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SpaceX Will Unveil The Dragon V2 Spacecraft Tonight

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unveilWhat are you doing tonight at 10:00 PM EST? For most of us science and tech geeks, that’s a rhetorical question. We’ll be gathered around our computers, watching SpaceX unveil the Dragon V2—the next generation of the Dragon Spacecraft. This iteration isn’t for shuttling cargo to the ISS, it’s for taking astronauts there, and beyond.

Dragon has been proving its worth for years, becoming the first commercial spacecraft to dock with the ISS and serving as regular cargo service to the station. But SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has always had grander plans. Since the U.S. currently relies on Russian Soyuz capsules to get astronauts into space—a method of transportation that won’t be available to us for much longer—now is the perfect time to reveal the spacecraft that may take its place and restore the U.S.’s ability to launch its own astronauts into space by 2017. The V2, which Musk will unveil himself tonight via the webcast, is also known as the “Space Taxi.”

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Coming Soon: Licenses For Driverless Cars And Google’s New Self-Driving Vehicles

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driverlessSometime in the future, we may see robots in line at the DMV. I bet they’d take pretty good license photos. But this fall in California, humans will have to obtain licenses for the driverless cars they will “co-pilot” in a move to solidify the legality of driverless cars taking to public roads.

California is the first state to announce such a policy, as well as the terms of the licenses they’ll be granting. Applications will be available in July for September approval or denial, and the terms are, understandably, fairly strict. The applications are limited to test drivers who are employed, certified, and authorized by the manufacturer. Each license will cost $150, and one license can cover up to 10 vehicles and 20 test pilots. Each driverless car is required to have insurance covering at least $5,000,000 for personal injury, death, or property damage. The test drivers, who themselves have to meet criteria, have to be a position to take control of the cars at all times.

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Robots May Soon Be Able To Sweat And Get Goosebumps

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robot-goosebumpsArthur C. Clarke said that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Techno-magician Marco Tempest would agree. In his TED robot demo, he acknowledges that one of the reasons robots make people nervous is that “we cannot read their intentions,” which also makes it difficult for us to work closely with them. Tempest suggests that one way to feel more comfortable with robots is to “add a layer of deception,” or the illusion that a machine is thinking or feeling before we have the actual technology to allow for those processes. Researchers at Japan’s Kansai University are doing just that — they’re building robots that react involuntarily, like humans, namely by sweating and getting goosebumps.

The researchers also acknowledge that one of the biggest challenges in robotics is that we don’t know what they’re “thinking.” Sure, robots can exhibit expressions or mimic behavior, but those are essentially illusions designed to put humans at ease. The goosebumps (pictured above) might be a result of a cold wind or a chill-inducing story. They’ve got a robotic head capable of sweating, which makes me think of one of my favorite scenes in Battlestar Galactica — just before Starbuck begins to interrogate Leoben in the first season episode “Flesh and Bone,” she notices that the Cylon is sweating. It gives her pause, as “Cylons shouldn’t sweat.” It’s a small detail, but it’s a huge invasion of the human realm. The Japanese researchers are intentionally transcending the boundaries between human and machine in small but significant ways.

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Smart Grills Are Here, Just In Time For Summer

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smartgrillYou wouldn’t know it by the 50-degree rainy days taunting the Northeast right now, but apparently it’s barbecue season (unless you’ve been bitten by a tick). Short of controlling the weather, one of the ways we can prepare for barbecue season is by practicing our outdoor cooking techniques, making sure we avoid accidentally sticking our food to the grill or overcooking it. Or, for those of us who don’t fancy sweating over flames and coal, we can use a Smart Grill.

I’m actually kind of surprised that it took this long for grills to enter the world of smart appliances, though I guess a grill harbors a little more activity than a refrigerator (unless we’re counting hacking). The gas-powered Lynx Smart Grill will cook your food just as you tell it to; it can also remember how you cooked a particular food last time and repeat the process. It is voice-activated, can ignite and adjust its temperature via a wiring system, and comes pre-programmed with recipes. It will also notify users via an app when the food is ready.

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Forget About Wheaties—Eat Your Insects!

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chirpsHere’s another reason I’m glad to be vegetarian: I have a solid excuse not to try foodstuffs produced in America’s first edible insect farm. Phew!

Six Foods (“because six legs are better than four”) is a company started by three Harvard graduates who waffled back and forth between vegetarianism and meat-eating, largely because of the constant battle to get enough protein when you’re a veghead, to which I can attest. On a trip to Tanzania, one of the founders ate a caterpillar (seriously, why start with the squishiest of insects?) and everything clicked into place. Not only was it apparently delicious, but the trio realized that eating insects is a sustainable and healthy way to get protein. I’ll admit I hadn’t thought of that.

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Human Suspended Animation Trials Are Set To Begin

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suspended animationBears will tell you hibernation is the best way to weather a brutal winter. It may also be the best way to make it through long-distance spaceflights or to survive life-threatening injuries. Researchers have figured out ways to induce suspended animation in worms, frogs, fruit flies, and pigs, and will soon conduct human trials.

While this may eventually become a way to get humans to the far-flung corners of the galaxy, Pittsburgh’s UPMC Presbyterian Hospital is experimenting with the technique to save lives. Placing injured patients in suspended animation is a way to buy time. The human body can’t last long—only a few minutes—without blood pumping to its organs, but suspended animation might increase survival time. Rather than externally lowering the patient’s body temperature, this trial involves replacing blood with a cooled down saline solution. This will slow down body functions and cellular activity, which also makes the body less dependent on oxygen.