Technology Tuesday: October 17

Welcome to Technology Tuesday! Every week The Job Shop Blog will bring you our 5 top science and technology news stories from around the web.

This week: The internet on Mars, materials created out of DNA, Google’s AI can now program other AI, a look at how automated vehicles will transform cities, and NASA’s new Ion Drive.


ELON MUSK DISCUSSES A MARTIAN INTERNET

On Saturday, Elon Musk participated in an Ask Me Anything (AMA) forum on Reddit in which he answered questions pertaining to about SpaceX’s latest rocket, the “BFR,” as a follow up to his IAC 2017 talk. One user put forth the idea of internet on Mars, asking, “Does SpaceX have any interest in putting more satellites in orbit around Mars (or even rockets) for internet/communications before we get feet on the ground? Or are the current 5-6 active ones we have there sufficient?”

Musk, who was expertly playful and comical throughout the AMA, responded, “If anyone wants to build a high bandwidth comm link to Mars, please do.”

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SCIENTISTS ARE CREATING MATERIALS FROM DNA

Chemists from The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI) have demonstrated a way to create new materials from DNA. Using recent advances in editing techniques, researchers Floyd Romesberg and Tingjian Chen were able to chemically modify DNA nucleotides to produce substances with qualities that could be useful for medical purposes. Their work has been published in Angewandte Chemie.

Previously, Romesberg’s laboratory had successfully produced an artificial DNA polymerase enzyme capable of making copies of modified DNA in the same way that a standard polymerase makes copies of normal DNA. However, in that case, the researchers were only modifying the DNA by attaching fluorine or methoxy moieties to the nucleotides’ sugar backbone. This new study demonstrates several further modifications, each of which offers up its own potential applications

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GOOGLE’S MACHINE LEARNING SOFTWARE HAS LEARNED TO REPLICATE ITSELF

Back in May, Google revealed its AutoML project; artificial intelligence (AI) designed to help them create other AIs. Now, Google has announced that AutoML has beaten the human AI engineers at their own game by building machine-learning software that’s more efficient and powerful than the best human-designed systems.

An AutoML system recently broke a record for categorizing images by their content, scoring 82 percent. While that’s a relatively simple task, AutoML also beat the human-built system at a more complex task integral to autonomous robots and augmented reality: marking the location of multiple objects in an image. For that task, AutoML scored 43 percent versus the human-built system’s 39 percent.

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AUTONOMOUS VEHICLES COULD DRASTICALLY CHANGE OUR CITIES

The convergence of technology and the city is seen as a possible remedy for the challenging issues of urbanisation. Autonomous vehicles are among the most popular of many smart city solutions. Also known as driverless car technology, it could reshape our cities.

One recent prediction is that by 2040 these vehicles will account for up to half of all road travel. A growing number of studies are exploring autonomous-vehicle-induced transport disruptions – “trip generation impacts.” It’s suggested these vehicles could:

  1. decrease private motor vehicle ownership, congestion and air pollution;

  2. increase ride sharing, road safety, access and mobility;

  3. redesign or eliminate traffic signals; and

  4. improve mobility for people who are “transport-disadvantaged.”

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NASA’S NEW ION THRUSTER BREAKS RECORDS

NASA’s new X3 thruster, which is being developed by researchers at the University of Michigan in collaboration with the agency and the US Air Force, has broken records in recent test. It’s hoped that the technology could be used to ferry humans to Mars.

The X3 is a type of Hall thruster, a design that uses a stream of ions to propel a spacecraft. Plasma is expelled to generate thrust, producing far greater speeds than are possible with chemical propulsion rockets, according to NASA.

A chemical rocket tops out at around five kilometers per second (1.86 miles/sec), while a Hall thruster can reach speeds of up to 40 kilometers per second (25 miles/sec). This kind of increase is particularly relevant to long-distance space travel, like a prospective voyage to Mars. In fact, project team leaders project that ion propulsion technology such as this could take humans to the Red Planet within the next 20 years.


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