“The smartphone in your pocket has more computing power than the spacecraft that took the Apollo 11 astronauts to the moon,” says anyone trying to impress anyone else with the massive scaling of computing power over the last few decades. Perhaps taking a clue from this cocktail party trivia, NASA is now developing spacecraft powered by commercial smartphones.
Where electronics are concerned, the future is two-dimensional and very, very thin. One molecule thin, to be exact. That’s not quite as thin as a sheet of graphene, but new research from MIT shows that while one-atom-thick graphene shows exceptional strength and other novel properties, the future of electronics lies with materials like molybdenum disulfide (MoS2) that are a couple of atoms thicker but much, much easier to work with.
In the wake of Curiosity’s landing on Mars, a return to regular science missions in Earth orbit may seem a bit pedestrian. But tomorrow morning just after 4 a.m. EDT, an Atlas V rocket is launching from Cape Canaveral carrying a unique mission aimed at doing some pretty critical science much closer to home. The twin Radiation Belt Storm Probes are bound straight for the Van Allen radiation belts that ring Earth, mysterious and hazardous regions of nearby space that we’ve known about for decades without truly understanding them.
Two weeks after being expertly parked in Mars’s Gale Crater by NASA’s sky crane apparatus, Mars rover Curiosity has made its first test-drive. It wasn't a particularly long journey; it moved just 10 feet from its landing site--a half-hour trip--so to re-park itself in an area where the rover has visually confirmed there are no obstacles.
DARPA’s Tactically Expandable Maritime Platform (TEMP) program is a wide-ranging effort to pack standard ISO shipping containers with technologies that can assist during humanitarian disasters or aid military in solving other unconventional, international problems (like piracy). Essentially DARPA wants a modular means to quickly turn any ship into a technology-laden base of operations that can quickly execute ship-to-ship or ship-to-shore operations. We’ve seen the ship-based portion of this before. We’re now seeing the ship-to-shore piece.
The U.S. Army tallied 38 confirmed or suspected suicides among its ranks last month--that’s among both active- and non-active-duty members including the Army National Guard and Army Reserve--the highest rate of suicide within the branch yet observed, further underscoring a mental health crisis that the services have yet to get a handle on. But help may be coming in an unlikely form: nasal spray.
The future of military robotics isn’t all heavy metal and humanoid soldier-bots. If DARPA’s newest warbot implement is any indication, the future is soft, lightweight, and inflatable. The Pentagon’s blue-sky research wing is about to award $625,000 to iRobot to develop an inflatable robotic arm that can lift four times its own weight.
Billionaire Peter Thiel would like to introduce you to the other, other white meat. The investor’s philanthropic Thiel Foundation’s Breakout Labs is offering up a six-figure grant (between $250,00 and $350,000, though representatives wouldn’t say exactly) to a Missouri-based startup called Modern Meadow that is flipping 3-D bio-printing technology originally aimed at the regenerative medicine market into a means to produce 3-D printed meat.
Neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or Creutzfeld-Jacobs are tough to diagnose. Outward symptoms can obviously be an indicator, but symptoms for many neuro-disorders overlap while protein biomarkers for each illness, called amyloids, are difficult to distinguish between.
Face capture technology has come a long way, especially as 3-D stereoscopic imaging and the like have made leaps forward in recent years. It’s now relatively easy to capture a face in 3-D and reconstruct it digitally for applications such as the amazing CGI you see in movies like The Avengers (Ruffalo-Hulk was pretty visually awesome, no?). But facial hair is another story altogether. Current face capture systems don’t capture it well, and the skin that it obscures on the face then becomes an issue as well.
The first serious indications of the ecosystem impact of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan are in, and they’re troubling. Researchers there collected 144 common pale grass blue butterflies from the region a couple of months after the catastrophic nuclear meltdowns leaked radiation into the environment last year. After studying them for a few generations, those researchers are finding signs of genetic mutations that are leading to physical abnormalities.
The Olympics are over but international competition is still hot and records continue to fall. Just eight short days after a Chinese physics group posted a paper claiming to have achieved quantum teleportation across a record-setting 97 kilometers (just more than 60 miles), a joint Canadian/European team posted another claiming to have teleported a single photon across 143 kilometers (nearly 89 miles).
A simple blood test that offers early detection of cancer in the human body has long eluded medical researchers, but a team at UCLA is getting closer. By blending an ultra-fast camera and a powerful optical microscope with software that can process the data they produce at extremely high speeds, the team hopes it can spot circulating tumor cells (CTCs) that have broken away from cancerous tumors in blood samples, potentially making early cancer detection as simple as taking a blood draw.
A lot has been written about the perceived benefits and non-benefits of higher-than-the-human-eye-can-perceive resolutions, things like displays that go beyond HD and retina or cameras and scanners that capture imagery in pixel counts that go so far beyond the threshold of what we can see as to be meaningless, at least visually speaking.
Space exploration doesn’t always go smoothly. For instance, the triumph of Apollo 11 was followed by the failed mission and near-disaster of Apollo 13. Prior to launching Alan Shepard into space in 1961, NASA blew countless space rockets to pieces on the launchpad. Russia still crashes its spaceships periodically. And lest last week’s euphoria over the Mars rover Curiosity landing have you thinking NASA’s got this spaceflight thing down to a pure science, please see the video below. Late last week, NASA’s experimental unmanned Morpheus lander failed spectacularly during vehicle tests. Really spectacularly. With fire and explosions and whatnot.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.