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Apr 5, 2016

Federal agency making waves in battery storage, energy tech innovation

Posted by in categories: energy, military

Whenever the military sets up operations in isolated and hostile locations like Iraq or Afghanistan, one of the biggest challenges is ensuring troops get reliable power.

Until now, that often has meant trucking in vast amounts of diesel to power generators, a strategy that isn’t all that environmentally friendly and is vulnerable to attack or other problems like a driver strike or mechanical breakdown.

But what if military bases could produce their own power?

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Apr 5, 2016

How expandable astronaut habitats could pave the way for private space hotels

Posted by in categories: habitats, satellites

Next week, astronauts on the International Space Station are getting a brand new room. Called the BEAM, short for Bigelow Expandable Activity Module, the room is launching on top of one of SpaceX’s rockets on Friday; it will then be attached to the ISS sometime within the next four months. The BEAM, which is created by private company Bigelow Aerospace, will remain deflated during launch, but once in orbit, it will inflate up to four times its size, providing more overall volume for the interior of the ISS.

The BEAM isn’t a permanent addition to the space station, though. It will only stay attached to the ISS for two years, and the astronauts will go inside the habitat very rarely. That’s because the main goal of the BEAM is to test out if this expandable habitat technology actually works. A successful mission could be the first step to something bigger: an era when expandable space habitats orbit the Earth, allowing for scientists and tourists to visit these “space hotels.”

The concept of expandable spacecraft isn’t new. In the 1960s, NASA launched a series of expandable communication probes called the Echo satellites, which looked like big metallic balloons. The satellites inflated in space and turned into mirror-like reflectors that bounced signals from one spot on Earth to another. Since then, NASA and other private companies have toyed with the idea of scaling up expandable spacecraft so that they could house humans in space.

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Apr 5, 2016

Facebook’s first blind engineer is revolutionizing social media as we know it

Posted by in category: futurism

Matt King is helping Facebook change for the better.

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Apr 5, 2016

Scientists have figured out how to program living cells

Posted by in category: biotech/medical

A new programming language allows researchers to quickly design a DNA sequence with specific functions for living cells.

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Apr 5, 2016

Gov’t researchers develop wireless car chargers that are faster than plug-ins

Posted by in category: transportation

Two wireless charging technologies are already proving they can charge high-voltage products such as laptops and electric cars faster than if you plugged them in.

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Apr 5, 2016

Laser technique promises super-fast and super-secure quantum cryptography

Posted by in categories: encryption, quantum physics

A new method of implementing an ‘unbreakable’ quantum cryptographic system is able to transmit information at rates more than ten times faster than previous attempts.

Researchers have developed a new method to overcome one of the main issues in implementing a quantum cryptography system, raising the prospect of a useable ‘unbreakable’ method for sending sensitive information hidden inside particles of light.

By ‘seeding’ one inside another, the researchers, from the University of Cambridge and Toshiba Research Europe, have demonstrated that it is possible to distribute encryption keys at rates between two and six orders of magnitude higher than earlier attempts at a real-world quantum cryptography system. The results are reported in the journal Nature Photonics.

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Apr 5, 2016

Facebook begins using artificial intelligence to describe photos to blind users

Posted by in categories: food, information science, internet, mobile phones, robotics/AI, transportation

Ask a member of Facebook’s growth team what feature played the biggest role in getting the company to a billion daily users, and they’ll likely tell you it was photos. The endless stream of pictures, which users have been able to upload since 2005, a year after Facebook’s launch, makes the social network irresistible to a global audience. It’s difficult to imagine Facebook without photos. Yet for millions of blind and visually impaired people, that’s been the reality for over a decade.

Not anymore. Today Facebook will begin automatically describing the content of photos to blind and visually impaired users. Called “automatic alternative text,” the feature was created by Facebook’s 5-year-old accessibility team. Led by Jeff Wieland, a former user researcher in Facebook’s product group, the team previously built closed captioning for videos and implemented an option to increase the default font size on Facebook for iOS, a feature 10 percent of Facebook users take advantage of.

Automatic alt text, which is coming to iOS today and later to Android and the web, recognizes objects in photos using machine learning. Machine learning helps to build artificial intelligences by using algorithms to make predictions. If you show a piece of software enough pictures of a dog, for example, in time it will be able to identify a dog in a photograph. Automatic alt text identifies things in Facebook photos, then uses the iPhone’s VoiceOver feature to read descriptions of the photos out loud to users. While still in its early stages, the technology can reliably identify concepts in categories including transportation (“car,” “boat,” “airplane”), nature (“snow,” “ocean,” “sunset”), sports (“basketball court”), and food (“sushi”). The technology can also describe people (“baby,” “smiling,” beard”), and identify a selfie.

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Apr 5, 2016

Why the Future of Space is Brighter than Ever

Posted by in categories: economics, government, space

You may think I’m biased when I say investments in innovation across the space industry are growing, but the proof is all around us.

Growing by nearly 10 percent in just one year, the global space economy has reached a total of $330 billion worldwide, according to a 2015 Space Foundation report. Specifically, commercial space activities grew by 9.7 percent in 2014, while government investments in space saw a combined growth of 7.3 percent. And the part of space that’s most visible to us — rocket launch attempts — also increased from 81 attempts in 2013 to 92 in 2014.

These are promising statistics, and we’re seeing this growth in investment firsthand as we’ve witnessed some pretty incredible accomplishments throughout the industry over the past year.

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Apr 5, 2016

Stem cell research on the brink of regrowing damaged human bone and tissue

Posted by in category: biotech/medical

Australian researchers believe they are close to being able to use stem cells to regrow human bone and tissue damaged by injury, illness or old age.

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Apr 5, 2016

World’s Smallest Diode Is Made of DNA

Posted by in categories: biotech/medical, computing, electronics, genetics

Diodes —also known as rectifiers—allow electric current to flow in just one direction. More than 40 years ago, scientists proposed miniaturizing diodes and other electronic components down to the size of single molecules, an idea that eventually helped give birth to the field of molecular electronics, which could help push computing beyond the limits of conventional silicon devices. [See “Whatever Happened to the Molecular Computer?IEEE Spectrum, October 2015]

Scientists at the University of Georgia and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel used DNA to fashion the new diode. The breakthroughs in genetics developed to sequence the human genome have now made it relatively easy to precisely manufacture and manipulate DNA, which makes the molecule a leading candidate for use in molecular electronics.

DNA’s double helix is made of paired strands of molecules known as bases. The new diode is only 11 base pairs long. (Typically, DNA is 0.34 nanometers long per base pair.)

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