👽 Paramedic Jetpack, AR Contact Lens, Robot Cheetah, Paralyzed Communication, Moon Patrol, and More | March 2022
Hey there, I'm Emil Protalinski and this is FiToSci. Remember to star this email to easily reference how humanity took the fiction out of science fiction in March 2022.
Here are the month's highlights:
🚗 Transportation/logistics: Paramedics trained to use Jet Suits.
👓 AR/VR: Mojo unveiled its latest AR contact lens prototype.
🤖 AI/robots: A robotic mini cheetah set a new top speed record.
🧬 Biotech/bioscience: A completely paralyzed man communicated.
🚀 Space: A military announced the Cislunar Highway Patrol System.
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.
🚗 The first of three paramedics completed his Jet Suit training, a step closer to the first time flying jetpacks are used for medical emergencies. By this summer, U.K. medics carrying 10kg to 15kg of equipment will be able to fly up hills in 90 seconds rather than hiking for 30 minutes on foot. The Jet Suit, which inventor Richard Browning used to set a speed record in May 2021, consists of two mini engines on each arm and a larger one on the back, letting pilots produce up to 144kg of thrust and control their movements with their hands. The Jet Suit could prove especially useful in poor conditions challenging to helicopters, such as low visibility and strong winds.
🚗 Kia announced AutoMode, its autonomous driving tech suite, that will debut with its EV9 SUV in 2023 and expand to all new models in major markets by 2026. AutoMode will get regular over-the-air updates and feature a Highway Driving Pilot that lets the car drive autonomously without driver intervention on highway sections.
🚗 AeroMobil announced AM Next, a four-seater flying car expected to operate on regional routes, covering 100-500 mile trips, which users would request through a dedicated flight booking app. While the company's two-seater AeroMobil AM4.0 should land in 2024, the AM Next is scheduled for launch in 2027.
🚗 More March 2022 news: SkyDrive tapped Suzuki for help in developing its electric flying cars, including a two-seater the startup hopes to debut in 2025. Altitude Angel revealed plans to build Project Skyway, the world's largest and longest "drone superhighway" at 165 miles. Alphabet's Wing partnered with Coles to deliver everyday groceries and crossed 200,000 drone deliveries after passing 100,000 in August 2021. FedEx partnered with Elroy Air to trial the Chaparral C1, an autonomous drone unveiled in January 2022, to move packages between its depots in 2023. Researchers proposed wirelessly recharging border patrol drones while in flight. Otto Motors launched Otto Lifter, an autonomous forklift that works alongside people, other vehicles, and existing infrastructure for $9 per hour.
🚗👓 Audi announced that Holoride, which demoed its VR gaming motion system for car passengers in August 2021, is coming to some of its car models with the latest MIB 3 software in June 2022. Holoride spun out of Audi in January 2019, but now the carmaker is back in the driver's seat (and the startup is in the back, enjoying VR).
🚗👓 WayRay demoed its True AR HUD on actual roads, projecting useful information directly onto the drivers' windshield in real-time, such as vehicle speed, turn-by-turn directions, and the time to destination. The system identifies and tracks pedestrians, makes suggestions for local businesses, and displays an animated blue line to direct the driver on the exact path to take.
👓 Mojo Vision announced a new prototype of its Mojo Lens augmented reality contact lens, embedding an ARM Core M0 processor, advanced display, accelerometer, gyroscope, magnetometer, battery array, eye-tracking system, and short-range wireless connectivity. On the software side, Mojo Vision showed the hard lens prototype running an operating system and user experience components for the first time, including text, basic graphics, some illustrations, and even compass, fitness, travel, and teleprompter apps. Mojo Lens must be held on a stick in front of one's eyes, as it is not yet cleared for wearing and requires a neck-worn relay device as a companion computer. Mojo Vision's next steps include its executive team wearing the contact lens in-eye, followed by clinical testing.
👓 Magic Leap previewed its second-generation AR headset, this time targeting enterprises, running Android rather than a custom OS, and swapping a semi-custom AMD chip for an Nvidia processor. Other big changes include a wider field of view (70 degrees vs. the original 50 degrees), a sharper display resolution, a dynamic dimming feature for use indoors and outdoors, 20% lighter at 248 grams, and a 3.5-hour battery life (compared to about two hours).
👓 Nimo Planet announced plans to release its productivity AR glasses with no camera, speaker, or depth sensors, in the first half of 2023 for $799. The Nimo glasses don't require a tethered connection and can display up to six virtual screens to replace your laptop when you're on the go, assuming you also bring a Bluetooth keyboard and a mouse (or use your phone as a trackpad).
👓 More March 2022 news: Disney developed "holobricks" that stack and tile together to form scalable holographic 3D displays viewable from multiple angles. Snap acquired NextMind, which offered a real-time brain-computer interface headband that lets users control computer actions with their mind, to drive AR research. Manus revealed Quantum Metagloves, VR gloves for enterprises whose tech the company hopes to one day bring to consumers, shipping in Q3 2022 for $9,000. Portl launched the Portl M, a 2-foot-tall miniature version of its $100,000 7-foot-tall hologram device, for about $2,000.
👓🤖 Microsoft detailed PeopleLens, a research project that uses Nreal Light AR glasses running AI software to inform users with visual impairments about the locations and identities of the people around them. PeopleLens can identify known faces, indicate their distance and position, and provide audio cues like clicks, chimes, and spoken names to teach spatial attention skills and non-verbal social cues that sighted people use in group settings.
🤖 Researchers built a quadrupedal robot that learned to run entirely by trial and error in simulation, resulting in their robotic Mini Cheetah achieving a new top speed of 3.9m/s, or faster than the average human. The Mini Cheetah accumulated 100 days' worth of virtual experience traversing diverse terrains in just three hours. Such a model-free reinforcement learning system sidesteps the need for an engineer to identify why a robot fell and manually adapt its various components, not to mention repeating the process for every possible surface. The researchers are now applying this method (of building robots with diverse skills, telling them what to do, and letting them figure out how) to other robotic systems, including hands that can pick up and manipulate objects.
🤖 Kawasaki debuted Bex, a robotic ibex (a species of wild goat) that can trot on four highly articulated legs and use its four knee wheels to move faster on smooth and level surfaces. Bex's upper body is modular: a seat and handlebars make it rideable, or these can be swapped out so the robot can transport up to 100kg of materials at a construction site or inspect a vast industrial plant.
🤖 Intuition Robotics launched its ElliQ eldercare lamp-shaped robot for $250 plus $30 per month for access to jokes, games, workouts, gentle health prodding, and check-ins with loved ones. Unlike robots for helping move items around the house like Labrador's Caddie and Retriever, ElliQ is an AI companion designed to combat loneliness and keep the elderly engaged; beta testers used the product an average of 20 times a day for a total of 20 minutes.
🤖 More March 2022 news: Chipotle and Miso Robotics started testing Chippy, a robot that can autonomously make tortilla chips. RoboBurger launched its first vending machine, which makes a cheeseburger with a toasted potato-bread bun, ketchup, and mustard, for $7 in seven minutes. Researchers taught a robot to peel a banana 57% of the time without crushing it. MyHeritage created LiveStory, which makes your dead ancestors speak, by building on its Deep Nostalgia tool that uses AI to animate old photos. Google detailed a deep neural network model that can design faster and smaller AI chips, as part of its progress toward AI building AI without humans in the loop. LinkedIn and DeepMind co-founders formed Inflection, an AI startup to help humans better communicate with computers.
🤖🧬 Researchers tweaked a machine learning model for discovering helpful drugs to seek out toxicity instead of weeding it out. Less than six hours later, the drug-developing AI had invented 40,000 new possible chemical weapons.
🧬 Researchers surgically implanted two microelectrode arrays into a patient's brain, for the first time allowing a completely paralyzed man to communicate with his mind. The "locked-in" patient worked with the researchers to learn how to generate brain activity that could alter the frequency of a sound wave, so he could ultimately control a spelling program to select letters at an average rate of about one character per minute. Locked-in syndrome is a rare condition where people are conscious and can see, hear, and smell, but can't move or speak due to complete paralysis of their voluntary muscles (in this case due to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS). The neurofeedback-based brain-computer interface overturned previous assumptions about the communicative abilities of people who have lost all voluntary muscle control, including the movement of the eyes or mouth.
🧬 Scientists safely reversed the aging process in middle-aged and elderly mice by using four reprogramming molecules, the Yamanaka factors, to partially reset the epigenetic markers in cells to more youthful states. In addition to one day tackling aging in humans, the Yamanaka factors could be a new tool for restoring tissue and organismal health to counter different diseases by improving cell function and resilience.
🧬 Researchers used CRISPR to let a female mouse give birth to a litter from unfertilized eggs, a feat of parthenogenesis that has never been accomplished before in a mammal. They then confirmed the immaculate conception was a success by breeding one fatherless mouse into adulthood, where it reproduced with a male to create more offspring.
🧬 More March 2022 news: MyOme claimed it can decipher nearly the whole genome of an IVF-created embryo, a possible precursor to designer babies. Researchers created a pig translator that interprets emotions from grunts. The first person to receive a pig heart transplant died two months after the gene-editing and xenotransplantation effort saved his life. Scientists developed a technique to 3D-print personalized medicines in seven seconds. Scientists created the potentially safer gene-editing tool SuperFi-Cas9 by modifying CRISPR-Cas9 to be 4,000 times less likely to target the wrong stretch of DNA while remaining just as efficient. Engineers designed a fabric that mimics a microphone, converting sound into mechanical vibrations and then into electrical signals, letting wearers monitor their heart and respiratory condition.
🧬🚀 Researchers developed genetically modified lettuce that produces a drug to protect against bone density loss in microgravity. Astronauts could someday grow and eat the transgenic lettuce in space to help maintain bone mass, a much more practical solution than transporting large quantities of medication, needles, and syringes, not to mention the necessary daily injections during space missions.
🚀 The U.S. military expanded its space awareness capabilities beyond geostationary orbit, all the way to the moon. The U.S. space mission previously reached 22,000 miles above Earth, but now it extends 10 times further, to the far side of the moon into cislunar space. The initiative will start with the U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory overseeing the development of the Cislunar Highway Patrol System (CHPS) satellite and the U.S. Space Force procuring its use by the U.S. Space Command. CHPS will provide situational awareness and is unlikely to be equipped with weapons, but it will still likely be viewed as part of the continued militarization of space.
🚀 A NASA astrophysicist proposed covering all of Venus with 72 trillion connected tiles at an altitude of 30 miles, to build "cloud cities" with breathable air that would float above the most toxic layers of the planet's atmosphere. The terraforming scheme is technically possible, but it would take at least 200 years to deploy if somehow approved and funded.
🚀 ESA selected Thales Alenia Space to design and build the first experimental payload to extract oxygen from the moon's surface. The small piece of equipment would extract 50g to 100g of oxygen from lunar regolith to evaluate the prospect of building larger lunar plants to extract propellant for spacecraft, breathable air for astronauts, and metallic raw materials for equipment.
🚀 More March 2022 news: The UK Space Agency funded 13 new projects, including a robot that searches for oxygen and water in moon rocks and Rolls-Royce developing a power station for space. Scientists made the first measurements of the speed of sound on Mars using the first-ever audio recording on the red planet. Venturi Astrolab revealed FLEX, its new interplanetary rover designed to transport cargo and people on the moon and eventually Mars. Aquarian Space announced plans to deploy a high-speed communications network for the moon, starting with its first lunar satellite in Q1 2024 and the second one in 2025.
And that's March. Thank you for reading right to the very end. This month’s treat: Forget Harry Potter's invisibility cloak; how would you like your own invisibility shield?
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