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👽 NASA Eyes UFOs
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: UFOs and the origin of life on Earth
🧬 Biotech: 3D-printed hearts and human-skin robot fingers
🤖 AI/robots: AI Enhance, pizza bots, and autonomous boats
🚗 Transportation/logistics: eVTOLs, drones, and trucks
👓 AR/VR: Queen Elizabeth's ghost and holographic displays
Quote of the week
"NASA believes that the tools of scientific discovery are powerful and apply here also. We have access to a broad range of observations of Earth from space — and that is the lifeblood of scientific inquiry. We have the tools and team who can help us improve our understanding of the unknown. That’s the very definition of what science is. That's what we do." — NASA's associate administrator for science Thomas Zurbuchen, on studying UFOs.
🚀 NASA commissioned a team to examine unidentified aerial phenomena (UAPs), or what most people call unidentified flying objects (UFOs). The nine-month study, set to start in Fall 2022 and whose results will be shared publicly, will focus on identifying available data, how best to collect future data, and how NASA can use that data to move the scientific understanding of UAPs forward. NASA says there is no evidence UAPs are extra-terrestrial in origin, echoing the U.S. government's report from June 2021. Nevertheless, the space agency's interest in understanding UAPs comes down to two logistical reasons: national security and air safety.
🚀🧬 Scientists found that asteroid dust collected by a space probe contains 23 types of amino acids and other organic matter, suggesting some of the building blocks of life on Earth may have been formed in space. I suspect the ingredients for life are everywhere — they just need the right environment to flourish.
🧬 Researchers 3D-printed a functional piece of a human heart using a bioink with densely packed contractile organ building blocks composed of cardiomyocytes derived from human induced pluripotent stem cells. One day, a heart attack will be a convenient excuse to get a new organ installed.
🤖🧬 Roboticists built an articulated robot finger covered in self-healing skin made from live human cells, which exhibited enough strength and elasticity to tightly conform to the changing shape without tearing. Why bother perfecting artificial skin when you can just use the real thing?
🤖 Picsart announced AI Enhance, a tool that removes noise, upscales images to a higher resolution, and improves overall image quality. The "zoom and enhance" trope from sci-fi shows and movies is no longer technically absurd.
🤖 Nala Robotics unveiled Pizzaiola, a self-contained robotic pizzeria that incorporates food storage and preparation areas, ovens, and a seven-axis robotic arm that prepares up to 50 pizzas an hour. Instead of ordering from a Pizzaiola, can I just install one at home?
🤖🚗 IBM's and ProMare's solar-powered autonomous boat almost retraced the 1620 sea voyage of the Mayflower, but had to land in Canada instead of the U.S. after 40 days of crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Mayflower Autonomous Ship's issue was mechanical, not AI-related, which means we still have some time to decide whether robots should take over our oceans.
🤖🚗 Hyundai's Avikus completed the world's first Level 2 autonomous navigation of a large ship, the Prism Courage, across the Pacific Ocean, although the AI-powered steered the vessel for only half of its 33-day journey. While that's many times longer than the 40-hour autonomous voyage from May 2022, I would like to point out that I too can swim on autopilot about half the time.
🚗 SpearUAV launched Ninox 103 UW Sub-to-Air, the first autonomous quadcopter that can be launched from a submarine and other submerged platforms. Does this mean drones will kill the periscope?
🚗 Volocopter completed the first successful flight of its long-range VoloConnect electric take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicle, lasting 2 minutes and 14 seconds. That doesn't seem very long-range to me, but it is progress toward certification by 2026.
🚗 Pantuo Aviation revealed its half-sized scale prototype of its Pantala Concept H flying taxi meant to fly at speeds of over 300 km/h with a 250 km range. From afar, the eVTOL looks more like a drone than a flying car; maybe the full-scale version, which is slated to arrive in 2027, will change my mind.
🚗 Alphabet's Waymo and Uber formed a long-term strategic partnership to bring Waymo Driver-equipped autonomous trucks to Uber's Freight truck brokerage. Five years ago (which is decades in tech land), Waymo sued Uber for allegedly stealing the company's proprietary design for its laser-based radar self-driving system.
🚗 Gatik announced its self-driving trucks will, starting in July 2022, deliver goods like Dixie cups and toilet paper 24 hours a day, seven days week to 34 Sam's Club stores in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. You know it's going to be one hell of a party when you need autonomous trucks driving 300 miles every day to deliver Dixie cups and toilet paper.
🚗 Lightyear unveiled the €250,000 Lightyear 0, which the company claims is the world's first production-ready solar car, capable of generating up to 70 km of charge-free driving per day. Lightyear is only planning to build 946 cars, arriving in November 2022, meaning it will beat the €6,250 solar-powered Squad, if timelines don't change.
🚗👓 Queen Elizabeth used a hologram of herself in her 260-year-old carriage as part of platinum jubilee celebrations. The footage was more akin to a digital version of Pepper's ghost illusion technique, but I'll take hologram-like content over no hologram-like content.
👓 Looking Glass Factory announced an 8K, 65-inch holographic display that it claims is five times larger than any other 3D holographic display, is viewable by groups of 50 people, and generates up to 100 different perspectives of 3D content from 100 million points of light every 60th of a second. This is what 3D TVs should have been: screens that don't require glasses or other tech to enjoy the effects.
🤖🚗 Shield AI raised $165 million.
🧬 Code Bio raised $75 million.
🧬 Diabeloop raised €70 million.
🧬 SciFi Foods raised $22 million.
🤖 Kami Vision raised $10 million.
🧬 Seafood Reboot raised €3.2 million.
👓 Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon talks AR and the metaverse.
Thank you for reading FiToSci! Even though the newsletter is weekly instead of monthly, plenty still happens in seven days. Case in point: The company that was in last week's edition for its police VR simulator went on quite the rollercoaster this past week. To help with school shootings, Axon announced a taser drone on June 2, halted its plans for a taser drone on June 6, and watched its whole ethics board resign over the unlaunched taser drone. The trainwreck made the police VR training controversy look quaint.
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See you next week!