image is the product of a new technique called virtual nanoscopy, which is described in the Journal of Cell Biology. The process involves stitching together nanometer resolution photographs of what’s placed under the microscope, and the result is an image which can be explored a little like a Google Map.

To give you some sense of scale, the whole embryo, pictured above, measures 1.5 millimeters in length. At the other end of the scale, the dark dots in the image below are cell nuclei. Mind. Blown.

This 281-Gigapixel Image Depicts an Entire Animal at the Cellular Level

Researchers in the Department of Biological Engineering at MIT will receive up to $32 million over the next five years from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a technology platform that will mimic human physiological systems in the laboratory, using an array of integrated, interchangeable engineered human tissue constructs.

A cooperative agreement between MIT and DARPA worth up to $26.3 million will be used to establish a new program titled “Barrier-Immune-Organ: MIcrophysiology, Microenvironment Engineered TIssue Construct Systems” (BIO-MIMETICS) at MIT, in collaboration with researchers at the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, MatTek Corp. and Zyoxel Ltd. The BIO-MIMETICS proposal was one of two award winners selected as part of the Microphysiological Systems (MPS) program at DARPA, and will be led by MIT professor Linda Griffith in collaboration with MIT professors Steven Tannenbaum, Darrell Irvine, Paula Hammond, Eric Alm and Douglas Lauffenburger. Jeffrey Borenstein and Shankar Sundaram will lead the work at Draper Laboratory, Patrick Hayden will lead the work at MatTek, and David Hughes will lead the work at Zyoxel.

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Gun enthusiast “HaveBlue” has documented the process of what appears to be the first test firing of a firearm made with a 3D printer.

Before you go about locking yourself in your closet, you should know that the only printed part of the gun was the lower receiver. But, according to the American Gun Control Act, the receiver is what counts as the firearm.

HaveBlue reportedly used a Stratasys 3D printer to craft the part, assembled it as a .22 pistol and fired more than 200 rounds with it.

The tester then attempted to assemble a rifle with the part and a .223 upper receiver but had “feed and extraction issues.” The problem may not in fact be with the 3D-printed part, though, as the issues remained when a standard aluminum lower was used.

3D printer gun designs have been floating around the Internet for some time now, but HaveBlue seems to be the first to take it to the next level.

These words are emblazoned on the website Creativitycap.com, and they represent the vision of neuroscientist Allan Snyder. Snyder believes we all possess untapped powers of cognition, normally seen only in rare individuals called savants, and accessing them might take just a few jolts of electricity to the brain. It sounds like a Michael Crichton plot, but Snyder, of the University of Sydney, Australia, says he wouldn’t be surprised to see a prototype of the creativity cap within a couple of years. His research suggests that brain stimulation improves people’s ability to solve difficult problems. But Snyder’s interpretation of his findings remains controversial, and the science of using brain stimulation to boost thinking is still in its early stages.

“I think it’s a bit of a minefield,” said psychologist Robyn Young of Flinders University in Australia, who has tried to replicate Snyder’s early experiments. “I’m not really sure whether the technology is developed that can turn it into a more accurate science.” Snyder has long been fascinated by savants — people with a developmental brain disorder (often autism) or brain injury who display prowess in a particular area, such as mathematics, art or music, which far exceeds the norm. Kim Peek, who provided the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character in the movie “Rain Man,” was a savant who could memorize entire books after a single reading, or instantly calculate what day of the week any calendar date fell on. But he had a severe mental disability that prevented him from performing simple actions such as buttoning his shirt.

Wisconsin psychiatrist and savant expert Darold Treffert describes a skill like Kim’s as an “island of genius that stands in stark contrast to the overall handicap.” Other savants acquire their abilities after a severe brain injury or illness. Alonzo Clemons suffered a head injury as a toddler that left him mentally disabled, but endowed him with the ability to accurately sculpt beautiful clay animals after only briefly glimpsing them. And patients with frontotemporal dementia have been known to suddenly display artistic and musical abilities, like the successful businessman who developed dementia and started doing award-winning painting.

But not all savant abilities come with a trade-off, says Treffert. Sometimes it’s possible for otherwise normal people to have savant skills. Snyder hypothesizes that all people possess savant-like abilities in a dormant form, but that savants have “privileged access” to less-processed, lower-level information. In a normal brain, top-down controls suppress the barrage of raw data our brains take in, enabling us to focus on the big picture.

“We all have that information,” Snyder said, “but our brains are deliberately wired not to see it.”

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The art of humorous storytelling in Japan, known as rakugo, isn’t as popular as it once was. But now an android has joined the ranks of comics who kneel on cushions while spinning out jokes. The narrative droid is a copy of Beicho Katsura III, an 86-year-old rakugo comic recognized by the government as a Living National Treasure. The Beicho Android, as it’s known, is the work of Osaka University professor Hiroshi Ishiguro, creator of the Geminoid series of lifelike androids, and makeup artist Shinya Endo. Powered by air servos, the droid has all the idiosyncratic moves of Beicho performing rakugo, an art in which performers wear kimono and use only a kerchief and hand fan as props.

As seen in the vid below, it waves its arms, bows its head, and speaks in a gravelly voice like the master while narrating tales. Its mouth isn’t all that expressive but from far away, it’s hard to notice. The robot cracked up a few journalists at a press conference. It took two months to build and cost some $1 million, according to Sankei News. It was unveiled as part of an exhibition that combines a retrospective on Beicho’s career with exhibits on cutting edge tech in Osaka. It’s on from August 1 to 9 at Sankei Hall Breeze, where the droid is slated to do hourly impersonations of the elderly artist.

Scientists have invented artificial pores as small as the ones in your cells—something unimaginable until now. These sub-nanometer synthetic pores are so tiny that they can distinguish between ions of different substances, just like a real cell. It’s an amazing engineering feat. Once they tune them to detect different substances, researchers claim that this seemingly miraculous matter would be able to do truly incredible things, from “purifying water to kill tumors and diseases by regulating the substances inside of cells.”

The scientists used the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory to create the pores, gluing donut-shaped molecules—called rigid macrocycles—on top of each other using hydrogen bonding. According to one of the senior authors of the study, University of Nebraska-Lincoln Ameritas University’s chemistry professor Xiao Cheng Zeng—”this nanotube can be viewed as a stack of many, many rings. The rings come together through a process called self-assembly, and it’s very precise. It’s the first synthetic nanotube that has a very uniform diameter.” They are about 8.8 angstroms thick, just one tenth of a nanometer.

They are now capable of passing potassium ions and water, but not other ions, like sodium and lithium ions. Basically, this means that you could pass salt water through a fabric made of this wonder material and make it drinkable—instantly. Lead researcher Dr. Bing Gong—a chemistry professor at University of Buffalo—says that “the idea for this research originated from the biological world, from our hope to mimic biological structures, and we were thrilled by the result. We have created the first quantitatively confirmed synthetic water channel. Few synthetic pores are so highly selective.” Gong says that they now have to experiment with the pores’ structure to find out how the materials are transported through the pores and tune it to select which substances they want to filter and which ones they want to let through. If they are successful, this material has an incredible potential to change almost everything.

The Power of Networks

predictive policing algorithms

Columbo would have hated the latest trend in crime-fighting. And it definitely would have made Dirty Harry even more unhinged.

But Sherlock Holmes, now he would have been impressed. The logic, the science, the compilation of data–all the stuff of Holmesian detective work.

I’m talking about something known as predictive policing–gathering loads of data and applying algorithms to deduce where and when crimes are most likely to occur. Late last month, the Los Angeles Police Department announced that it will be expanding its use of software created by a California startup named PredPol.

For the past six months, police in that city’s Foothill precinct have been following the advice of a computer and the result, according the the LAPD, is a 25 percent drop in reported burglaries in the neighborhoods to which they were directed. Now the LAPD has started using algorithm-driven policing in five more precincts covering more than 1 million people.

PredPol’s software, which previously had been tested in Santa Cruz–burglaries there dropped by 19 percent–actually evolved from a program used to predict earthquakes. Now it crunches years of crime data, particularly location and time, and refines it with what’s known about criminal behavior, such as the tendency of burglars to work the neighborhoods they know best.

Before each shift, officers are given maps marked with red boxes of likely hot spots for property crimes, in some cases zeroing in on areas as small as 500 feet wide. They’re told that whenever they’re not on calls, they should spend time in one of the boxes, preferably at least 15 minutes of every two hours. The focus is less on solving crimes, and more on preventing them by establishing a high profile in crime zones the computer has targeted.

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Millions of people suffering from multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, muscular dystrophy, spinal cord injuries or amputees could soon interact with their computers and surroundings using just their eyes, thanks to a new device that costs less than £40. Composed from off-the-shelf materials, the new device can work out exactly where a person is looking by tracking their eye movements, allowing them to control a cursor on a screen just like a normal computer mouse.

The technology comprises an eye-tracking device and “smart” software that have been presented July 13, in IOP Publishing’s Journal of Neural Engineering. Researchers from Imperial College London demonstrated its functionality by getting a group of people to play the classic computer game Pong without any kind of handset. In addition users were able to browse the web and write emails “hands-off.”

The GT3D device is made up of two fast video game console cameras, costing less than £20 each, that are attached, outside of the line of vision, to a pair of glasses that cost just £3. The cameras constantly take pictures of the eye, working out where the pupil is pointing, and from this the researchers can use a set of calibrations to work out exactly where a person is looking on the screen.

Even more impressively, the researchers are also able to use more detailed calibrations to work out the 3D gaze of the subjects — in other words, how far into the distance they were looking. It is believed that this could allow people to control an electronic wheelchair simply by looking where they want to go or control a robotic prosthetic arm.

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Within the next year or two, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security will instantly know everything about your body, clothes, and luggage with a new laser-based molecular scanner fired from 164 feet (50 meters) away. From traces of drugs or gun powder on your clothes to what you had for breakfast to the adrenaline level in your body—agents will be able to get any information they want without even touching you.

And without you knowing it.

The technology is so incredibly effective that, in November 2011, its inventors were subcontracted by In-Q-Tel to work with the US Department of Homeland Security. In-Q-Tel is a company founded “in February 1999 by a group of private citizens at the request of the Director of the CIA and with the support of the U.S. Congress.” According to In-Q-Tel, they are the bridge between the Agency and new technology companies.

Their plan is to install this molecular-level scanning in airports and border crossings all across the United States. The official, stated goal of this arrangement is to be able to quickly identify explosives, dangerous chemicals, or bioweapons at a distance.

The machine is ten million times faster—and one million times more sensitive—than any currently available system. That means that it can be used systematically on everyone passing through airport security, not just suspect or randomly sampled people.

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Leap represents an entirely new way to interact with your computers. It’s more accurate than a mouse, as reliable as a keyboard and more sensitive than a touchscreen. For the first time, you can control a computer in three dimensions with your natural hand and finger movements.

It’s been 30 years since the release of Blade Runner and 10 years since Minority Report. Both are rich sources of predictions about the future. But what has actually come to pass?

Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner – the tale of a hunt for four dangerous “replicant” humans – is a classic envisioning of a dystopian future, set in 2019 Los Angeles.

Minority Report, based on a short story by Dick of the same name, and set in Washington DC in 2054, is another cornucopia of technological possibility, where crime is predicted and therefore prevented.

So which predictions in these movies have been fulfilled?

Languages challenging English

As well as English, some of Blade Runner’s 2019 LA residents speak a patois mixing European and east Asian languages.

There has certainly been language shift in Los Angeles, most notably a doubling of the number of Spanish speakers (those who speak the language at home) in the past 30 years from 1.5 million in 1980 to 3.6 million in 2010 (including Spanish Creole).

Internationally, Spanish is also significant and futuregazers have gone as far as predicting that one day Mandarin Chinese could become the default language of business worldwide.

Speaking to the New York Times in 2009, French linguist Claude Hagege, author of On the Death and Life of Languages, said that Hindi and Mandarin could replace English some day.

Gesture-based computer interfaces

John Anderton, Tom Cruise’s character in Minority Report, dons a data glove to use a rather elegant gesture-based interface. Wired magazine reported back in 2008 that such interfaces would soon become a reality.

John Underkoffler, the scientist who developed the system for Minority Report, set up Oblong Industries to develop and market it. He told TED in 2010: “We’re not finished until all the computers in the world work like this.”

The triumph of touchscreen interfaces is an obvious prelude. The Apple iPhone has offered “pinch”, “pull” and “swipe” features for the past five years, and the Microsoft Kinect games system allows users to control the action with their movements.

The most recent addition is the Leap gesture-based computer interaction system, launched in May. The USB device tracks an area of 8 cu ft for movement, and is capable of differentiating between fingers, thumbs and pencils.

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Materials science continues to develop new substances with remarkable attributes, as well as inventive new combinations of traits. Sophisticated new materials are already playing a major role in engineering, medicine, science, design and manufacturing, as well as in everyday life.

Here we highlight some new and inventive materials that are bringing science fiction closer to reality.

NeverWet Coating

Developed by Ross Nanotechnology, NeverWet is a super-hydrophobic coating capable of repelling water, heavy oils and other sticky, viscous fluids. Liquids bead and roll off surfaces coated with NeverWet, meaning that clothing and even electronics — such as cell phones and cameras — could potentially be rendered waterproof. Apart from the obvious applications for waterproofing and stain resistance, the material could also find use as an antibacterial coating, an icing repellent and as protection against corrosion.

Self-Healing Concrete

As with all construction materials, concrete eventually deteriorates over time, resulting in costly maintenance work and potentially hazardous scenarios. However, scientists at Northumbria University in the United Kingdom are now developing a type of self-healing concrete, which relies on a ground-borne bacteria – bacilli megaterium – to block the concrete’s pores. This organic substance is a crystalline form of natural calcium carbonate, which can keep out water and other damaging substances to prolong the life of concrete and reduce costs by enabling construction material to repair itself.

“The bacteria is grown on a nutrient broth of yeast, minerals and urea and is then added to the concrete. With its food source in the concrete, the bacteria breeds and spreads, acting as a filler to seal the cracks and prevent further deterioration,” according to an announcement of the project. “It is hoped the research could lead to a cost-effective cure for ‘concrete cancer’ and has enormous commercial potential.”

Aerogel

Also known as “frozen smoke,” aerogel is a powerful insulator produced through the supercritical drying of liquid gels of alumina, chromia, tin oxide or carbon. It looks transparent and can block extreme heat and cold. Materials in the aerogel category contain extraordinarily high surface areas within their internal fractal structures, with a 1-inch cube of aerogel capable of having an internal surface area equivalent to a football field. Despite its low density, aerogel is also extremely strong and is being considered as a component in military armor.

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Festo SmartInversion – Flying geometrical band with inversion drive!

SmartInversion is a helium-filled flying object that moves through the air by turning inside-out. This constant, rhythmically pulsating movement is known as inversion and gives the flight model its name.

Did you know that bonobos have a “fascination with computers”? No? Neither did we. But a new Kickstarter project from the Bonobo Hope Great Ape Trust Sanctuary in Des Moines, Iowa needs funding to make every bonobo’s technological dreams a reality–from operating vending machines to, improbably, controlling their own robots.

The bonobos are apparently already pretty adept at recognizing and communicating through lexigrams, a language used by apes in which words are replaced by specific images. At the moment, the bonobos use a big interactive board filled with lexigrams, but in Iowa, the researchers want to give them the ability to move about and control their own environment, which means the bonobos need a portable version.

The app would give the bonobos the ability to control vending machines, interact with people on the go, play games, and for some reason, control robots with a terrifying bust of another bonobo. Imagine you get transported to some highly advanced alien planet and the aliens give you an unkempt, screaming mannequin on wheels to play with. That would freak me out, but perhaps this is one of the key differences between humans and bonobos!

Source: Kickstarter

The iPad of 1935

There’s no denying that devices like the iPad, Kindle and Nook have dramatically changed the way that many people consume media. Last year, online retailer Amazon announced that electronic book sales had surpassed print book sales for the first time in history.

The future of the book has quite a few failed predictions in its wake. From Thomas Edison’s belief that books of the future would be printed on leaves of nickel, to a 1959 prediction that the text of a book would be projected on the ceiling of your home, no one knew for sure what was in store for the printed word.

The April, 1935 issue of Everyday Science and Mechanics included this nifty invention which was to be the next logical step in the world of publishing. Basically a microfilm reader mounted on a large pole, the media device was supposed to let you sit back in your favorite chair while reading your latest tome of choice.

It has proved possible to photograph books, and throw them on a screen for examination, as illustrated long ago in this magazine. At the left is a device for applying this for home use and instruction; it is practically automatic.

Additional text accompanying the illustration reads, “You can read a ‘book’ (which is a roll of miniature film), music, etc., at your ease.”

Though René Dagron was granted the first patent for microfilm in the year 1859, it was New York banker George Lewis McCarthy who developed the first practical use for microfilm in 1925, allowing him to make miniaturized copies of bank documents.

Eastman Kodak bought McCarthy’s invention in 1928 and the technology behind the miniaturization of text was adopted rapidly throughout the 1930s. In 1935 the New York Timesbegan copying all of its editions onto microfilm.

Microfilm was a practical instrument for archiving printed material for a number of institutions in the 1930s, including Oglethorpe University, which was preparing the Crypt of Civilization. The Crypt was sealed in 1938 and is intended to be opened in the year 8113. The December, 1938 issue of Popular Science included an article on the preparations necessary for that enormous time capsule, including the use of miniaturized text not unlike the concept above.

Source: Smithsonian

In a promotion for its first production fuel-cell vehicle in Germany, Mercedes-Benz turned a B-Class hatchback invisible — at least, from a distance, using the same idea behind the invisible car in the James Bond film “Die Another Day.” See if you can see it before it sees you.

The invisibility cloak had its tryout this week on the streets of Stuttgart, Germany. To make Q’s idea of an invisible car real, Mercedes employed dozens of technicians and some $263,000 worth of flexible LED mats covering one side of the car. Using a camera mounted on the opposite side of the vehicle, the LEDs were programmed to reproduce the image from the camera at the right scale, blending the vehicle into the background from a few feet away. Doing so required power sources, computers and other gear totaling 1,100 lbs. of equipment inside the B-Class.

Mercedes’ point was to show how the F-Cell hydrogen fuel cell powered car would be invisible to the environment, producing only water vapor and heat for emissions. For an invisible car, it’s getting a lot of stares.

There’s a growing threat to the U.S. military, according to the Pentagon’s premier research wing. No, it’s not Iran’s nukes or China’s missiles. It’s the iPads, Android phones and other gadgets we all carry around with us every day.

“Commercial consumer electronics has created vulnerabilities by enabling sensors, computing, imaging, and communications capabilities that as recently as 15 years ago, were the exclusive domain of military systems,” Darpa deputy director Kaigham “Ken” Gabriel tells the House Armed Services Committee’spanel on emerging threats. “These capabilities now are in the hands of hundreds of millions of people around the world and in use every day.”

“This is not an abstract vulnerability. We have not enjoyed spectrum dominance since about 1997,” he adds.

The warning is a bit ironic, coming from the head of an agency that was founded in response to a surprise Soviet space launch, and is today best known for its shape-shifting robots, its mind-controlled prosthetics, and its missiles that fly at 20 times the speed of sound.

But Gabriel, in his written testimony, says the consumer tech threat is very real — especially to the Pentagon’s once unparalleled ability to wage electronic warfare. Today’s communications deviceshopscotch between frequencies in a way that makes them tough to spoof or jam. Tomorrow’s electronics — which will likely rely on lasers to pass along data and phone conversations — will be even tougher to stop.

“In both waveform complexity and carrier frequency, adversaries have moved to operating regimes currently beyond the capabilities of our systems,” Gabriel says.

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