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NASA plans for an Earth-independent future in space

NASA has selected proposals for the creation of two multi-disciplinary, university-led research institutes that will focus on the development of technologies critical to extending human presence deeper into our solar system. The new Space Technology Research Institutes (STRIs) created under these proposals will bring together researchers from various disciplines and organizations to collaborate on the advancement of cutting-edge technologies in bio-manufacturing and space infrastructure, with the goal of creating and…

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Virtual reality app takes the fear out of MRI scans for children

A resident physicist at King’s College Hospital, Jonathan Ashmore, keeps a pair of sound-cancelling headphones on his desk. He dons them every time a very young patient arrives at the MRI scanner in the room next door, to drown out the sounds. “Sometimes the parents are the worst part – and the kids read off of them,” Ashmore tells WIRED. It’s an unfortunate side-effect of any medical procedure involving a…

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Crash testing drones and self-driving cars with an open-source sim

To let developers crash drones and self-driving cars, Microsoft has released open-source software. Called Aerial Informatics and Robotics Platform, or AirSim for short, the code creates a realistic training environment in which it’s possible to simulate mistakes without real-world consequences. Let’s say you want to teach an aerial robot to tell the difference between a wall and a shadow,” Microsoft says in a blog post. “Chances are, you’d like to…

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Project Loon balloon to beam the internet

An internet-beaming balloon factory spun out of Google believes it can outmaneuver the wind. In doing so, the 4-year-old ‘Project Loon’ says it will be able to bring remote parts of the world online more quickly with a smaller fleet of the balloons than it previously thought. Engineers involved in the eccentric project, a part of the X Lab owned by Google’s corporate parent Alphabet Inc., say they have come…

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Bandages light up when in contact with certain chemicals

A new ‘living material’—a tough, stretchy, biocompatible sheet of hydrogel injected with live cells that are genetically programmed to light up in the presence of certain chemicals has been designed by a team of engineers and biologists at MIT. In a paper published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers demonstrate the new material’s potential for sensing chemicals, both in the environment and in…

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Laser efficiency boosted by ‘lossless’ metamaterial

A material that could reduce signal losses in photonic devices has been developed by engineers at the University of California San Diego. The advance has the potential to boost the efficiency of various light-based technologies including fiber optic communication systems, lasers and photovoltaics. The discovery addresses one of the biggest challenges in the field of photonics: minimizing loss of optical (light-based) signals in devices known as plasmonic metamaterials. Plasmonic metamaterials…

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Robot mission aborted inside Fukushima reactor

Tokyo Electric Power company has said that a ‘scorpion’ robot sent into a Japanese nuclear reactor to learn about the damage suffered in a tsunami-induced meltdown had its mission aborted after the probe ran into trouble. TEPCO, the operator of the Fukushima nuclear plant, sent the remote-controlled device into the No. 2 reactor where radiation levels have recently hit record highs. The ‘scorpion’ robot, so-called because it can lift up its…

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Individuals controlled in robot swarm through magnetics

A way to magnetically control individual members of a robot swarm has been developed by a trio of researchers with Philips Innovative Technologies in Germany. In their paper published in the journal Science Robotics, Jürgen Rahmer, Christian Stehning and Bernhard Gleich describe their approach and the ways they believe it could be used in practical applications. Scientists have demonstrated that it is possible to control a swarm of tiny robots (or…

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‘Wonder’ materials to revolutionize flexible tech

Following a breakthrough in measuring two-dimensional ‘wonder’ materials by the University of Warwick, gadgets are set to become flexible, highly efficient and much smaller. Dr Neil Wilson in the Department of Physics has developed a new technique to measure the electronic structures of stacks of two-dimensional materials – flat, atomically thin, highly conductive, and extremely strong materials – for the first time. Multiple stacked layers of 2D materials – known…

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Timely diagnosis of serious diseases with smart mobile tool

A key challenge for researchers worldwide for decades has been finding practical solutions to detect proteins, cancer biomarkers, viruses and other small objects. These solutions hold promise for saving lives through more timely diagnosis and treatment of serious infections and diseases. Now a UCLA team’s new research shows how such detections might be done for a fraction of the cost by using ‘smart’ mobile devices designed by machine learning. One…

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