NASA has challenged designers to develop a conventional drone to work inside a space station, navigating with no ‘up’ or ‘down’. The winning design, ArachnoBeeA, would use cameras and tiny beacons to manoeuvre its way around. How popular drones would be in such a confined space is a different question.
Hate commuting? Imagine, instead, your train carriage hurtling down a tunnel at the same speed as a commercial jet airliner. That’s the dream of PayPal, Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. His Hyperloop system would see ‘train’ passengers travel at up to 760mph through a vacuum tube, propelled by compressed air and induction motors. A site has been chosen with the goal of starting test runs in two years. Once built, the loop will ferry passengers between San Francisco and LA in 35 minutes, compared to 7.5 hours by train.
London’s coffee industry creates over 200,000 tonnes of waste every year, so what do we do with it? Entrepreneur Arthur Kay’s big idea is to use his company, bio-bean, to turn 85 per cent of coffee waste into biofuels for heating buildings and powering transport.
Cut off a flatworm’s head, and it’ll grow a new one. Cut it in half, and you’ll have two new worms. Fire some radiation at it, and it’ll repair itself. Scientists have wanted to work out the mechanisms involved for some time, but the secret has eluded them. Enter an AI coded at Tufts University, Massachusetts. By analysing and simulating countless scenarios, the computer was able to solve the mystery of the flatworm’s regeneration in just 42 hours. In the end it produced a comprehensive model of how the flatworm’s genes allow it to regenerate.
Although humans still need to feed the AI with information, the machine in this experiment was able to create a new, abstract theory independently – a huge step towards the development of a conscious computer, and potentially a landmark step in the way we carry out research.
The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed devices that can monitor alcohol levels by sniffing a driver’s breath or scanning the blood in their fingertips via the steering wheel, immobilising the car if levels are too high. Drivers using the system could be offered lower insurance premiums.
Swallowing seawater is part of surfing. But now the scientists behind a new initiative called Beach Bums want to swab the rectums of surfers, to see if this water contains the key to developing new antibiotics. They’re searching for antibiotic resistant bacteria known as superbugs: by studying the samples from the surfers, they hope to learn more about these potentially dangerous organisms in the hope of producing new drugs to combat them.
After Tesla and SpaceX, PayPal founder Elon Musk is turning his attention back to the internet: he’s awaiting permission to send almost 4,000 small satellites into low-Earth orbit that would beam back a high-speed wireless signal to everyone on the planet. And things are moving fast: Musk hopes to launch a series of test satellites in 2016, with a view to completing the project by 2020. He has competition to get there first though, as British billionaire Richard Branson also wants to cover the world with wi-fi.
Google has obtained a patent on robot personalities, reminiscent of the ‘Genuine People Personalities’ of robots in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. Owners could have a personality automatically chosen to match their needs, or select one based on a fictional character or even a loved one. Although the patent was announced suspiciously close to April 1, it does exist (US Patent 8,996,429), and with our natural tendency to anthropomorphism it seems a likely development.
UK homes throw away 30 to 50 per cent of what we buy from supermarkets, says a 2013 report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. The report claimed we’re guided by ‘use by’ and ‘best before’ dates on food packaging, which are kept conservative because they are driven by shops’ desire to avoid legal action. An invention called ‘Bump Mark’ could change all that. Originally developed for blind people, it’s a label that starts out smooth to the touch but gets bumpier as food decays. And since it decays at the same rate as any protein-based food within, it’s far more accurate than printed dates.
We’ve almost got used to the idea of driverless cars before we’ve even seen one on the roads. The truth is, you might well see a lot more driverless trucks – after all, logistics make the world go round. They’ll be cheaper to run than regular rigs, driving more smoothly and so using less fuel. Computers never get tired or need comfort breaks, so they’ll run longer routes. And they could drive in convoys, nose-to-tail, to minimise wind resistance. Companies like Mercedes and Peloton are already exploring these possibilities, and if the promised gains materialise, freight companies could upgrade entire fleets overnight. On the downside.
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