GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – JUNE 2020

Robots Replace Sheep Dogs

 We’ve been worrying about humans being put out of work by robots, but it now looks as if man’s best friend also needs to worry.  Robots are replacing sheep dogs.

Boston Dynamics’ dog-like Spot robot can now be remotely controlled from anywhere in the world thanks to a partnership with cloud-based software platform Rocos. To demonstrate its new capabilities the US team remotely monitored the robot working as a “sheep dog” on an isolated farm in New Zealand.

Boston Dynamics is slowly figuring out more and more real-world applications for its customizable Spot robot. Last month we saw Spot deployed in a Boston hospital, helping doctors remotely interface with infectious COVID-19 patients. Prior to that we have seen the robot recruited for various industrial tasks, including patrolling oil rigs and monitoring building sites.

A newly announced partnership between Boston Dynamics and Rocos, developers of a cloud-based robot operations platform, is set to dramatically expand Spot’s functionality. And to demonstrate these new capabilities, the Boston Dynamics team remotely managed Spot performing a variety of tasks on a farm in New Zealand.

The Air Really Was Cleaner (Can We Keep It That Way?)

 The lockdown orders implemented around the globe to control the spread of the novel coronavirus have led to a dramatic dip in some airborne pollutants, and a new study has revealed that carbon dioxide emissions have followed a similar trend.

The analysis shows that daily CO2 emissions declined by 17 percent at the height of the stay-at-home measures, an “extreme” drop driven by a reduction in surface level transport and industrial activity.

The analysis was carried out by an international team of researchers working on Future Earth’s Global Carbon Project, an initiative to trace the impacts of human-generated greenhouse gases on the planet. It is described as the first analysis of global energy demands in response to the coronavirus, with the scientists looking at 69 countries, 50 US states and 30 provinces of China.

The 17-percent decline in CO2 emissions compared to 2019 levels came in early April, when confinement measures around the world were at their peak. The team says a decrease in surface transport, such as car travel, contributed 43 percent of this reduction, while declining emissions from industrial sources and power generation contributed another 43 percent. Interestingly, the team calculated that the decline in air travel as a result of the pandemic accounts for just 10 percent of the decline.

Turning Trash Into Hydrogen

Lancaster, California will be home to a “greener than green” trash-to hydrogen production plant three times the size of any other green H2 facility. SGH2 says its process is the cleanest of all on the market, while matching the price of the cheapest producers – and pulling tens of thousands of tons of garbage out of landfills.

For better or worse, many world economies are gearing up to make hydrogen a significant part of the future energy economy. Japan and Korea in particular are making big moves and enormous investments to get this zero-local-emissions energy storage format up and running.

Production of hydrogen can vary from the relatively green (electrolysis of fresh water using solar or wind-based energy) to the profoundly filthy (gasification of brown coal) – and the filthiest are by far the cheapest. Adding carbon capture and sequestration to dirty processes simply makes them more expensive.

That’s what makes this SGH2 project so interesting – the company claims it can take trash that would otherwise sit in a landfill and rot, and turn it into super-green hydrogen at bargain-basement prices.

US Navy Tests Ship-Borne Laser “Ray Gun”

 The US Navy has successfully carried out a demonstration of a high-energy laser weapon installed in a warship. On May 16, 2020, the amphibious transport dock ship USS Portland (LPD 27) locked onto and disabled an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) with its Solid-State Laser – Technology Maturation (SSL-TM) Laser Weapon System Demonstrator (LWSD) MK 2 MOD 0.

With their ability to engage targets at the speed of light and shoot them down at a cost of a dollar a shot, lasers and other directed-energy weapons (DEWs) have become a high priority for the world’s major military powers.

The LWSD used in the recent test at an undisclosed location was developed by the US Office of Naval Research using a solid-state laser developed by Northrop Grumman. It’s one of several DEWs being produced for the US Armed Forces and builds on the successful sea tests of an earlier laser aboard USS Ponce in 2014.

According to the Navy, the purpose of such lasers isn’t necessarily to destroy the target, but to damage, degrade, neutralize, or defeat its capabilities as well.

This Sensor Can “Smell” Explosives (And COVID-19?)

 Airbus is planning to install jellyfish-like sensors at airports that mimic bomb-sniffing dogs’ ability to detect dangerous chemicals and explosives, using “game-changing” technology built from living biological cells that can “smell” molecular compounds.

In partnership with Koniku, a neurotech start-up in northern California’s Bay Area, the European aircraft maker said it will place multiple odour-detection devices in select airport screening tunnels later this year that can smell hazardous materials. It later might be able to sniff out diseases such as the novel coronavirus.

“The technology has a very quick response time of under 10 seconds in best conditions,” said Julien Touzeau, head of product security for the Americas at Airbus. “With this level of maturity it’s an incredible result and hopefully it will improve over time.”

Why Robots Are Delivering The Goods In Milton Keynes

 If any place was prepared for quarantine, it was the British city of Milton Keynes. Two years before the pandemic, a start-up called Starship Technologies deployed a fleet of rolling delivery robots in the small city about 50 miles northwest of London.

The squat six-wheeled robots shuttled groceries and dinner orders to homes and offices. As the coronavirus spread, Starship shifted the fleet even further into grocery deliveries. Locals like Emma Maslin could buy from the corner store with no human contact.

“There’s no social interaction with a robot,” Ms. Maslin said.

The sudden usefulness of the robots to people staying in their homes is a tantalizing hint of what the machines could one day accomplish — at least under ideal conditions. Milton Keynes, with a population of 270,000 and a vast network of bicycle paths, is perfectly suited to rolling robots. Demand has been so high in recent weeks, some residents have spent days trying to schedule a delivery.

This Device Captures Micro-Particles Thrown Off From Tyres

 While we may think of car exhaust as being a major source of air pollution, automobile tyres also hugely contribute to microplastics pollution. A new vehicle-mounted device could help, by gathering the rubber particles that those tires shed.

A team of British arts and sciences students, known as The Tyre Collective led by Prof. Robert Shorten of Imperial College London (and the Royal College of Art) has developed a prototype device that sits adjacent to a car’s tire, close to where it touches the road.

By definition, microplastics are fragments of plastic smaller than 5 millimetres in diameter. Along with coming from car tires, they’re also produced as chunks of plastic waste break down into smaller pieces; as the microbeads used in products such as toothpaste enter the environment; or even as synthetic clothing sheds fibres while being washed.

Upon entering waterways, the particles may subsequently be eaten by fish, which are in turn consumed by humans. In the case of the tire-rubber microplastics, which are found mostly on city streets, they can also be inhaled.

Tuna Grown In A Lab

 A San Diego food-tech start-up has grown fillets of yellowtail fish entirely from cells, making the company one of the most scientifically advanced in the world of lab-grown seafood.

The start-up, called BlueNalu, is less than 2 years old and yet it has hit a scientific milestone many researchers only dream of. In front of a small crowd gathered at San Diego Bay last month, the start-up’s chef prepared the lab-created yellowtail fish in a variety of ways, from fish tacos and poke to seafood bisque.

For those unfamiliar with cell-based seafood products, they are made of real fish meat and fat — or what we call “fillets” — grown through cell cultures in a food manufacturing facility. The hope of companies like BlueNalu is to meet the demand for real fish products while addressing ethical and environmental concerns of eating fish.

While the process is unfamiliar to the average person, the company’s founders say the lab-made seafood products aren’t any more unnatural than, say, Greek yogurt, which also requires the culturing of cells.

 

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