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Engineering

Forget Holograms, Researchers Have Created True 3D Images

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We all remember the iconic Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars: A New Hope where Carrie Fisher uttered the iconic phrase, “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.” Star Wars: The Last Jedi even made a cute little callback to that scene, but did you know that we might actually soon have access this kind of technology?

Researchers at Bringham Young University (BYU) in Provo, Utah, have created what they call a “photophoretic-trap volumetric display” that creates “volumetric images” at a point in space rather than on a screen, essentially creating a picture in thin air that is “visible from almost any direction and [is] not subject to clipping.” If this device can be likened to anything, it would be closer to a 3D printer than film projector, albeit a printer that uses light and cellulose particles instead of plastic filaments.

When I said the volumetric display uses light, I meant is lasers, which trap cellulose particles and force them to move in various directions. At the right speeds (and with blue, red, and green lasers), the particles produce images that float in midair. Unlike a hologram in real life, people can view these images at any angle. In fact, according to the BYU researchers, the holograms in movies such as Star Wars and Iron Man are in actuality volumetric images. Holograms are 3D images projected through 2D screens and can only be viewed from so many angles, which doesn’t make them truly three-dimensional. Characters in the Star Wars movies could view the Princess Leia “hologram” from conceivably any angle, which makes it a volumetric image.

While BYU’s breakthrough sounds impressive, reality is sadly a little more sober. The researchers were limited to creating simple images, such as butterflies, prisms, and a low-resolution image of Princess Leia (because of course you have to make one of those). Furthermore, the volumetric images were very small — not much bigger than the head of a pin — and difficult to capture on film. But, the researchers have demonstrated that a piece of technology we thought was purely science fiction is not just possible, it’s buildable today. Granted, scientists are going to have to create upgrades and modifications to make volumetric images large enough to be viewable without a zoom lens, but the groundwork is all there. Plus, once we perfect this technology, perhaps it can be applied to other uses. With the right particles and lasers, maybe we can create Star Wars‘ other iconic piece of technology: the lightsaber.

If you are interested in learning more about BYU’s photophoretic-trap volumetric display, you can read the paper published in Nature, although you will need a subscription.

All you have to do to get my attention is talk about video games, technology, anime, and/or Dungeons & Dragons - also people in spandex fighting rubber suited monsters.

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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