Robots Made To Feel Pain, Apple Car Update, Chinese Quantum Computer Breakthrough

January 2021 show notes

Story 1: Artificial skin developed by RMIT, Australia, can feel real pain

Source: CNN Story by Jacopo Prisco


Researchers at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology [RMIT] University in Australia, have created an artificial skin that mimics our skin’s ability to constantly monitor for pain, and the mechanism to react to pain stimuli.

Made of silicone rubber, it has the texture of real skin.

And just like real skin, the artificial version is designed to react when pressure, heat or cold surpass a pain threshold.

The outer layers of the artificial pain feeling skin have embedded electronic

circuits studded with sensors, which respond to stimuli.

When one of the sensors in the artificial skin detects a pain stimulus, it sends an electrical signal to the brain – much the same as pain receptors in our skin signal our brain.

The result is artificial skin that can differentiate between a gentle pin prick or a painful stab.

This groundbreaking advancement could lead to amazing innovations in smart prosthetics and robotics.

Story 2: AI Solves Momentous Disease-Fighting Problem Decades Ahead of Schedule  

Source: Popular Mechanics Story by Caroline Delbert


Source 2: Story by Mike Wheatley


Damaged and/or incorrectly folded proteins play a role in several neurological diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

For 50 years, scientists have been struggling to figure out how proteins fold up.

Only a fraction of the millions of known proteins have actually been unfolded to fully understand what they do and how they work.

That’s because unfolding proteins usually takes years of tedious work using equipment costing millions of dollars.

Recently an Artificial Intelligence program called Alpha Fold, created by Google’s DeepMind research project, demonstrated it could map misfolded proteins in a matter of days.

And do it with more detail than ever before, allowing scientists to better explore possible treatments.

Okay, reality check: The Alpha Fold project shows a lot of promise, but it is not 100 percent yet.

When compared to human scientists doing the same work, the Alpha Fold program has achieved, so far, two-thirds of their accuracy.

But this is still a huge and promising advance for medical science.

Story 3: The Ravn X is a 55,000-pound drone for launching satellites

Source: Story by Igor Bonifacic


Recently, a company based out of Alabama called Aevum unveiled the Ravn X [R A V N], a drone airplane designed to carry and launch satellites into low orbit.

It weighs approximately 55,000 pounds when it’s carrying a full payload, making it one of the heaviest unmanned aircraft in existence today.

It stands 18 feet tall and has a wingspan of 60 feet.

The promise of the drone is that it can put a payload in low-earth orbit in approximately three hours, which the developers claim will shorten lead times on satellite launches from years to months.

Other than its ominous, military looking exterior the Ravn X drone isn’t so different from traditional airplanes.

It only needs about 1-mile of runway to get in the air, allowing it to take off from almost any commercial airport.

It also uses the same fuel as a traditional jet.

Story 4: A new light-based Chinese quantum computer has achieved “quantum supremacy”

Source: Story by Emily Conover


First a quick refresh – traditional computers vs. quantum computers

Today’s computers use bits —a stream of electrical or optical pulses representing 1s or 0s.

Quantum computers, on the other hand, use qubits, which are typically subatomic particles such as electrons or photons.

Quantum supremacy refers to doing amazing calculations impossible for a conventional computer.

With that said, here’s the big news – Researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China recently developed a prototype photonic quantum computer that uses particles of light, or photons, to perform a calculation that would be impossible for a conventional computer.

Quantum supremacy has been met only once before, in 2019 by Google’s quantum computer which uses tiny quantum bits made of superconducting materials, which conduct energy without resistance.

In contrast, the new Chinese quantum computer consists of a complex array of beam splitters, dozens of mirrors and 100 photon detectors that shuttle photons around.

The Chinese quantum computer can perform a calculation in 200 seconds that would take more than half a billion years on the world’s fastest non-quantum, or conventional, computer.

Reality check: To date, quantum computers have only been solving esoteric calculations, and have yet to be applied to solve real world problems.

Story 5: Beyond the impossible: Meat grown from cells is better for the planet — if you’ll eat it

Source: C/Net Story by Brian Cooley


Lab grown meat from animal cells may start arriving at your supermarket in 2022 from companies such as Mosa Meat, Memphis Meats, and others.

It will be positioned as a more sustainable, environmentally friendly option for meat eaters.

The plan is to grow animal cells [for example, chicken or beef] in bioreactors like those already used to produce pharmaceuticals and ethanol.

A bioreactor is a device or apparatus in which living organisms and especially bacteria synthesize useful substances (such as interferon) or break down harmful ones (such as in sewage)

Here’s how the lab meat growing process works:

A few animal cells are chosen for the type of meat desired.

The cells are then placed on a biological scaffold to grow into the right shape and structure.

The bioreactor then turbocharges cell growth from a speck of cells to a full meal size serving of meat.

Okay, some reality checks:

Bottom line: will meat-eating consumers go for this? And for what price premium?

And, of course, what about the financial impact on our livestock ranchers and farmers.

Story 6: SpaceX Starlink wins $885 million from the FCC to serve rural areas

Source: Yahoo Finance Story by Mariella Moon


The FCC recently revealed the results for the first phase of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund auction, and one of the biggest winners is Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

SpaceX’ Starlink satellite internet service won $885.5 million in federal subsidies to provide high-speed broadband internet to more than 5.2 million unserved homes and businesses in rural America.

SpaceX is expected to cover 35 locations in the US with the subsidies it’ll receive over the next 10 years.

To secure the funding SpaceX will have to prove that it can provide broadband services to those areas for a price that’s in line with terrestrial broadband offerings.

At the moment, Starlink beta testers have to pay $99 a month for the service, not including the $499 upfront cost needed for its satellite dish and hardware kit.

Story 7: Apple brings in TSMC to develop chips for Tesla-like self-driving ‘Apple Car’

Source: Apple Insider Story by Mike Peterson


According to a Taiwan-based news outlet called DigiTimes, Apple is reportedly working with TSMC [a Taiwan-based semiconductor company] on an autonomous vehicle chip technology.

In addition to developing self-driving chip technology, Apple’s Project Titan, as the effort is called, may also have the goal of developing an Apple branded all-electric car.

DigiTimes also claims both companies have established plans for a factory to produce “Apple Car” chips in the U.S.

Note, however, the article in Apple Insider did stress that the DigiTimes news report was all speculation, and to take it with a “grain of salt”

But it would be fun to see an Apple car – imagine how cool the design would be!

Story 8: Samsung just unveiled a $156,000 bezel-less 110-inch MicroLED TV that you can’t buy

Source: Story by Chris Smith


Samsung recently announced a stunning 110-inch MicroLED TV that is available for preorder in Korea, with global distribution to start in Q1 2021.

The 110-inch TV will cost 170 million won in Korea, or around $156,000.

The bezel-less TV features much better image quality than traditional LED displays.

It’s a modular TV system that can be customized for any wall in your living room, and it’s all based on MicroLED display technology.

The screen is made up of very small LEDs that turn on and off independently.

That eliminates the need for a backlight and allows Samsung to offer an even better picture quality than traditional LED TVs without going for the more expensive OLED [organic light-emitting diode] solution.

The Micro AI Processor supports 4K HDR content and lets you split the screen into four 55-inch TVs that can use independent inputs to stream four different programs.

Story 9: Researchers built a breakdancing, light-powered hydrogel robot

Source: Story by Kris Holt


See video here:

Okay, time now for some weird science – but, as you’ll see, it is all about an advancement in robotics that could yield breakthrough medical treatment benefits.

Researchers at Northwestern University have created a dime-sized robot that is almost 90 percent water by weight.

It looks like the letter “X” when in a flat, uncurled state.

It has a hydrogel exterior with a nickel skeleton that allows it to change shape – going from a flat “X” to a curled up standing position.

It doesn’t use hydraulics or electricity to curl, stand up or move around. Instead, the researchers used a chemical synthesis process to program molecules to respond to light.

When the robot is exposed to light, the molecules can repel water which causes the “legs” of the X shaped robot to shift from a flat position to a standing one.

Okay, so why should anyone care about this development?

These tiny hydrogel robots could use mechanical movements and locomotion to precisely deliver bio-therapeutics or cells to specific tissues inside our bodies.

They can pick up objects and hold them in place by folding their arms inwards.

And they can roll to move those items and even shake, or “breakdance” to shake off stickier objects.

Researchers suggest that future versions could work on a microscopic level to deliver medical treatments nearly anywhere inside the body.

Story 10: Artificial intelligence co-pilots US military aircraft for the first time

Source: CNN Story by Ryan Browne


Source 2: 159th Fighter Wing Press Release



Artificial intelligence helped co-pilot a U-2 spy plane during a test flight last month, the first-time AI has been used in such a way aboard a US military aircraft.

The new Air Force AI system has been trained to execute sensor employment and tactical navigation in-flight tasks that otherwise would be done by the pilot.

Together, the pilot and AI system flew a reconnaissance mission during a simulated missile strike.

The AI system helped find simulated enemy launchers while the pilot was on the lookout for threatening aircraft, both sharing the U-2’s radar.

According to Air Force officials this accomplishment “ushers in a new age of human-machine teaming….”

Story 11: Portland and Daimler team up for our nation’s first large freight truck electric charging ‘Island’

Source: Story by Michelle Lewis


In the not-too-distant future, you may be sharing the road with all electric 18-wheeler trucks.

Portland General Electric and Daimler Trucks North America recently announced that they are co-developing a large public charging site for medium- and heavy-duty electric freight trucks.

Named “Electric Island,” the charging facility is expected to be the first of its kind in the US — and is scheduled to open by spring of 2021.

Electric Island is under construction now near Daimler’s headquarters on Swan Island.

It will support up to nine charging stations with charging levels of up to greater than 1 megawatt.

That makes these advanced charging stations four times faster than today’s fastest light-duty vehicle chargers.

Electric Island will also feature on-site energy storage and sophisticated charge management software.

The goal is to help accelerate the development, testing, and deployment of large  

scale electric commercial vehicles.

Story 12: New form of solar energy to enter US market

Source: ABC News


Delray Beach, Florida company GO-OPV that has developed a new form of solar energy capture.

The company’s system uses a thin film panel to capture the sun’s rays and converts it to power, similar to traditional solar power.

What’s new is what the company calls “organic energy”.

Organic energy is light-dependent, not direct sunlight dependent – it will always create power as long as there is some form of natural light.

And organic energy makes power from light at any angle, in any way.

It can generate electricity in low light, indoor light, diffused light, any form of light.

The key to this innovation is their organic photovoltaic film, which is an organic, transparent, lightweight film that can be 100% recyclable.

And the panels made using this film are totally flexible because a printed ink technology is used to make them.

The panels could be integrated into windows for homes or office buildings, or used for the tops of truck trailers, phone or computer chargers.

Story 13: Smart Ring Monitors Body Temperature, May Spot COVID Fever Early

Source: Story by Conn Hastings


What if you could wear a super sensitive health monitoring smart finger ring with the ability to detect the early stages of a fever associated with COVID-19?

That’s what a team of researchers from the Universities of California in San

Francisco and San Diego have been testing using a commercially available smart health monitoring ring.

The product being used is a $299 Oura [that’s O U R A] ring made by a company in Finland.

It offers highly sensitive temperature and heart rate monitoring capabilities.

In fact, the ring can detect the early subtle stages of a COVID 19 fever that might otherwise go unnoticed.

In their proof-of-concept study, the researchers showed that the Oura ring was so sensitive that it was able to detect fevers before patients began to experience other symptoms.

I think all hospital and high-risk care givers should have something like this!

Story 14: Disguising Key Computer Chip Hardware from Hackers with New Transistor Design

Source: Purdue University news release


A hacker can reproduce a circuit on a chip by discovering what key transistors are doing in a circuit – but not if the transistor “type” is undetectable.

Purdue University engineers have demonstrated a way to disguise which transistor is which by building them out of a sheet-like material called black phosphorus.

This built-in security measure would prevent hackers from getting enough information about the circuit to reverse engineer it.

A chip computes using millions of transistors in a circuit. When a voltage is applied, two distinct types of transistors – an N type and a P type – perform a computation.

Replicating the chip would begin with identifying these transistors.

If these two transistor types appeared identical upon inspection, a hacker wouldn’t be able to reproduce a chip by reverse engineering the circuit.

The Purdue University team showed in their study that camouflaging the transistors by fabricating them from a material such as black phosphorus makes it impossible to know which transistor is which.

When a voltage toggles the transistors’ type, they appear exactly the same to a hacker.

While camouflaging is already a security measure that chip manufacturers use, it is typically done at the circuit level and doesn’t attempt to obscure the functionality of individual transistors – leaving the chip potentially vulnerable to reverse engineering hacking techniques with the right tools.

Story 15: University of Oxford scientists figure out how to make jet fuel from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere

Source: Story by Maria Temming


Recently scientists at the University of Oxford announced the development of a new iron-based catalyst converts carbon dioxide into jet fuel.

Unlike cars, planes can’t carry batteries big enough to run on electricity from wind or solar power.

But if CO2, rather than oil, were used to make jet fuel, that could reduce the air travel industry’s carbon footprint — which currently makes up 12 percent of all transportation-related CO2 emissions.

Past attempts to convert carbon dioxide into fuel have relied on catalysts made of relatively expensive materials, like cobalt, and required multiple chemical processing steps.

The new catalyst powder is made of inexpensive ingredients, including iron, and transforms CO2 in a single step.

The researchers tested their new iron-based catalyst on carbon dioxide in a small reaction chamber set to 300° Celsius and pressurized to about 10 times the air pressure at sea level.

Over 20 hours, the catalyst converted 38 percent of the carbon dioxide in the chamber into new chemical products. About 48 percent of those products were jet fuel hydrocarbons.

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