Chinese Drones Spy On Polluters

China dronesIt’s no secret that I’m concerned about the increasing use of drones (except those that deliver beer) for military and/or surveillance purposes. It’s even less of a secret that I’m sickened by spying, especially from within our own government. So I’m surprised to be writing a story in which I support China’s use of drones to spy on polluters, but here I am. Damn you, science, you’ve done it again!

Pollution in China’s major cities is a big problem — such a big problem that Beijing is developing a nuclear plant (fueled with thorium, not uranium) to try and find alternate fuel sources. Pollution is such a big problem that travel agencies offer “haze travel insurance” for travelers whose flights are canceled due to pollution or who spend two or more days in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’ian, or other big, smoggy cities. The air pollution index has to read over a certain number in each city. In February, Shanghai’s air pollution index topped 100 on 17 days (0-50 is considered good, 51-100 moderate, and 101-200 unhealthy. Anything over 300 is considered hazardous).


Make Music From Your Houseplants

MIDI sproutI’m obsessed with plants. My old roommate used to complain that our house looked like a jungle, but I never understood how one could have too many beautiful, green, living things in the house. It’s a good thing I didn’t know then that there’s a way to make music from houseplants — my roommate would have probably turned me and my leafy friends out onto the street.

It’s never surprised me to hear that music and plants have a connection. According to Dorothy Retallack’s book The Sound of Music and Plants, three hours of music a day leads to healthier-than-normal plants, while eight hours a day can kill them. Apparently, plants like classical music more than heavy metal, and will even grow toward the sounds. Basically, plants can “hear,” or more likely, can pick up the sound waves and vibrations emitted by music. But plants can provide sound too, via biofeedback.


Robot Pole Dancers Gyrate For British PM And German Chancellor

robot pole dancersMost of us know that robots could, and probably will, put us out of work. From robo-journalists to robot soldiers, to robot bartenders and waitresses, even though we like to think of ourselves as irreplaceable, few of us have guaranteed long-term job security when it comes to an artificially intelligent work force. Even so, I’ll admit I never thought about robots putting exotic dancers out of work. Sex workers and sex partners, sure, but pole dancers? This is a new one.


Turkish Scientists 3D Print Aortic Cells

aortic cell Bioprinting — the 3D printing of tissues, organs, and other body parts — is generally seen as the Holy Grail of 3D printing. Earlier in the month GFR reported on Dr. Benjamin Harrison, who gave a TEDx talk in which he argues that that scientists are on the brink of realizing these lofty goals. It certainly seems that he’s right, especially given the news that Turkish scientists have 3D printed anatomically correct aorta cells.

Sabancı University in Turkey has a 3D Tissue and Organ Printing Lab where, instead of printing cells made from tissue — as is the most conventional technique thus far in bioprinting — they actually used MRI data as the basis of their printed cells. They took an MRI scan of a human aorta and converted it to a CAD design for printing. They cultured fibroblast cells — cells that manufacture tissue, collagen, and other organisms that surround and support cells — and printed those with a hydrogel, a network of absorbent polymer chains with an affinity for water, that they cultured until it formed a usable blood vessel, which took about a week. In other words, they are the first scientists in the world who have used MRI data to print self-supporting live cells from which they could create the aortic tissue. This means they actually use living cells as “bio-ink.” Nothing should surprise me in the world of 3D printing, but damn, that’s impressive.


Drones Can Hack Your Phone Now

snoopy droneHey look — here’s a hacking story that doesn’t involve the NSA! Will wonders never cease? Given that everything from innocuous-looking hardware and smart refrigerators can send your private information to hackers, it probably isn’t surprising that now drones can too. Hackers have been piloting (ha, sorry) newly developed drones that can raid your smartphone. The drone is dubbed “Snoopy,” which makes me kind of sad because I love Red Baron Snoopy and whatever he was doing up there, I’m sure he wasn’t infringing upon our privacy. Anyway, it zooms around scouting for Wi-Fi signals. The drone exploits one of the most common features of smartphones and tablets — that they constantly look for Wi-Fi signals and networks to connect to, and they focus on networks they already know and have used before, often connecting to them automatically. Snoopy then sends signals to your devices, posing as a previously accessed network.


Urgent Launch Of Air Force Satellites Delays NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Flight Test

orionNASA’s next manned spacecraft — its first new model in 40 years — is called the Orion, or “Apollo on steroids.” Presuming that it passes the various stages of unmanned flight tests, this may be the spacecraft that brings humans to Mars or to the asteroid belt for mining. To put it mildly, there are a lot of eggs in Orion’s basket, so much so that not even the government shutdown halted work on the craft. Even Universe Today dubbed 2014 “the Year of Orion.” Despite its importance, there are higher-priority matters, such as national security. Orion’s first exploration flight test, due to take place in September, has been pushed back to allow the U.S. Air Force to launch two Space Situational Awareness satellites.