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Engineering

Google LUNAR X PRIZE has spawned the first ever race on the moon’s surface

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The Google LUNAR X PRIZE, for those of you living under an (ahem) rock, is the chance at $30 million of that sweet, sweet Google money for designing the best next generation lunar rover. Much like a dangling carrot from a stick, Google’s $30 million has motivated engineers, scientists, and crackpots from around the world to try and make a new and improved lunar rover. Since that’s not exactly pocket change for most of us, it should come as no surprise that the teams competing for the Google LUNAR X PRIZE  are taking it pretty seriously. How seriously? Try going to the moon serious. Two teams named HAKUTO and Astrorobotic (who I assume are funded by Bond villains and Mr. Burns) have announced today that they will send their lunar rovers to the moon in order to compete in a 500 meter race for the first prize purse of 20 million dollars.

ford-pinto-lunar-rover

The Google LUNAR X PRIZE ensures that much like the stately Ford Pinto, the lunar rover gets replaced ASAP

And if you’re asking yourself just how these Google LUNAR X PRIZE lunar rovers are supposed to get to the moon, fear not! The Astrorobotic team has agreed to allow the HAKUTO team’s two rovers to hitch a ride on the Astrobotic’s Griffin rocket. So far, the 2016 moonface space race has three rovers competing: Astrorobotic’s rover named Andy and HAKUTO’s awesomely titled rovers, Moonraker and Tetris. This race is shaping up to be interesting too because Astrorobotics is in talks with more than half of the other 16 Google LUNAR X PRIZE teams to see if they would also be interesting in bumming a ride to the  moon. Why would Astrorobotics want help others come along and potentially decrease their chances of winning the cash? Astrorobotic’s head, John Thornton explains, “Our goal is to successfully create a commercial capability to fly and deliver payload to the moon. We will have achieved that goal whether we have some of the winnings of the prize, or a lot of the winnings of the prize, or maybe none of the winnings of the prize.”

I think it’s pretty great that in light of reduced government funding that companies try things like the Google LUNAR X PRIZE to ensure that we keep pushing the technological envelope. As a sci-fi fan, I am definitely in favor of things that bring us closer and closer to making Star Wars and Trek a reality. Here’s hoping that Google LUNAR X PRIZE teams’ 2016 competition make moon based motorsports and continued innovation, take off. (I couldn’t resist!)

Hey, I'm Sara! I'm a fan of all things geek so you'll usually find me immersed in everything from comic books to auto sports. I often wish that I was born in the future so that I could have experienced adventures worthy of Star Wars or Star Trek. To cope with the fact that we don't even have flying cars yet, I generally infuse everything I do with a healthy dose of humor. I mean, we may as well laugh while we're waiting, right? (Also, it's a great excuse to include as many Simpsons references as possible)

Artificial Intelligence

Track People and Read Through Walls with Wi-Fi Signals

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Recent research has shown that your Wi-Fi router’s signals can be used as a sneaky surveillance system to track people and read text through walls.

Recently, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientists developed a deep neural network that digitally maps human bodies using Wi-Fi signals.

It works like radar. Many sensors detect Wi-Fi radio waves reflected around the room by a person walking. This data is processed by a machine learning algorithm to create an accurate image of moving human bodies.

“The results of the study reveal that our model can estimate the dense pose of multiple subjects, with comparable performance to image-based approaches, by utilizing WiFi signals as the only input,” the researchers wrote in a December 2022 pre-print paper.

The team claims this experimental technology is “privacy-preserving” compared to a camera, despite concerns about intrusion. The algorithm can only detect rough body positions, not facial features and appearance, so it could provide a new way to monitor people anonymously.

They write, “This technology may be scaled to monitor the well-being of elder people or just identify suspicious behaviors at home.”

Recent research at the University of California Santa Barbara showed another way Wi-Fi signals can be used to spy through walls. They used similar technology to detect Wi-Fi signals through a building wall and reveal 3D alphabet letters.

WiFi still imagery is difficult due to motionlessness. “We then took a completely different approach to this challenging problem by tracing the edges of the objects,” said UC Santa Barbara electrical and computer engineering professor Yasamin Mostofi.

 

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Engineering

The iPhone 15’s USB-C switch could simplify computing

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A special event tomorrow, Tuesday September 12, will reveal the iPhone 15, and rumors, supply chain sources, and European Union regulators have already given us a lot of information. Last source strongly suggests that the newest iPhone will have a USB-C connector instead of the Lightning connector from the iPhone 5 in 2012.

That’s not all we expect from a new iPhone, but it could be the biggest change due to what it could unlock. That’s especially true for the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, which are expected to get a Thunderbolt port that uses the same connector as USB-C but adds data, display, power, and other input and output options.

The iPhone’s hardware input and output capabilities affect its role in users’ computing lives. Samsung and Motorola, for example, have spent multiple generations of their devices iterating on how smartphones can do more for users than they might be used to. Samsung’s DeX, while awkward at its introduction, has become a surprisingly competent desktop replacement. Android may get a native desktop mode for Pixel 8, if rumors are true.

Apple has yet to prove that iPadOS can replace desktop computing, but it has the potential to transform the iPhone in this regard. The concept of a pocketable thin client, where you take your PC with you and plug it into displays and input devices to work anywhere, has been around for a long time. No technical barriers exist to making an iPhone 15 with a full-featured USB-C port that supports the latest Thunderbolt spec.

When connected to an external display, iPhones are very limited. If implemented by a developer, you can output video at a resolution and aspect ratio that maximizes a TV or monitor while removing the rest of the interface.

An iPhone that projects iPadOS (or, ideally, macOS) when connected to a screen could replace a laptop for a large portion of the population, including casual computing and most of the knowledge workforce’s work tasks. The iPhone’s processors, which are used in Macs, are powerful enough for email, web browsing, video, and photo editing.

The foundations are there, and iPadOS does most of what’s needed on similar hardware. Apple could lose some of its Mac market if it did this, but it hasn’t shied away from cannibalizing its sales in other categories to lead a paradigm shift in how people use their devices.

We know Apple will announce a USB-C iPhone tomorrow, but we don’t know if it will be the same story, slightly repackaged, or a new opportunity for Apple to lead what we think of when we hear the word “smartphone.” I hope a desktop mode is being worked on for a future launch, but I don’t think it’s coming this year.

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Bionics

Redwire Space produces human knee cartilage in space for the first time

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Redwire Space has “bioprinted” a human knee meniscus on the International Space Station, which could treat Earthlings with meniscus issues.

The meniscus cartilage was manufactured on Redwire’s ISS BioFabrication Facility (BFF). The BFF printed the meniscus using living human cells and transmitted it to Redwire’s Advanced Space Experiment Processor for a 14-day enculturation process for BFF-Meniscus-2.

SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission returned the tissue to Earth after culturing. UAE astronaut Sultan Al-Neyadi and NASA astronauts Frank Rubio, Warren Hoburg, and Stephen Bowen investigated.

Redwire collaborated with the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences Center for Biotechnology, which studies warfighter remedies, for the trial. Meniscus injuries are the most prevalent orthopedic injuries in U.S. service members.

In recent months, Redwire Space has advanced biotechnology. The subsidiary of Redwire Corporation launched a 30,000-square-foot biotech and microgravity research park in Indiana this summer.

Redwire EVP John Vellinger called the printing “groundbreaking milestone.”

He stated, “Demonstrating the ability to print complex tissue such as this meniscus is a major leap forward toward the development of a repeatable microgravity manufacturing process for reliable bioprinting at scale.”

The company has long-term bioprinting and space microgravity research goals. Redwire will fly microgravity pharmaceutical drug development and cardiac tissue bioprinting payloads on a November SpaceX Commercial Resupply trip to the ISS.

Sierra Space agreed to integrate Redwire’s biotech and in-space manufacturing technology into its Large Integrated Flexible Environment (LIFE) space station module. Orbital Reef, a private space station designed by Blue Origin, Boeing, and others, will include LIFE.

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