Mission to Mars

As you may have gathered from my persuasive essay, space has always been a fascination of mine.  As with many space enthusiasts, the prospect of one day establishing a colony on the Red Planet has always captivated my dreams.  Many planned missions have been proposed, including a promise from President Obama to send a massed mission to Mars by the 2030s.  Another promising mission is envisioned by a private corporation, known as Mars One, which is planning on establishing a permanent colony on Mars.  It hopes to send four humans to live permanently on Mars in 2023, sending four more every two years.  Unfortunately, many problems still remain to be surpassed in order to successfully land humans on Mars, most prominently the health threats from cosmic rays that astronauts face in space.  This threat prohibits humans for surviving for extended periods of time in space, making a trip to Mars, which would take twelve months, possibly lethal.  Fortunately, researchers funded by NASA have developed a new fusion engine that could cut down the trip to Mars from twelve months to just thirty days.  The researchers involved in developing this engine, located at the University of Washington, believe that our current methods of space travel are inadequate, and that their new technology will allow for interplanetary travel.  The technology is complicated, but essentially the engine induces a fusion reaction, which forces the propellant out of the engine at thirty kilometers per second, creating an intense pulse every minute.  Remarkably, the new engine could rely solely on solar energy, minimizing the complexity and size of rockets exponentially, as storage for fuel comprises a large majority of modern rockets.  Another bonus of this new technology is that it is vastly cheaper than our current method of escaping the earth’s atmosphere, as the amount of fuel required is greatly reduced.  Perhaps the most commendable aspect of this engine is its practicality; the research team has already successfully built and tested each component of the engine, and will now begin compiling each element into a working machine.  The team predicts that the spacecraft will be complete as soon as 2020.  I hope to hear much more about this project in the years to come!

fdr_fusion_driver_prototypeThe new engine at the University of Washington

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Preventing another Newtown

Sometimes, out of tragedy, hope can emerge.  Although the shooting in Newtown Connecticut was obviously a reprehensible act that nothing could possibly justify, it has inspired one inventor,Kamal Sarabandi, to create a device that may prevent another such tragedy from ever occurring.  Sarabandi is an electrical engineer who specializes in detecting objects from a distance.  He recently finished a project developing a radar for the military that can remotely detect a bomb or firearm concealed on a person’s body, and decided that it could prove invaluable domestically.  The machine can scan people at a rate of one person per second, and although it hasn’t been tested on an actual crowd, Sarabandi has run multiple computer simulations, and has tested the device on a mannequin.  The radar works by sending out radio waves and listening to the signals that bounce back, like a bat or dolphin.  This type of technology is also used in cars to prevent collisions, and in military tracking.  This device could scan large crowds from a distance, identifying likely threats among the crowd, and allowing security to more closely search them.  Although this technology requires a lot more work, it may one day prevent future threats like the Newtown shooting.

The next incredible technology that I’ve learned about in the past week may remind you if Mission Impossible.  The Air Force has recently developed a technology that allows humans to scale any wall, using suction pads.  This technology works on literally any surface, from glass, to rock, to stucco.   This device consists of two suction pads, a vacuum, and a support system.  The pads are placed against the wall, and the vacuum provides the suction required to support the climber’s weight.  Another cool aspect of this amazing device is that it is hands free, meaning that a soldier can operate a weapon while suspended from a building.

utah-spidermanWall-climbing device



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The future of fighting fires

It may not look as pristine or imposing as NS-5 from the movie I-Robot, but Octavian, a firefighting robot, certainly invokes memories of Sonny, the charming AI from the esteemed sci-fi film.  This amazing robot, while presently only a prototype, possesses many incredible qualities that make robots from the realm of fiction seem within reach.  This robot is actually able to recognize a human by name and engage in unique conversations with them.  The robot actually interacts with different humans differently, depending upon the personality of the individual with which they are interacting.  Octavian then identifies the communicator’s body language and key words in the human’s speech, responding with words and actions that fit the situation.  The robot can respond to directions given by the human.  When Octavian has identified a fire using its two infrared cameras, it accurately fires extinguishing liquids on the brightest points in the flame.  Although this robot is clearly just a prototype, its remarkable abilities may one day remove all danger from one of the most hazardous jobs in America.

OctaviaFireOctavian preparing to extinguish a fire

Have you ever had to carry 40+ pounds luggage around a foreign city?  If you haven’t, I can assure you that it is not fun.  For this reason, I am very excited about a new suitcase called Hop, which actually follows the user around wherever they go.  The suitcase picks up a signal from the user’s phone, allowing it to follow the user at a constant distance, navigating turns and other obstacles.  Although this sounds very convenient, you probably are thinking about the obvious security risks of having a suit case with all of your belongings follow you around two feet behind you.  Fortunately, Hop has accounted for this concern.  If the signal from the suitcase is lost, the user’s phone alerts them with a vibration.  In addition, the suitcase locks itself, protecting your belongings.  Multiple suitcases can also follow one another in succession.  For some reason, the idea of twenty suitcases following me around the airport excites me.

elite-daily-hop-luggageThe Hop dutifully following a traveller

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GPS… shoes?

Have you ever been lost?  Have you ever gone on a hike, and found yourself disoriented by the monotony of the forest?  I certainly know I have.  Now that the future has arrived, we will no longer have to worry about this any more.  We also won’t have to bother carrying around bulky GPS devices, as in the future, GPS systems will be built into our shoes.  Inspired by the Wizard of Oz, the No Place Like Home GPS shoes guide their wearer to wherever they wish to go.  The wearer simply uploads their intended destination into the shoe, taps their heels together, and then allows the shoes to guide them by using a ring of LED lights.  The shoes also have a progress bar displaying the proximity to the intended location.

dominic_wilcox_sept_155No Place Like Home GPS Shoes

Last week, I discussed a ski slope on the side of a building.  This week, I’ve discovered something equally amazing: a proposed three kilometers wide sky dome built over Randers, Denmark.  The dome would include indoor and outdoor ski slopes, a park, a hotel, restaurants, and shops.  The designers of the dome hope to recreate the experience of skiing down the Alps, and the slopes were developed by the Alpe d’Huez ski resort in France.  It includes six slopes of varying difficulty, and uses chair lifts and elevators to bring skiers to the top.  Amazingly, the slopes can be transformed, allowing skiers to have a different experience every time they visit.

cebra_ski_dome_01-530x354Sky Dome from a distance

cebra_ski_dome_05-530x375A ski slope along one of the arcs

My final example of amazing futuristic technology that somehow exists today are levitating pharmaceuticals, which are droplets of a drug that actually levitate, by using sound waves.  This changes the drug from a crystalline state to an amorphous state, allowing it to be absorbed more easily by the body.

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Gaming treadmill?

I don’t know if any of you are into video games, but if you are, then like me, you’ve probably fantasized about some sort of virtual reality system that would actually immerse you in the game.  There is no longer a need to fantasize anymore: a treadmill like device has been implemented to allow users to actually move around in games like Skyrim, simulating the experience of actually existing within the video game.  I’m so pumped about this technology, it will not only blur the line between the digital and real worlds, but it will also allow gamers to burn calories while playing.

0013D model of the device

Screen Shot 2013-03-15 at 1.35.48 PMTest of the prototype

This device, known as the Virtuix Omni, will be also be affordable and compact enough to fit in a living room.  It will soon launch a Kickstarter to get develop the prototype into a final product.

Do you love to ski, but have a hard time finding a quality, nearby slope?  I know that I do.  There aren’t any good slopes near State College, nor are there any back near my home town.  Therefore, a building that will soon be constructed in Copenhagen that will actually house a ski resort has extremely excited me.  The building will be a waste-to-energy power plant, also being environmentally sustainable, will be a vertical forest, sustaining green life along its walls, and will be constructed from a recycled synthetic material.  Aside from being remarkably green, the massive structure will have a winding 333,700-square-foot ski slope containing multiple ski routes.  Demand for this structure will be high, as the surrounding land in Denmark is predominately flat.

BIG_skislope_5Artist’s rendition of the future slope

BIG_skislope_4The green power plant observed from a distance

BIG_skislope_6The walls of the plant, covered in brush

BIG_skislope_7The interior of the urban ski slope

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Bionic eyes and smart highways

Despite the increasing complexity of the areas of mathematics and science that we have delved into, our understanding of the universe continues to progress at an ever accelerating pace.  Technological progressing ofttimes seems exponential; the science fiction of one generation becomes science fact of the next.  Every time I write one of these blogs, I am somehow stunned by my research into the remarkable progress made by our species, and today is no exception.  The first piece of technology that I would like to discuss is a bionic eye, which will actually cure blindness.  The bionic eye, created by a California based company called Second Sight, is the first approved treatment for the degenerative eye disease called advanced retinitis pigmentosa, which causes blindness.


Upper: the bionic eye, know as the Argus II glasses

Lower: an electrode implanted on the retina

This bionic eye won’t completely restore vision, but it will allow the user to see enough to navigate their lives with relative ease.  The technology works so well with some patients that they are actually able to distinguish some large letters.  The bionic eye consists of a camera, a portable computer, and a chip implanted near the retina.  The camera sends data to the processor, which sends electrical signals to the chip.  These signals stimulate retinal cells, essentially replacing the roles of the light-sensing cells that have degenerated.

The second amazing technology that I’ve discovered is the future highway, which is an idea that is currently being developed in Holland.  This future highway will glow in the dark at night, transform to adapt to road conditions (such as displaying snowflakes along its surface during icy conditions), and charge electric cars as they drive along its surface.  The designers of this highway state that their purpose is to make smart driving accessible to everyone, not just the few with the money to afford it.  Possibly the most amazing thing about this highway is that it will be implemented on a highway in Holland later this year!

dynamicpaintThe highway will adapt to driving conditions

carcharginglaneIt will also charge electric cars

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With State Patty’s day approaching, I thought that a technology that may protect against getting dangerously intoxicated would be appropriate.  A student at MIT recently created a new ice cube, called Cheers, that has several interesting features.  First of all, it lights up and beats to the music, adding to that ambiance of the party.  More importantly, the ice cube changes colors as the drinker becomes increasingly intoxicated, using an accelerometer to determine when the user takes a drink, and using a timer to calculate how drunk the user is.  The ice cubes turn red when they determine that the user has drank an unsafe quantity of alcohol, and if the drinker continues to consume alcohol, the ice cubes actually text a close friend, letting them know that the user is dangerously drunk.

led Ice Cubes

Cheers ice cubes

The next interesting technology that I have found in the past week is called the AspireAssist Aspiration Therapy System.  As you are probably aware, obesity is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States.  The AspireAssist is attempting to combat this epidemic head on by inserting a silicon rubber tube in a persons body, connecting the stomach with port on the outside of the body.  The port can be opened or closed, allowing the user to empty a portion of their meal from their stomach into a toilet.  This process only takes five to ten minutes, and it removes thirty percent of the food consumed by the user, allowing the user to still obtain a safe amount of calories.

The final futuristic technology that I’ve found is called Displair.  Displair, a touch screen projected on thin air, seems like it’s straight from a sci-fi movie.  This amazing piece of technology projects a screen on a stream of cold fog, and uses an infrared camera to capture gestures.



Just a few amazing things that can be done with Displair

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Artificial Photosynthesis Machine

If you have ever scrolled down my blog a bit, you will have seen the topic of my passion blog last semester: environmentalism.  As this topic is obviously of significance to me, the technology that I have chosen today is of particular interest to me.  At a Japanese electronics company called the Panasonic Corporation, researchers have developed an Artificial Photosynthesis System, which is exactly what it sounds like.  The machine uses water, sunlight, and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen, and it amazingly can achieve the same rate of conversion as real plants (0.2%).  Panasonic hopes that its technology may one day be used to solve climate change and the energy crisis.  The machine works in a manner reminiscent of genuine organic photosynthesis.  Essentially, the sunlight excites electrons in the machine, which then react with carbon dioxide, producing organic substances.


The Artificial Photosynthesis System


 Process undergone by the machine

The next futuristic piece of technology isn’t really related to the artificial photosynthesis machine, but I thought it was so cool, so I decided that I wanted to talk about it anyways. In the UK, a new tool for riot police has been invented: a DNA gun.  No longer will suspects have to line up behind a one-way mirror – the DNA gun tags criminals with an invisible mark that can penetrate a perpetrator’s skin and remain for weeks.  This gun will allow officers to safely tag rioters from a distance, and place them under custody at a later date.  It will also make escaping from the scene of a crime far more difficult for a criminal, as sniffer dogs will be able to track the tagged criminals for weeks.


The new DNA tagging gun

I think that the thing that I like about this gun the most is that it provides a nonviolent and safe approach for officers, ensuring that neither the officer nor the suspect will be injured.

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3D printing

I have always had a sense of amazement for 3D printers – machines that transform an image on a computer screen into a physical, functional model.  One of my favorite memories from last semester was my first experience with a 3D printer – I created a model of my Yoda flash-drive  and printed it with one of Penn State’s 3D printers.  My fascination was almost palpable as I watched Yoda gradually take shape.


My 3D model of a Yoda flash-drive

As amazing as I thought this was, I soon learned that the capabilities of 3D printing are far more extensive.  As I printed out my model of Yoda, a senior engineering student told me of a 3D printer that can actually replace human cartilage.  I was skeptical of his claim, but when I checked the veracity of his statement, I learned that he had told the truth.  Apparently, researchers have created 3D printers that can replace skin and even cartilage.  The printer works by implanting fake cartilage, which causes real, healthy cartilage to grow around it.  This invention will prove invaluable for people who have damaged their cartilage, as normally, cartilage is irritatingly difficult to regenerate.


3D cartilage printer

If you think that application of 3D printing was cool, my next example completely blows it out of the water.  Apparently, the European Space Agency is considering using 3D printing to efficiently, quickly, and cheaply create the first moon base.  The 3D printer would actually use the raw soil found on the moon to print out habitable domes that would protect astronauts from dangerous radiation and temperature levels.  This method would allow 90% of the station to be constructed on the moon, making it far easier and cheaper to construct a potential lunar base.

original (1)

An artist’s rendition of the prospective moon base

As crazy as this idea may sound, it may not be so impractical.  The current model of the prospective printers has actually already produced a model of what the lunar structure will look like.  They hope that the next model of their printer will be able to construct an entire building in just one week.

original (2)

Output of the current printer

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Google X

It would be difficult for a blog discussing the technology to not discuss the tech giant Google.  I’m sure that anyone reading this knows of Google (after all, you are reading this on the internet), but many people are probably unaware of the projects Google has undertaken that have absolutely nothing to do with the internet.  An entire segment of Google’s R&D department, known as Google X Labs, is devoted to far-out ideas that seem more at home in a 90’s sci-fi novel than an actual research lab.  This lab has actually already met some tremendous success; last year, an automated car developed by Google famously drove a blind man to the mall.  Although this stunt was blatantly a publicity maneuver, Google claims that its automated car has logged over 200,000 miles on the road already.


Incredibly, Google’s driverless car may be one of the less impressive endeavors currently under development by the company.  In my opinion, the coolest, and most insane, project that Google is currently researching is a space elevator.  The potential use for such a creation is evident; it would allow cheap transport of goods to and from space, allowing us to expand our horizons beyond our planet far more cheaply and efficiently.  The obstacles that must be overcome for such a project are immense; for one, we do not currently have a material that could support such an elevator.  The idea of using Carbon nanotubes has been tossed around a bit, but we are currently unable to produce enough of the material to make even a fraction of what we’d need for this tremendous project.

You may have heard of another idea under development at Google X Labs, Project Glass, which essentially brings the internet to a screen right in front of your face.

Unfortunately, I can’t discuss every one of the 100 projects that Google X Labs is working on (for one, not all of them are public yet), but each idea is innovative, inspiring, and a tremendous motivation for a young engineering student.

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