Now, That’s What I call A Proper Spaceship!

A new company has entered the commercial space race. Start-up Radian Aerospace has emerged from stealth to announce it has secured US$27.5 million in seed funding to develop a single-stage to orbit (SSTO) spaceplane called Radian One, which is designed to lift and land horizontally. It’s what the spaceships in the comics of my childhood used to look like.

The commercial space field has been growing steadily in recent years, with contractors taking over ferrying crews to the International Space Station, launching huge constellations of satellites into orbit, and even sending private missions and tourists into space. In addition, there are plans to replace the ISS with private space stations and proposals to send private missions to the Moon and Mars.

These private ventures tend to fall into two categories for getting into space. One is to launch payloads atop conventional staged rockets. The second is to use boosters dropped from high-altitude aircraft to deliver small payloads to low-Earth orbit.

Radian Aerospace says that it plans to break this mould by developing a delta-winged spaceplane about the size of a small commercial jet air transport that will launch horizontally using a rocket-powered sled to allow the craft to conserve as much fuel as possible. Once aloft, three rocket engines put the spacecraft into orbit under a low-g ascent, for crewed missions of up to five days, before landing on any 10,000-ft (3,000-m) runway.

Faster Internet Speeds Encourage Populism, Discourage Civic Engagement

Faster internet access has significantly weakened civic participation in Britain, according to a study that found involvement in political parties, trade unions and volunteering fell as web speeds rose.

Volunteering in social care fell by more than 10% when people lived closer to local telecoms exchange hubs and so enjoyed faster web access. Involvement in political parties fell by 19% with every 1.8km increase in proximity to a hub. By contrast, the arrival of fast internet had no significant impact on interactions with family and friends.

The analysis of behaviour among hundreds of thousands of people led by academics from Cardiff University and Sapienza University of Rome found faster connection speeds may have reduced the likelihood of civic engagement among close to 450,000 people – more than double the estimated membership of the Conservative party. They found that as internet speeds rose between 2005 and 2018, time spent online “crowded out” other forms of civic engagement.

The study’s authors have also speculated that the phenomenon may have helped fuel populism as people’s involvement with initiatives for “the common good”, which they say are effectively “schools of democracy” where people learn the benefit of cooperation, has declined.

Meta Builds Its Own Super-Computer

 Meta has unveiled the AI Research SuperCluster (RSC), a new supercomputer that’s among the fastest in the world. And it’ll only get faster – by the end of the year it should rank number one, with computing power on the exascale.

The company formerly known as Facebook has had its fingers in the AI pie for a few years now, and it’s not hard to see why. Through Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp et al, the conglomerate generates far more data than any mere mortal could possibly process – and there’s obscene amounts of money to be made in sifting through it all.

Meta’s RSC will be up to the task, using this data and immense computing power to train AI algorithms to better recognize objects in images and spoken words in audio, quickly translate between languages, and identify harmful content and misinformation that shouldn’t be on social media. And of course, it’ll probably end up powering the metaverse, which the company is trying to convince the world it needs.

WiFi 7 Standard Shows Off Its Speed

It feels like Wi-Fi 6 only just got here, but of course technology marches ever forward. Wi-Fi 7 is on the horizon already, and MediaTek has now announced the first live demos of the next-gen tech, which should be much faster than what we’re used to.

Wi-Fi 6 devices only really made it to market in 2021, so consumers should currently be satisfied with the speed boost that tech provided over the previous generation. But that satisfaction is sure to be fleeting, and with that in mind companies in the Wi-Fi Alliance are already working on new tech that can handle more data-intensive activities.

Enter Wi-Fi 7, or as it’s known in more technical circles, the IEEE 802.11be standard. The Wi-Fi Alliance says that this new system should be capable of a maximum throughput of at least 30 Gbps, which is a major step up from Wi-Fi 6’s maximum of 9.6 Gbps.

That said, these figures are mostly academic, so don’t expect to be downloading entire TV seasons in seconds – the real-world speed boost is said to be about 2.4 times faster.

While the Wi-Fi Alliance is still working through the details of what the new standard will include, one of its member companies, MediaTek, says that it has already shown off a Wi-Fi 7 tech demo to its key customers and industry collaborators.

Plastic Made From Sugar Is Far More Eco-Friendly

The search for sustainable alternatives to common plastics has researchers investigating how their building blocks can be sourced from places other than petroleum, and for scientists behind a promising new study, this has led them straight to the sweet stuff.

The team has produced a new form of plastic with “unprecedented” mechanical properties that are maintained throughout standard recycling processes, and managed to do so using sugar-derived materials as the starting point.

The breakthrough comes from scientists at the University of Birmingham in the UK and Duke University in the US, who in their pursuit of more sustainable plastics turned to sugar alcohols. These organic compounds carry a similar chemical structure to the sugars they’re derived from, which the scientists found can bring some unique benefits to the production of plastic.

The two compounds in question are isoidide and isomannide, which both feature rigid rings of atoms that the scientists were able to use as building blocks for a new family of polymers. The polymer based on isoidide featured a stiffness and malleability like that of typical plastics, and strength comparable to high-grade engineering plastics.

The polymer made from isomannide, meanwhile, had similar strength and toughness, but with a high degree of elasticity that allowed it to recover its shape after deformation. The characteristics of both were maintained after being subjected to the common recycling methods of pulverization and thermal processing.

Architecture Covered In Trees and Greenery: It’s Not A Hill, It’s A Shopping Mall

If there’s one defining feature of Heatherwick Studios’ recent output, it’s the firm’s enthusiastic use of greenery. Everything from its planned department store to completed high-rise is covered in significant amounts of plants and trees, and this trend continues with its recently opened 1000 Trees, which consists of a large shopping mall envisioned as a tree-covered mountain.

1000 Trees is located near a river in Shanghai, China, on an awkward plot consisting of two areas split by a strip of government-owned land.

The challenge of the plot actually provided inspiration to Heatherwick Studio and the firm conceived the project as two mountains cut by a valley. The project consists of a west and east building and it’s the smaller east building that’s now complete and in use. Once both are finished, there will be over 1,000 trees growing out of planters on the buildings’ exterior in total, as well as over 250,000 plants and bushes that are chosen to give it a different appearance over the changing seasons.

“The building is based on a flexible 9-meter [29.5-ft] grid, which is rotated to allow river views and align with the road boundary,” explained Heatherwick Studio. “The cubic elements are imagined as ‘pixels,’ which visually break down the buildings’ scale and disrupt the repetition of the towers in nearby streets. And instead of concealing the columns behind the facade, these are revealed to liberate the internal space and provide the structural means to lift up a park, tree by tree.

AI-Powered Mouth-Cam Explores Your Oral Hygiene

 While there are camera-equipped toothbrushes that let users see how well they’re cleaning their teeth, the Zaamigo goes considerably further. It uses AI to analyse the photos it shoots, in order to monitor the health of its user’s teeth and gums.

Developed by ETH Zurich spin-off company Zaamigo, the device of the same name has the form factor of an electric toothbrush, but it isn’t used for brushing the teeth. Instead of a ring of rotating bristles, it features a tiny waterproof digital camera surrounded by a ring of eight LEDs.

After brushing their teeth with a conventional third-party toothbrush, users stick the head of the Zaamigo in their mouth, and utilize it to take a total of six photos of their upper and lower teeth.

Those images are wirelessly transmitted to an iOS app on their iPhone or iPad, where artificial-intelligence-based algorithms check for stains, inflamed gums, and accumulated calculus (aka tartar). The algorithms were developed by having a panel of dental experts analyse a database of thousands of Zaamigo-captured images, identifying the problems present in each one.

 Blood Tests Detect Cancers Early (And These Tests Work)

 Cancer treatments have better outcomes if the disease is caught early, but unfortunately symptoms often don’t present until later. A new Oxford study demonstrates an experimental blood test that shows promise in detecting a variety of cancers in patients, and even whether or not they’ve spread.

Being able to go into a doctor’s office for a routine blood test to check for cancer would save countless lives, so of course the idea has attracted much scientific study. Different tests have searched for different biomarkers associated with cancer, such as elevated levels of certain proteinsDNA mutationsRNA profiles of blood platelets, damage to white blood cells, or DNA methylation patterns.

The new Oxford test takes a different tack, instead hunting for blood metabolites, small molecules that are produced as a result of metabolic processes. These can be detected using a technique called nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) metabolomics, which examines blood samples using magnetic fields and radio waves.

Healthy people, people with cancer and people with metastatic cancer will all have different profiles of blood metabolites, and the team’s algorithms can determine which profile a patient’s sample fits. Best of all, the test isn’t specific to any one type of cancer.