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👽 Moon To Mars
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:
🚀 Space: NASA's objectives, lasers, and nuclear power
🚗 Transportation/logistics: Solar power and self-driving
🤖 AI/robots: Drones, ships, nanobots, and robotic arms
🧬 Biotech/bioscience: Contact lenses, viruses, and CRISPR
👓 AR/VR: Students using VR and Qualcomm's wireless AR
Quote of the week
"The feedback we receive on the objectives we have identified will inform our exploration plans at the Moon and Mars for the next 20 years. We’re looking within NASA and to external stakeholders to help us fine-tune these objectives and be as transparent as possible throughout our process." — NASA Deputy Administrator Pam Melroy.
🚀 NASA released a draft of 50 "Moon to Mars" objectives that outline how the agency wants to put humans on the Red Planet for a 30-day mission. The scheme includes a hybrid rocket combining chemical and electric propulsion as well as a spacecraft that transports and serves as a habitat for astronauts. Two astronauts would stay in orbit while another two descend to the surface in a lander vehicle weighing 25 tons. NASA wants your feedback on these objectives (which span transportation and habitation, lunar and Martian infrastructure, operations, and science), so fire away.
🚀 CACI International announced that satellites Able and Baker exchanged more than 200 gigabits of data over more than 100 km using laser communication in space, a precursor to DARPA's Space-BACN program. I've decided that I'm okay with this type of space laser.
🚀 The U.S. Department of Defense contracted Ultra Safe Nuclear and Avalanche Energy to demonstrate next-generation nuclear propulsion and power capability for spacecraft, with the goal of launching a successful orbital prototype in 2027. That would sandwich the initiative between the nuclear-powered rocket of 2025 and the lunar nuclear fission power system of the next decade.
🚀🚗 Mitsubishi developed additive manufacturing tech that uses photosensitive resin and solar ultraviolet light to 3D-print satellite antennas in space. Taking advantage of lower gravity for your factory is neat but also using the sun to foster a chemical reaction in your manufacturing process is brilliant.
🚗 Squad Mobility unveiled Squad, a €6,250 solar-powered electric vehicle with a top speed of 45 km/h, a range of up to 100 km, and swappable batteries, going into production in 2023. My concerns about the removable doors were quickly dwarfed by the promise that no driver's license is needed.
🚗 Alphabet's Waymo removed the human safety driver in Phoenix. That's the bar for fully autonomous services: when the company is confident enough that the only humans inside are passengers.
🚗 GM reportedly started working on self-driving electric vans, marrying its autonomous vehicle company Cruise and its electric van business BrightDrop. It certainly sounds safer to have a moving van drive my furniture around by itself than to hop in a robotaxi that stumped the police.
🚗 Oxbotica partnered with NEVS to develop a fleet of self-driving electric vehicles on public roads by the end of 2023. Six movable seats and privacy walls makes me think this is more of a robotaxi than a family car.
🚗 Wingcopter partnered with Continental Drones to establish a 12,000-drone delivery network spanning 49 countries across Sub-Saharan Africa. I'm all for drone networks that aren’t limited to a single suburb in a single country, and thus unable to deliver me a burrito.
🚗🤖 Researchers developed a drone that can fly, swim, transition between the two modes, and attach itself to larger objects using a suction cup in the air or in the water. I will be both outraged and disappointed if James Bond doesn't use this gadget in his next mission.
🚗🤖 NYK Line's autonomous commercial cargo ship completed a 40-hour, 790 km voyage in Tokyo Bay, traveling without human intervention for 99% of the trip thanks to Orca AI software that helped it avoid hundreds of other vessels. The distance is more than triple the 240-km stretch a fully autonomous ferry navigated in January 2022.
🤖🧬 Researchers developed an implantable device that attaches to the peripheral nerve in a person’s arm and uses AI to let amputees move a robotic arm using their brain signals instead of their muscles. It's not as fun as the inflatable Baymax robotic hand, but it will do.
🤖🧬 Theranautilus created nanobots controlled with a magnetic field that can perform a root canal by generating heat to kill bacteria deep inside dentinal tubules. I suddenly need to reevaluate whether I'm terrified of visiting the dentist.
🧬 Researchers used bacteriophages — viruses that kill bacteria — to treat an antibiotic-resistant mycobacterial lung infection, letting a patient with cystic fibrosis receive a life-saving lung transplant. As long as the researchers can control these bacteria-killing viruses, we'll be just fine.
🧬 Scientists created a wireless contact lens to help treat glaucoma, and potentially other eye diseases, by releasing the pressure-lowering drug brimonidine if it detects the eye's pressure is too high. How long before such contact lenses are used to deliver performance-enhancing drugs?
🧬 Researchers gene-edited hamsters to eliminate the actions of a neurochemical signaling pathway that helps regulate social behaviors in mammals, increasing their social communication and aggression towards other same-sex individuals. Let's make sure not to edit the same genes in humans.
🧬 Scientists used CRISPR-Cas9 to edit the genes of cockroaches for the first time, leveraging a method applicable to 90% of insects that could usher in new applications for pest control, evolutionary biology, and other entomological fields. Innumerable insect invasion plots come to mind.
🧬 Engineers designed a fuel cell 400 nanometers thick (or about 1/100 the diameter of a human hair) that converts glucose directly into electricity, which could be wrapped around implants to passively power electronics. Glucose in the body may be abundant, but I can't wait to tell my doctor that I must have dessert three times a day to make sure all my medical gadgets have enough juice.
🧬👓 The University of Central Lancashire partnered with Oxford Medical Simulation to let its medical students practice their examination, clinical, and diagnostic skills in VR. It turns out my university classmates and I were ahead of the curve when we played video games during lectures.
👓 Qualcomm introduced a wireless AR Smart Viewer reference design, relying on a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth tethering system instead of USB-C. Something tells me the first company to offer a powerful wireless AR device with a long battery life won't be using Qualcomm's tech.
🚗 Joby Aviation acquired Avionyx.
🤖 Prusa Research acquired Printed Soli.
🧬 Kriya Therapeutics raised $270 million.
🤖 GreyOrange raised $110 million.
👓 Inmo raised $10 million.
🤖 ZMO.ai raised $8 million.
🧬🤖 Tim Urban pitches transhumanism.
👓 Mark Zuckerberg talks about Meta's AR, VR, and metaverse investments.
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See you next week!