Hey there, I'm Emil Protalinski and this is FiToSci, a weekly newsletter that tracks how humanity is taking the fiction out of science fiction.
In this week's edition, you'll find:
👓 AR/VR: Google and Meta tease new devices
🤖 AI/robots: DeepMind's Gato, plus painting and plastering
🚗 Transportation/logistics: Drones, self-driving, and a rover
🚀 Space: A spaceflight campus and a lunar microgrid
🧬 Biotech/bioscience: Tattoo sensors and reviving eye cells
Quote of the week
"Looking ahead, there is a new frontier of computing, which has the potential to extend all of this even further, and that's augmented reality. At Google, we have been heavily invested in this area. We have been building augmented reality into many Google products, from Google Lens to Multisearch, scene exploration, and Live and Immersive views in Maps. These AR capabilities are already useful on phones and the magic will really come alive when you can use them in the real world without the technology getting in the way. That potential is what gets us most excited about AR: the ability to spend time focusing on what matters in the real world, in our real lives." — Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai.
👓 At its I/O 2022 developer conference, Google offered a couple of updates with obvious augmented reality applications, including multisearch's near me and scene exploration. The company waited until the very end of its keynote to showcase an early prototype of a potential AR use case: translation. While this is not Google Glass' successor (the device lacks a camera), the lightweight AR glasses can purportedly (the video only depicts a "simulated point of view") display the text of an ongoing conversation directly in your line of sight, beside the person speaking, transcribed and translated in real time. If Google can commercialize a wearable heads-up display that offers "subtitles for the world", it would achieve what Google Glass couldn't a decade ago: mass appeal.
Meta teased some of its upcoming Project Cambria headset's mixed reality capabilities and promised that developers will be able to use the company's Presence Platform to build mixed reality apps that work on both Quest 2 and Cambria devices.
👓 Nvidia demonstrated Holographic Glasses, prototype VR glasses that use holograms to offer a thinner and lighter form factor while displaying more pixel details.
👓 Researchers 3D-printed AirRacket, a VR controller that shoots out bursts of compressed air to better simulate how rackets react to ball impacts in sports like tennis, badminton, and table tennis.
👓🤖 Researchers created an interactive robotic plastering system that lets artists use augmented reality to create three-dimensional plaster designs sprayed on bare walls by robotic arms.
🤖 Alphabet's DeepMind released Gato, a "general-purpose" AI system that can be taught to perform different types of tasks, in this case 604, including captioning images, engaging in dialogue, stacking blocks with a real robot arm, and playing Atari games.
🤖🚗 ABB Robotics demonstrated its robot painting an art car to show off the company's PixelPaint technology, which is essentially an inkjet printer with 1,000 nozzles mounted on an industrial robot.
🚗 Realtime Robotics unveiled Hera, a drone that the company claims can carry a payload of 33 pounds (which also happens to be its own weight sans payload), and can be folded to fit into a backpack.
🚗 Lightning eMotors partnered with Perrone Robotics to integrate Level 2 self-driving into its commercial fleets and Level 4 self-driving into its vehicles on dedicated routes.
🚗🚀 CNSA's Tianwen-1 rover found evidence of ancient liquid water on Mars and indications there could still be water in hydrated minerals or even ground ice today, which future human explorers could use during crewed missions to the Red Planet.
🚀 A group of astronauts, engineers, and business executives founded Star Harbor, which in 2026 plans to open a spaceflight campus to train future astronauts and publicly offer microgravity flights, a neutral buoyancy facility, high-gravity centrifuge, land-based and underwater habitats, hypobaric and hyperbaric chambers, a human performance center, and more.
🚀 NASA partnered with Sandia National Laboratories to design the microgrid for its Artemis lunar base, powering a habitation unit, mining and fuel processing facilities to produce rocket fuel, water, oxygen, and other materials four astronauts might need for exploration during their stays of up to two months.
🚀🧬 Scientists grew terrestrial plants in soil from the moon, a first in human history that could help with developing sustainable food and oxygen on the moon or during space missions, although the Arabidopsis thaliana in lunar regolith grew smaller, more slowly, and more varied in size.
🧬 Engineers created tattoo-like sensors that can tell you how much oxygen you are using, and could one day measure other blood components like glucose, lactate, and electrolytes, or monitor your exposure to environmental toxins.
🧬 Scientists revived light-sensing neuron cells in organ donor eyes and restored communication between them, recording the first electrical signal made from the central retina of postmortem human eyes.
🧬 Researchers used Synechocystis, a widespread species of blue-green algae that naturally harvests energy from the sun through photosynthesis, to power a Arm Cortex M0+ microprocessor continuously for a year (and it's still going).
🤖 MakerBot And Ultimaker agreed to merge.
🤖 Mashgin raised $62.5 million.
🤖 Dusty Robotics raised $45 million.
🧬 Biofire raised $17 million.
👓🤖 Sundar Pichai talks about the company's progress in AI and AR use cases.
🤖 Kai-Fu Lee discusses AI's threats to jobs and human happiness, along with his sci-fi book.
Thank you for reading FiToSci. As a treat for reading right to the very end, watch Samsung show off flexible and rollable mobile device concepts that are straight out of sci-fi.
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See you next week!