👽 Meta's AR Roadmap, Boxing Exoskeleton, Bionic Hand, All-Private Mission, Tesla's Robotaxi, and More | April 2022
Hey there, I'm Emil Protalinski and this is the final monthly edition of FiToSci. That's because, starting on Friday, I will be tracking how humanity is taking the fiction out of science fiction every week!
But first, here are the month's highlights:
👓 AR/VR: Meta's roadmap leaked, detailing two types of AR glasses.
🤖 AI/robots: Skeletonics unveiled a 9-foot-tall boxing exoskeleton.
🧬 Biotech/bioscience: LAT Bionics 3D-printed $800 prosthetic hands.
🚀 Space: Axiom Space launched the first all-private ISS mission.
🚗 Transportation/logistics: Tesla announced a robotaxi for 2024.
I recommend skipping to the sections you like, opening what you find interesting in a separate tab, and bookmarking links for later reading. Let's get started.
👓 Meta's AR roadmap leaked, detailing its consumer AR glasses codenamed Project Nazare for communicating and interacting with holograms of other people. Aimed at early adopters and developers, Nazare features a four-hour battery life, eye tracking, a front-facing camera, stereo audio, microLED projectors, and a form factor meant to work independently from a mobile phone but that still requires a wireless device to offload the compute. Nazare is scheduled for release in 2024, along with cheaper smartglasses codenamed Hypernova that pair with a phone to show notifications via a heads-up display, followed by a lighter Nazare design in 2026 and a third version in 2028. Furthermore, a bundled wrist device is supposed to let you control Nazare and Hypernova with your mind (using differential electromyography to measure electrical pulses in their arm's neurons) thanks to tech from Ctrl-Labs, which Meta acquired in September 2019.
👓 Meta started letting some creators sell virtual items and effects in Horizon Worlds and announced the company would keep 47.5% of the profit of all upcoming user-generated content sales. If Meta wants to usher in the metaverse as seen in Ready Player One, it's setting itself up splendidly as the story's evil corporation OASIS.
👓 Pico Interactive, which TikTok parent company ByteDance acquired in August 2021, announced the Pico Neo 3 Link, a €449 standalone VR headset coming to France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the U.K., Italy, South Korea, and Japan in limited quantities through a beta tester program. You can pair the Pico Neo 3 Link with a PC via Wi-Fi 6 or a standard DisplayPort cable to access SteamVR content or use the Pico Store to download over 200 games and apps.
👓 More April 2022 news: Amazon job listings mentioned "an advanced XR" consumer product and "XR/AR devices." Meta's Project Cambria renders leaked, showing off the high-end mixed reality wireless headset before its launch later this year. Researchers modified a VR headset to recreate the sensation of touch in and around a user's mouth, setting us up for virtual reality kissing booths. Meta announced Quest 2 Hand Tracking 2.0, an update that improves the VR headset's reliability for overlapping or fast-moving hands and specific gestures. Canon announced the MReal X1, its latest enterprise XR headset, which offers passthrough AR and a "2.5 times larger" field of view than last year's MREAL S1. Epic Games and Lego partnered to "build a space in the metaverse that's fun, entertaining, and made for kids and families."
👓🤖 The West Japan Rail Company and Nippon Signal revealed a giant VR-powered robot, with a WALL-E-like face, for building railroad lines starting in Spring 2024. The contraption consists of a Gundam-style robot attached to a railroad construction vehicle, from which a human operator wears an HP Reverb G2 VR headset to view the world from the robot's perspective and control its massive mechanical arms and hand clamps.
🤖 Skeletonics unveiled Skeletonics Fighter, a 9-foot-tall exoskeleton that connects the mechanical and electrical components of the suit with the wearer's body. For the first time since the company's inception in 2010, the team successfully connected the upper and lower body, reducing the burden on the wearer and the suit-up time. Skeletonics uses a link mechanism to synchronize human movements with the robot exoskeleton, rather than an electrical system. Your small human limbs' actions are mirrored in real-time by the robot's massive arms and legs, from picking up light objects to boxing, an obvious precursor to Elysium and Edge of Tomorrow.
🤖 Researchers taught a robot to open doors by splitting the task into individual modules, giving it six hours of training for each, and showing the action performed by humans 108 times. This ultimately required less training than a single learning model, as each module could be trained on a simpler action, resulting in a 96.8% success rate.
🤖 Intel partnered with Classroom Technologies, which sells virtual school Zoom-based software Class, to test its "emotion AI" tech for detecting whether students are bored, distracted, or confused by assessing their facial expressions. The companies are apparently ignoring arguments that AI can't categorize human faces into a single emotional state, let alone account for cultural differences, individual fluctuations, and situational contexts.
🤖 More April 2022 news: Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company aims to start producing its Optimus humanoid robot in 2023 and promised "no Terminator stuff." Researchers 3D-printed an artificial fingertip that mimics the sense of touch in human skin, which could help robots become more dexterous and improve the performance of prosthetic hands. Panera Bread started testing Miso Robotics' automated coffee brewing system. Jack in the Box also signed up to test the brew as well as the Flippy 2 burger-flipping robot, just a month after Chipotle started testing Miso Robotics' Chippy tortilla chip robot. Researchers unveiled the "Small-sized Quadruped Robotic rat" (SQuRo), which could one day search for survivors at disaster sites or inspect difficult-to-reach areas. Researchers demonstrated a deep learning algorithm that can reconstruct a night scene in full color using only infrared images the human eye can't see, meaning full-color night vision is on the horizon. Engineers built a robot that can jump roughly 100 feet, higher than any artificial or living being.
🤖🧬 Engineers developed a telerobotic system controlled through magnets to let neurosurgeons remotely treat patients experiencing a stroke or aneurysm. During the critical window of time that could save a life and preserve brain function, surgeons in one hospital control a robotic arm at another location to quickly operate using live imaging and a modified joystick.
🧬 Born with one hand, LAT Bionics founder Enzo Romero shared his inspiration for 3D-printing bespoke prosthetic hands: watching Luke Skywalker get outfitted with the prosthetic L-hand 980 in The Empire Strikes Back. LAT Bionics' clients can hold, pinch, twist, press, and carry using their new limbs created from recycled PET water and soda bottles. The bionic hands are priced anywhere from $800 for a mechanical model to $2,500 for a model with an electromyography (EMG) sensor, which lets the wearer control it through tiny muscle movements. LAT Bionics' devices cost a fraction of the average $40,000 prosthetic hand and can be built in just a week, compared to the typical two to three months.
🧬 Researchers developed a "time jump" technique that rejuvenates human skin cells, rewinding the cellular biological clock by around 30 years without losing their specialized function. Maturation phase transient reprogramming could revolutionize regenerative medicine, from speeding up healing to treating age-related diseases and disorders, especially if the research can be replicated in other cell types.
🧬 Engineers created an untethered magnetic needle that could one day enter the body through an incision no larger than a pin-prick to perform biopsies, suture wounds, and deliver chemotherapy directly to tumors. Externally applied magnetic forces control the tiny tool, meaning it requires no guiding wires, human hands, or robots for an increasingly precise, safe, and less invasive surgery.
🧬 More April 2022 news: Researchers produced healthy, fertile rat offspring with sperm made from stem cells for the first time, a feat previously only achieved in mice. Engineers developed miniPUMP, a miniature living heart chamber replica that beats like the real thing, using live heart tissue grown from stem cells. Researchers developed an implantable device to stimulate nerve cells with light to accelerate healing. Scientists launched the Human Pangenome Project, a new effort to create a reference genome that captures the genetic diversity of all humans. Researchers created sensitive electronic skin (e-skin) with integrated artificial hairs that can perceive and anticipate tactile sensation and recognize the direction of touch.
🧬🚀 ISRO developed a method for combining Martian soil with guar gum, urea, nickel chloride, and a bacteria strain to make "space bricks" for building habitats on the Red Planet. The bacteria produces minerals to harden existing tissues, turning the mixture into bricks after 15 to 20 days.
🚀 Axiom Space and SpaceX launched the first all-private mission to the International Space Station, not to be confused with the world's first all-civilian space mission in September 2021. The Ax-1 mission had a crew of four aboard the ISS for 15 days: retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, investor and private pilot Larry Connor, investor and former fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe, and entrepreneur Mark Pathy. While space tourists have previously visited the ISS, this was the first fully private crew to have done so, and they worked alongside professional astronauts on 25 scientific experiments. Ax-1 was also Axiom Space's first of four ISS missions as the company works towards its space station modules starting in late 2024, upon which Tom Cruise plans to film his upcoming space movie.
🚀 NASA and Aeva developed the Kinematic Navigation and Cartography Knapsack (KNaCK), a 40-pound mobile lidar scanner that lets space explorers generate a real-time 3D map of the terrain around them. KNaCK's centimeter-level precision 3D maps will help astronauts navigate the moon's south pole as soon as 2025, especially if the team can miniaturize the hardware to fit on an astronaut's helmet.
🚀 Orbital Assembly Corporation announced Pioneer, a space business park, complete with a gravity ring designed to simulate one-sixth of Earth's gravity, set to be operational in 2025 to accommodate 28 guests in five modules. In 2021, the company announced its larger Voyager Station luxury space hotel, capable of accommodating 400 guests at a time, slated to open in 2027.
🚀 More April 2022 news: NASA selected six U.S. companies to develop near-Earth space communication services for its future missions by 2025: Inmarsat, Amazon's Kuiper, SES, SpaceX, Telesat, and Viasat. SpinLaunch swayed NASA into testing its unique kinetic-energy system that rapidly rotates payloads and flings them skyward. Space Perspective revealed the luxurious cabin interiors of its "space balloons," which it hopes to start launching to Earth's upper atmosphere in late 2024. First Light Fusion used a hypervelocity gun to generate energy, proving a novel approach to commercial fusion power. NASA used a 3D printing process to develop a new metal alloy that can survive more than 1,000 times longer than existing state-of-the-art alloys, making it useful for building aircraft and rocket engines. SpaceX partnered with JSX, its first deal bringing Starlink satellite internet to an airline, and the following week announced Hawaiian Airlines would offer free Starlink Wi-Fi starting in 2023. Amazon booked up to 83 launches on three different rockets (from Arianespace, United Launch Alliance, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin) over five years for its 3,236 Project Kuiper satellites.
🚀🚗 Teledyne Brown Engineering, Sierra Space, and Nissan partnered to design a crewed Lunar Terrain Vehicle for future NASA missions on the moon. Although Nissan has the least space experience of the trio, the carmaker will provide production capabilities, automotive design expertise, and autonomous driving and intelligent vehicle systems for the self-driving lunar rover.
🚗 Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced plans to bring a dedicated robotaxi with no steering wheel or pedals to market and reach volume production in 2024. For years, Musk has incorrectly predicted when Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" add-on will turn its existing models into a Level 4 autonomous system. While Musk has long discussed converting Teslas into robotaxis, this is the first time he has described a new standalone product as the solution. A new robotaxi model makes sense, but don't hold your breath on the timing or on the company's projections that "a robotaxi ride will cost less than a bus ticket — a subsidized bus ticket or a subsidized subway ticket."
🚗 For the first time, the police pulled over an autonomous taxi with no humans inside, which briefly drove off. GM's Cruise explained that its robotaxi yielded to the police vehicle, pulled over to the nearest safe location for the traffic stop, and ultimately did not receive a citation after an officer contacted Cruise personnel.
🚗 AirYacht created a 197-foot superyacht plus 656-foot blimp hybrid concept that can cruise the sea and the sky as a single unit or separately for more versatility. The company opened orders for the vehicle, which allegedly has an autonomous cruising time of one week, and slated the first deliveries for the end of 2026.
🚗 More April 2022 news: Elon Musk said The Boring Company would attempt to build a working Hyperloop underground "in the coming years," and the company promised full-scale testing would begin later this year. Urban-Air Port opened Air-One, which the company claims is the first fully functioning vertiport for electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles and autonomous cargo drones. Pony.ai announced that Guangzhou approved the operation of 100 self-driving cars as traditional taxis, making it China's first autonomous vehicle company to receive a taxi license. Zipline partnered with Toyota to deliver medical supplies by drone in Japan, marking the company's first distribution center in Asia and the first to be operated by a partner company. Alphabet's Wing launched its drone delivery service in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, starting with Walgreens' health and wellness products, as announced in October 2021.
And that's April. As a treat for reading right to the very end, check out this architect's proposal to suspend buildings in midair.
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