👽 FiToSci January 2022: PSVR2, Pedestrian Airbags, Pig Heart, Self-Driving Shelf, Space Studio, and More
Hey there, I'm Emil Protalinski and this is FiToSci. 2022 has only just begun and already there are plenty of ways humanity is taking the fiction out of science fiction.
Star this email to easily reference January's highlights:
🕶️ Augmented/virtual reality: Sony detailed the PSVR2's specs.
🚗 Transportation/logistics: Nuro unveiled a car with external airbags.
🧬 Biotech/bioscience: Surgeons saved a man's life with a pig heart.
🤖 AI/robots: Labrador Systems demoed two self-driving shelves.
🚀 Space: Producers announced the literal launch of a space studio.
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.
🕶️ Sony detailed its next-generation VR headset, the PlayStation VR2 (PSVR2) for the PlayStation 5. The PSVR2 will feature a 4K HDR OLED display, 2000×2040 pixels per eye, a 110-degree field of view, a 120 Hz refresh rate, an eye-tracking camera, a haptic feedback motor, and four inside-out cameras. A wired USB-C connection between the PSVR2 headset and the PS5 will be required, although that's an improvement over the multiple cords the original PSVR needs. We still don't know the PSVR2's release date, price, or even how it will look, but given Sony's massive role in gaming, VR's leading use case, it will be one of the main players.
🕶️ Panasonic's Shiftall announced MeganeX, the first consumer version of its lightweight VR glasses, coming this spring for under $900. The 250g ultra-compact MeganeX features frames that fold like a pair of glasses, 1.3-inch OLED microdisplays, 2,560×2,560 resolution per eye at 120Hz, 6DoF head tracking, and SteamVR support via a USB connection.
🕶️ Vrgineers demoed XTAL 3, a 600g highly immersive VR headset thanks to its distortion-free wide field of view. XTAL 3 is a $10,000 headset intended for use in enterprise and public sector training such as flight simulation, but Vrgineers is in talks with mass-market consumer electronics companies such as Razer to create a more affordable headset.
🕶️ Google is reportedly building an AR headset, codenamed Project Iris, that it hopes to ship in 2024 along with its Project Starline video booth. Project Iris resembles a pair of ski goggles, doesn't require a tethered connection to an external power source, is powered by a custom processor, and currently runs Android (in December, Google started hiring to build an "Augmented Reality OS").
🕶️ Apple's mixed reality headset reportedly faces overheating, camera, and software problems, which may postpone its WWDC unveiling in June, pushing back its launch to 2023. The headset, which is expected to cost at least $2,000 thanks to its two CPUs, two 8K displays, and an interchangeable prescription lens option, will not be an all-day device as the battery can only handle "bursts of gaming, communication, and content consumption."
🕶️ Alibaba announced plans to launch AR glasses for DingTalk, its work communication app, although the company didn't share a launch date. The AR glasses are supposed to let DingTalk users conduct virtual meetings for a more "immersive" workspace and feature self-adjusted optical functions, meaning nearsighted users wouldn’t need two pairs of glasses.
🕶️ Magic Leap pivoted toward health care, defense, and manufacturing markets with the Magic Leap 2, which it said will cost "slightly" more than the Magic Leap 1 that ranges from $2,295 to $2,995. The company also shared that its second-generation AR headset is now slated for mid-2022 (instead of Q1 2022), featuring an improved controller with 6DOF tracking based on computer vision, Android instead of the company's Lumin OS, dynamic dimming displays, eye-tracking with two cameras per eye, and a required tethered connection to a Compute Pack like its predecessor.
🕶️ 7-Eleven shared a first look at Toshiba's Digi POS, the "world's first" contactless hologram cash register that lets shoppers check themselves out without touching anything and without anyone else seeing what's on their screen. Floating holographic displays are mainly used at reception in hotels and offices, or for digital signage, but Digi POS will roll out to six convenience stores starting on February 1.
🕶️🚗 Panasonic announced version 2.0 of its AR HUD for cars, which includes an eye-tracking system that recognizes the driver's line of sight to optimize the images using parallax alignment and dynamic autofocus. Like AR glasses, an AR windshield can more precisely focus the information displayed if it knows where the user is looking.
🚗 Nuro unveiled its third-generation electric autonomous delivery vehicle for commercial operations with twice the cargo volume of its predecessor and customizable storage and temperature-controlled compartments to keep items warm or cool. The delivery bot is designed to drive up to 45mph on the road, not the sidewalk, and haul packages, not people, but takes pedestrians and cyclists into account. Safety features include radar, lidar, traditional and thermal cameras for a 360-degree view with built-in redundancy and an external airbag across the front that deploys if the vehicle hits a person or an object. Nuro, which partnered with 7-Eleven last year, said that existing partner Kroger formally agreed to use the automotive production-grade vehicles, which can handle weather, potholes, human abuse, and long hours on the road.
🚗 John Deere unveiled a hardware and software add-on rolling out this fall, creating a fully autonomous tractor that gathers data during operation to improve performance. Neural network algorithms coupled with 12 stereo cameras and an Nvidia GPU let an 8R 410 tractor perceive its environment, independently navigate to a field when given a route and coordinates via a smartphone app, and broadcast live video as it avoids obstacles while plowing soil or sowing seeds.
🚗 Intel's Mobileye partnered with Geely to develop a consumer-ready autonomous vehicle slated for sale in 2024, starting with the Chinese market and then expanding to other countries. The self-driving electric car will be produced under Geely's Zeekr brand and feature Level 4 autonomous driving capabilities using Mobileye's autonomous vehicle systems.
🚗 General Motors CEO Mary Barra announced plans to sell personally owned autonomous vehicles to consumers "as soon as the middle of the decade." Barra didn't say what kind of vehicle GM will sell, in which markets, or how the company will address liability in the event of a crash.
🚗 Volvo Cars partnered with Luminar to offer Ride Pilot, an "unsupervised" autonomous driving add-on subscription for its next-generation electric cars, starting with its electric SUV launching in 2023. Ride Pilot is a Level 3 autonomous system, meaning drivers can perform "secondary activities like reading, writing, working, or socializing" without having to keep their hands on the steering wheel or look at the road ahead as the car drives at lower speeds on certain highways.
🚗 The Slovak Transport Authority granted Klein Vision's fuel-powered AirCar, which completed its inaugural inter-city flight in June 2021, a Certificate of Airworthiness. The permission to fly, obtained after the flying car underwent over 70 hours of test flights and over 200 take-offs and landings compatible with European Aviation Safety Agency standards, opens the door for mass production of a public version with a claimed 1,000 km range.
🚗 Elroy Air unveiled its pre-production Chaparral C1, a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) vehicle with a hybrid electric-gas system that can transport 500lbs payloads up to 300 miles. The autonomous cargo drone primarily targets delivery operations with access to a 50 square foot landing area, slightly complicating Elroy's stated mission "to enable same-day shipping to every person on the planet."
🚗 Tevel Aerobatics Technologies demoed an apple harvesting drone that combines a tethered quadcopter and a robotic arm to intelligently target, grab, and pick the fruit off a tree. Automating fruit and vegetable picking is not new, but flying over to visually inspect when an apple is ripe enough to pick and then carefully handling it to avoid bruising or other damage is a novel approach.
🚗 BMW unveiled a color-changing car that uses monochrome E Ink panels to switch between white and dark gray at the touch of a button. The project team envisions three types of use cases: personalization (choosing how your car looks), information (portraying battery status or making the car flash to help you locate it), and functional (controlling sunlight reflection and thus thermal properties to save energy).
🚗 Mitsubishi and the Shin Nihonkai Ferry Company's Soleil, the world's first fully autonomous large ferry, navigated a 240-km stretch of Japan's Iyonda Sea. While the 222-meter vehicle-carrying boat entered service with a human crew in July 2021, its Super Bridge-X autonomous navigation system has now compiled enough data to handle the route and the docking and undocking procedures on its own.
🚗🧬 Researchers taught goldfish to drive a Fish Operated Vehicle, consisting of a water tank on four omnidirectional wheels and a camera to translate movements from swimming to steering, suggesting animals' innate navigational abilities are not restricted to their home environments. The goldfish could navigate to a clearly visible land-based target within a few days, even if they were interrupted by partial barriers, distracting items, or false targets.
🧬 In a medical first, doctors transplanted a genetically modified pig heart in a last-ditch effort to save a human patient's life, and the human has lived for two more weeks. The latest milestone in gene editing and xenotransplantation (the process of grafting or transplanting body parts between species) made scientists' attachment of a pig kidney to a brain-dead human in October look like child's play. Like the pig kidney, this pig heart had been genetically engineered to remove a sugar molecule that causes rapid organ rejection in humans. Two weeks after the news broke, Pig Heart Boy author Malorie Blackman penned an op-ed about seeing her sci-fi novel come true.
🧬 Scientists regrew functional legs in adult frogs, which cannot naturally regenerate limbs, by applying a five-drug cocktail for 24 hours with a silicone wearable bioreactor dome (BioDome) over their stumps. The BioDome triggered an 18-month regenerative process, like in salamanders, starfish, crabs, lizards, and other animals that naturally regenerate limbs, which the team wants to apply to mammals next, including humans.
🧬 Researchers built 3D-printed infrared goggles and a haptic feedback armband with 25 actuators that together let people who are blind navigate and avoid obstacles hands-free, almost like Daredevil. The infrared cameras in the goggles capture a stereoscopic image to create a map of the surrounding area, meaning the system can work even in the dark, while the armband vibrates to help users understand how close objects are and their orientation.
🧬 Researchers developed engineered virus-like particles (eVLPs) to deliver gene-editing proteins in primary mouse and human cell types. The eVLPs carried base editors and CRISPR-Cas9 nuclease to disable a gene in mice associated with high cholesterol levels and partially restored visual function to mice harboring a mutation that causes genetic blindness.
🧬 Researchers developed Janus Tough Adhesives (JTAs), a two-sided biomaterial for regenerating tendons, which can rarely regain the structural integrity and mechanical strength after sports injuries or general aging. JTAs can already locally deliver slow-release drugs in rats to promote tendon healing across multiple types of injuries and reduce scarring, which normally accompany healing due to inflammation and cause long-term loss of function.
🧬 Researchers temporarily reprogrammed immune cells in vivo to attack a specific target via a messenger RNA (mRNA) injection, removing the need to take the cells out of a patient's body, genetically engineer them, and put them back in that individual. The experimental immunotherapy largely reversed heart fibrosis in mice, meaning the next major step is human clinical trials for repairing injured hearts, kidneys, livers, intestines, and other organs.
🧬 Scientists developed a new ultra-rapid genome sequencing approach to diagnosing rare genetic diseases in an average of eight hours, compared to the typical "rapid" few weeks, without sacrificing accuracy. Because genome sequencing lets doctors diagnose patients with diseases rooted in their DNA and tailor treatment accordingly, speeding up the process could mean less time in critical care units, fewer tests, faster recovery, and less expensive care.
🧬 Plantish emerged from stealth and unveiled 3D-printed plant-based salmon fillets, set to launch at pop-up locations later this year and officially hit the market in 2024. The company claims Plantish Salmon, made from legume proteins and algae extracts, has the same nutritional value as real salmon and can be cooked in the same ways.
🧬🤖 Researchers developed a self-powered soft thermometer that within about 10 milliseconds can measure temperatures as hot as 200°C or as cold as -100°C, depending on the materials used. The thermometer could be integrated into stretchable electronics for smart clothing, biocompatible medical devices, and soft robots across healthcare, engineering, and entertainment.
🧬🤖 Researchers announced their Smart Tissue Autonomous Robot (STAR) completed a soft tissue keyhole surgery on a pig without human help for the first time. STAR autonomously performed the complicated and delicate surgery in pigs laparoscopically, meaning using only small incisions, and its suturing and stitches were deemed more accurate and consistent than those of human surgeons.
🤖 Labrador Systems demoed Caddie ($5,000) and Retriever ($6,800), self-driving robot shelves for ferrying items for people with mobility issues, slated for full production "by the second half of 2023." Both robots are side-table sized and come equipped with wheels and sensors for navigating your home between "bus-stops" you set such as "in the kitchen" and "by the couch." The personal robots can be controlled by touchscreen, mobile app, or verbal commands via Alexa integration and will autonomously move while steering around obstacles and people. Retriever's higher price tag is a result of its self-adjusting height control and a pair of conveyor-belt-like arms that can grab trays on a schedule or with a command, but both robots have the same max load of 25 pounds, move at a steady walking pace, and recharge themselves automatically overnight.
🤖 LG announced that CLOi ServeBot, its semi-autonomous robot featuring three shelves or drawers that can each hold up to 22 pounds, is the first robot to achieve UL 3300 certification in time for its US rollout in early 2022. That means ServeBot can operate in complex environments such as hotels, restaurants, and retail stores.
🤖 Checkers & Rally's partnered with Presto to deploy voice ordering bots across its 267 corporate-owned restaurant drive-thrus by the end of 2022. The company claims the deal will make it the first US restaurant chain to scale the use of AI-powered voice assistants at the drive-thru.
🤖 Serve Robotics announced that its Level 4 sidewalk robot completed its first delivery. Serve's robots will thus routinely work without a human in the loop in some geofenced areas, meaning they won't rely on remote operators for help or people following them for safety.
🤖 Researchers trained the quadruped robot ANYmal to switch between exteroceptive and proprioceptive perception, combining speed and efficiency when it's confident about what it's seeing with safety and reliability when it has to rely on what its legs are touching. ANYmal completed a 120 vertical meter hike in 31 minutes, or four minutes faster than the suggested time for an average human, with no falls or missteps.
🤖🚀 Amazon and Lockheed Martin announced plans to send a version of Alexa to space as part of a tech demonstration on NASA's upcoming crewless Artemis I lunar mission, scheduled for early 2022. The Star Trek computer was part of the original vision for Alexa, so it's only fitting to see the AI assistant in space.
🚀 Space Entertainment Enterprise, the producers of Tom Cruise's untitled space movie, contracted Axiom to put a movie studio in orbit. The studio would be attached to the International Space Station as an inflatable module called SEE-1, or "the world's ﬁrst content and entertainment studios and multipurpose arena in space." Axiom plans to attach its first module to the ISS in September 2024 and then launch SEE-1 in December 2024 for creatives who want to film in low-orbit, micro-gravity environments. While Cruise has barely discussed his upcoming film, NASA announced in 2020 that the agency is working with the actor on filming the movie in space.
🚀 Radian Aerospace announced plans to develop a single-stage-to-orbit reusable spaceplane, meaning the vehicle could take off from a runway, ignite its rocket engines, spend time in orbit, and then return to Earth by landing on a runway. The Radian One spaceplane is supposed to take up to five people and 5,000 pounds of cargo into orbit well before the end of the 2020s, an ambitious timeline given that NASA abandoned its last serious attempt at building such a spaceplane in 2001.
🚀 CNSA's Chang'e 5 lunar probe found onsite evidence of water in rocks and soil on the moon's surface using a lunar mineralogical spectrometer. We've known for a long time that there is water on the moon, thanks to orbital observations, but this is the first time we have detected it from the lunar surface.
🚀 Scientists announced that powdered rock samples collected from the surface of Mars by NASA's Curiosity rover are rich in carbon 12, which is associated with biological processes on Earth, but they also offered two other hypotheses with nonbiological explanations. Because the two planets are so different, the "intriguing" finding doesn't necessarily point to ancient life on Mars until scientists discover conclusive supporting evidence, such as sedimentary rock formations produced by ancient bacteria, or a diversity of complex organic molecules formed by life.
And that's January. As a treat for reading right to the very end, check out this future ferry terminal that looks like it was ripped right from a sci-fi movie set.
Feel free to reply to this email with comments or questions; I respond to every reply. Follow FiToSci on Twitter and forward this issue to a friend or colleague who would enjoy it. See you next month!