If you’re a regular reader of GFR, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a serious nerd crush on Canadian astronaut/former ISS commander Chris Hadfield, whose social media updates from the International Space Station were both fascinating and addictive, all culminating in his covering David Bowie’s “Space Oddity”…from space. If you somehow managed to miss that historic moment, you can watch it right now up top. Well, so long as “right now” for you is within the next few hours of when I’m writing this, anyway. Hadfield announced via Twitter that the “Space Oddity” video would be coming down later today.
At this point, we’re pretty used to reading articles and watching videos about robots who can perform a host of tasks more efficiently than humans. The number and range of such tasks continues to grow exponentially, leaving me wondering if we’re really only better at writing articles about the ways robots are superior. Just kidding — they could do that better too. Here’s another skill robots have mastered: the ability to react quickly enough to catch objects thrown at them, even if those objects are thrown at the speed of an MLB pitch.
If you’ve ever watched Asimo fall down the stairs, or watched how slowly the robots competing in the DARPA Robotics Challenge complete their tasks, you know robots aren’t usually particularly nimble (but don’t worry—DARPA’s on it.) But researchers at Switzerland’s Learning Algorithms and System Laboratory (LASA) created a robotic arm that is as good at catching objects as this robot is at winning rock, paper, scissors.
If you have a time-traveling DeLorean, you may not need roads, but the rest of us still do. And after this winter especially, those roads may be cracked to pieces, making biking and driving particularly unpleasant. But if U.S. company Solar Roadways has its way, those — and a host of other problems related to conventional roadways — will be problems of the past.
Solar Roadways has developed electricity-generating solar-powered panels made of tempered glass that can withstand the weight of traffic. They can do all kinds of stuff, including melt snow and ice by using embedded heating elements. They can house cables and power lines, eliminating the need to run them above-ground where they’re subject to the elements. The five colors of LEDs that operate via two-way microprocessors can warn of road dangers and lead to smart parking lots and roads. These panels will also help pave the way for driverless vehicles, as well as electric vehicles, which these panels would help charge. Solar Roadways says that, if implemented on a wide scale, these roads could provide enough clean, renewable energy to power the country, thereby diminishing our reliance on fossil fuels and decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s happened to everyone — you’re lost and need to make a call or access the GPS function on your smartphone, except the damn thing is dead. Again. You just plugged it in the day before and hadn’t used it much since then; how could its juice be gone already? I’ve noticed a threshold for battery life — for the first few months, my phone or iPad or whatever holds a decent charge, but then there comes a point where that drops off rapidly, and I suddenly notice that everything drains it three times faster than it used to. Maybe it’s a ploy from the manufacturer to get us to buy replacement batteries, or maybe they just don’t really know how to make batteries last. But that may be changing.
There are a couple of solutions in the works that might dramatically extend the life of a smartphone battery. One strategy is being developed by Eesha Khare, a Harvard student who invented an energy storage device that garnered her a top award at the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair. Khare’s storage device is a supercapacitor that can fully charge an LED in 20-30 seconds. The tiny nanotech, comprised of carbon fiber and metal oxides, can also maintain a charge for a lot longer. Her goal is to get the supercapacitor charging mobile devices in under a minute, which means Nyan Cats for all! Apparently she was recently approached by Google, so we’ll see how long she holds out.
We all fake it sometimes — I smile at my students when they’re getting on my nerves and I pretend to be interested when people around here talk about the Patriots. I’ve never really had a good poker face, though, and just as I can tell when people are faking their facial expressions (at least, sometimes), I wonder how often they can tell when I’m doing it. I’m not sure I’ll ever know the answer to that question, but what I do know is that computers have proven better than humans at identifying fake facial expressions. Oh, the irony!
Not long ago scientists detected the existence of gravitational waves, the first direct evidence of the Big Bang. Now, thanks to astronomers at MIT and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, we now can see what the Big Bang and its aftermath may have looked like.