Hey there, I'm Emil Protalinski and this is the first weekly edition of FiToSci, where I track how humanity is taking the fiction out of science fiction. I'm still playing around with the format; if you have strong feelings one way or the other, please let me know.
In this week's edition, you'll find:
🚗 Transportation/logistics: Drones and driverless cars
👓 AR/VR: Training, tracking, and avatars with legs
🚀 Space: Catching rockets, nuclear power, and satellite internet
🧬 Biotech/bioscience: Restoring hearing and mobile diagnosis
🤖 AI/robots: Quadruped update and soft robotic wearables
🚗 Researchers demoed an autonomous drone swarm navigating a dense forest it has never encountered. Each of the 10 palm-sized drones is smart enough not to crash into one another or nearby obstacles. Swarms like these could be used for aerial surveillance, disaster response, and ecological surveys. The drones can also be told to "follow this human" — I'll leave it to your imagination to decide how this story ends.
🚗 An Indy Autonomous Challenge team set a new land speed record for a driverless car, achieving a top speed of 192.2 mph, exceeding the previous 175.41 mph clocked in September 2019.
🚗👓 Microsoft added a "moving platform" feature to the HoloLens 2, letting the AR headset work in places like cars, thanks to a collaboration with Volkswagen.
🚗👓 Toyota partnered with VR Vision to offer multiplayer training programs in virtual reality using Meta Quest devices.
🚗👓 Vrgineers developed a next-generation virtual and mixed reality training system for fighter jet pilots using its XTAL 3 headset and Lockheed Martin's Prepar3D visual simulation platform.
👓 Researchers built ControllerPose, a body tracking system that uses two fisheye cameras attached to each VR controller, letting developers track more than just your head and hands.
👓 Spatial partnered with Ready Player Me to add full-body, customizable avatars to its metaverse.
👓🚀 NASA partnered with Epic Games and Buendea to build a next-gen Mars simulator for researchers and astronauts, and announced the MarsXR Challenge, a crowdfunding competition asking the public to create realistic assets and scenarios one may encounter on the Red Planet.
🚀 In a historic first, Rocket Lab launched an Electron rocket and caught the rocket booster in mid-air using a helicopter (a huge win for increasing reusability and reducing costs), but ultimately had to drop it into the ocean below.
🚀 DARPA requested proposals for the next phase of Demonstration Rocket for Agile Cislunar Operations (DRACO), its nuclear-powered spacecraft project aiming to launch an in-orbit flight test in 2026.
🚀 SpaceX added a Portability feature to Starlink, letting subscribers take their satellite internet service anywhere on their home continent (but not yet in a moving vehicle), for an additional $25 per month.
🚀🧬 Researchers tested "extraterrestrial photosynthesis" on a soil sample from the moon to lay the groundwork for producing water, oxygen, and fuel using sunlight and regolith, the rocky material on the lunar surface.
🧬 Scientists discovered TBX2, a single master gene that programs ear hair cells into either outer or inner ones, overcoming a major hurdle when creating artificial hair cells to restore hearing.
🧬 Scientists developed a low-cost microscopic imaging device small enough to fit on a smartphone camera lens, opening the door to miniaturizing phase-imaging technology for mobile medical diagnosis.
🧬🤖 Researchers trained a robot chef to mimic a human's chewing process, "taste" what it's cooking, and assess whether the food is sufficiently seasoned.
🤖 Boston Dynamics updated Spot with full-color imagery, a new charging module with faster charging times, 5G support, improved on-device AI processing, and a new Samsung tablet controller with a larger screen, longer battery life, and a ruggedized case.
🤖 Scientists created PneuAct, a new process for designing a knit sensing soft pneumatic actuator with autonomous knitting, resulting in an assistive glove that reacts to human touch, an interactive robot, and a pneumatic walking quadruped.
Quote of the week
"At first glance, these features look as if someone has raked their fingernails across the surface of the Red Planet, gouging out lengthy trenches as they did so." — The European Space Agency
👓 Google acquired Raxium.
🤖 SLAMcore raised $16 million.
And that's FiToSci's first weekly edition. As a treat for reading right to the very end, I have a pair of conflicting stories for you: researchers predicted humans need to survive about 400,000 years if we stand a chance of hearing from aliens, while a separate group of scientists started blasting out Earth's location, despite the many concerns.
Thank you for reading FiToSci. Feel free to reply to this email anytime, follow FiToSci on Twitter, and if you know a friend or colleague who might enjoy this newsletter, point them to FiToSci.com.
See you next week!