Computer America

The nation's longest running talk show about Computers and Technology!

Fantastic Robotics, Medical Breakthroughs, And More With Ralph Bond

February 2021 show notes

Story 1: Fusion energy device sets a record by running for 20 seconds

Source: Engadget Story by Jon Fingas


First, a quick science refresh – a fusion energy reactor is a device scientists dream may someday produce electrical power by using the tremendous heat from nuclear fusion reactions.

And in a nutshell, nuclear fusion is a process in which the nuclei of atoms are joined.

Okay, here’s the big news:

A fusion device created by the Korea Superconducting Tokamak Advanced

Research team [also known as KSTAR for short] recently set a world record by maintaining its plasma at a mind-boggling 180 million degrees Fahrenheit for 20 seconds.

The fusion device [nicknamed “the Korean artificial sun”] was created by an international collaboration involving the KSTAR team, the Seoul National University and Columbia University.

Now 20 seconds of fusion reaction may not sound like much, but no previous fusion energy device lasted for more than 10 seconds.

The research team’s next goal is to run non-stop for five minutes by 2025.

It may take many decades, but someday fusion reactors may become practical, and join solar and wind as an alternative to fossil fuels.

Story 2: Get ready for Mercedes and Cadillac luxury cars to feature enormous flat screen displays

Source 1: TechChrunch “Mercedes-Benz made a 56-inch ‘Hyperscreen’ for its EQS electric car”

Story by Kirsten Korosec


Source 2: Engadget “Cadillac offers a glimpse at the Lyriq EV’s 33-inch display”

Story by Andrew Tarantola


Mercedes-Benz 56-inch Hyperscreen

Cadillac’s huge screen dashboard

Get ready for some crazy big flat screen dashboard displays from Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac.

On January 7 Mercedes previewed a 56-inch curved dashboard screen for its 2022 Mercedes EQS sedan.

Called the MBUX Hyperscreen, it will be the company’s next-generation smart infotainment system that learns the behaviors of its driver.

The system features an 8-core microprocessor and 24-gigabytes of RAM.

There’s a multifunction camera and a sensor that adapts the brightness of the screen depending on the lighting conditions.

And Cadillac is working on a 33-inch wraparound display for its 2023 Lyriq electric car.

Cadillac’s display will be capable of reproducing more than one billion colors — that’s 64 times more than any other car display currently on the market.

Story 3: Concept for a hybrid-electric plane may reduce aviation’s air pollution problem

Source: MIT News Story by Jennifer Chu


Jet airplanes emit a steady stream of nitrogen oxides into the atmosphere, which linger to produce ozone and fine particulates.

Nitrogen oxides are a major source of air pollution and have been associated with respiratory diseases and cardiovascular disorders.

Now MIT engineers have come up with a concept for airplane propulsion that would help eliminate 95 percent of aviation’s nitrogen oxide emissions.

The concept is inspired by post-combustion emissions-control systems used in many heavy-duty diesel trucks today that scrub nitrogen oxides out of the exhaust.

The MIT researchers now propose a similar design for aviation, but with

an electric twist.

As we all know, today’s airplane jet engines house a gas turbine that powers a propeller to move the plane through the air as exhaust flows out the back.

However, due to how jet engines are designed, integrated emissions-control devices would not work, as they would interfere with the thrust produced by the engines.

In the new MIT hybrid-electric design, a plane’s source of power would still be a conventional gas turbine, but it would be integrated within the plane’s cargo hold.  

Rather than directly powering propellers, the gas turbine would drive a generator, also in the hold, to produce electricity, which would then power the plane’s wing-mounted, electric engines.

The emissions produced by the gas turbine would then be fed into an emissions-control system, like those in diesel trucks, which would then clean the exhaust before ejecting it into the atmosphere.

Story 4: A Black computing pioneer takes his place in technology history

Source: MIT News Story by Maia Weinstock


As this is Black History month, I thought this was a wonderful tribute to an African American who played an important role in computing history at MIT.

In 1951 high school graduate Joe Thompson, then18, was trained as one of the first two computer operators at MIT.

The computer was the Whirlwind, the prototype for the SAGE air defense system.

Whirlwind was the first digital computer able to operate in real-time, and the first digital computer at MIT

MIT’s Whirlwind was one of the earliest high-speed digital computers, and Thompson played a key role in its operation at the start of his decades-long career in computing.

In an interview decades later, Thompson noted:

“They at MIT were looking for bright, young kids who were not going to college.”

“I was the first [operator] to see if it would work, and I guess it worked well. … You had to learn the whole system, and you’d get to the point where you understand what they’re doing.”

After Whirlwind, Thompson accepted a job with RAND as a programmer working on the SAGE air defense system software.

He transferred to California with the company, and his group eventually spun off into the non-profit System Development Corporation.

Thompson retired in the 1990s after four decades in computing.

He died in 2015

SIDE NOTE: If you have not seen the film “Hidden Figures” run, don’t walk. It’s all about three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson – who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, and turned around the Space Race.

Story 5: Nanodroplets and Ultrasound to Drill Through Blood Clots

Source: Story by editorial staff


Penetrating compacted blood clots is a challenge for vascular surgery.

Various miniature catheter-based devices are in use today, but many patients have clots that are just too difficult even for the finest existing devices.

Now, researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have developed a new way to attack blood clots that involves special nanodroplets and an ultrasound catheter that activates them.

The nanodroplets are made out of lipid spheres packed with low-boiling point liquid perfluorocarbons.

When the perfluorocarbons are released from the spheres, their extremely small size allows them to get into the tiniest of crevices within a clot.

Once there, a shower of ultrasound activates them to become expanding boiling microbubbles.

Then additional ultrasound is applied to make these boiling microbubbles vibrate and then safely break apart the clot mass.

Story 6: This ‘snake robot’ will fix pipelines on the ocean floor

Source: CNN Story by Adrian Lydon


See video here:

Thousands of miles of deep-sea oil and gas pipelines must be inspected and repaired regularly.

Now there’s a new cutting-edge underwater robot being tested that could make this task safer and much cheaper.

Developed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, the new Elume [that’s E L U M E] robot is a nearly 20-foot long, flexible, snake-like robot outfitted with a camera, lights, and sensors at each end.

A series of fan propellers moves the robot, which also features a wireless video communications system.

Elume can work autonomously on tasks assigned from a control room onshore and send back live video and data.

And its snake-like design allows it to work in confined spaces – and even twist its body to stay in place in strong currents.

It can also form an arch-like, or U shape to inspect all sides of a seafloor pipe at one time.

It can be recharged and housed in a docking station at depths up to 547 yards for six months, without being brought back to the surface.

And the robot can travel up to 12.4 miles before needing to return to its station to recharge.

It can also swap out parts for different tasks, including cleaning brushes to remove marine growth and sediments.

Story 7: Smart Masks for Our COVID 19 Lifestyle Unveiled at the Recent Consumer Electronics Show

Source: USA Today Story by Brett Molina and Mike Snider


At the virtual online international Consumer Electronics Show held last month a number of innovative high-tech smart masks were announced.

Here are two examples:

The AirPop Active+ is a smart mask featuring a sensor that measures the user’s breathing data and the air quality of their surroundings.

The Bluetooth enabled sensor in the mask works together with a smartphone app to track breathing data, filter efficacy and the pollutants blocked by the mask filter.  

The mask will be available at select retailers this year for $149.99.

The Hubble Maskfone [that’s M A S K F O N E] takes it a step further, doubling as both a mask and a Bluetooth wireless hands-free headset for your smartphone.

The mask features a medical grade N95 filter, built-in wireless earbuds, and a microphone so users can take calls hands free.

In addition to calling, you can listen to your smartphone’s music.

And there are embedded touch controls on the side of the mask to adjust volume, play and pause music.

It’s now available at retailers including Amazon for $49.99.

And Maskfone offers a pack of 5 N95 grade replacement filters for $19.99.

Story 8: Electric car batteries with five-minute charging times produced

Source: The Guardian Story by editorial staff


See video here for background on the technology leading up to their car battery:

Electric car batteries capable of fully charging in five minutes [without overheating] have recently been produced for the first time.

The new lithium-ion batteries were developed by the Israeli company StoreDot and manufactured by Eve Energy in China using standard production lines.

StoreDot’s research team developed an entirely new chemistry approach for making lithium-ion batteries.

StoreDot has already demonstrated its extreme fast-charging battery technology in phones, drones, and scooters, and the 1,000 car batteries it has now produced are to showcase its groundbreaking technology to carmakers.

Daimler, BP, Samsung, and TDK have all invested in StoreDot.

Two Reality checks:

Sure, the new batteries can be fully charged in five minutes, but this would require much higher-powered chargers than used today.

And StoreDot’s goal is to deliver 100 miles worth of charge to a car battery in five minutes by 2025 – so it’s not right now.

Story 9: Invisible Solar Panels: How Tomorrow’s Windows Will Generate Electricity

Source: Press release from Incheon National University


Recently an international team of researchers, led by a professor at the Incheon National University in South Korea, demonstrated the first fully transparent solar cell.

At present, the materials making the solar cell opaque are the semiconductor layers, those responsible for capturing light and translating it into an electrical current.

The researchers developed an innovative technique that rests on a specific part of the solar cell: the heterojunction, made up of thin films of materials responsible for absorbing light.

By combining the unique properties of titanium dioxide and nickel oxide semiconductors, the researchers were able to generate an efficient, transparent

solar cell.

The idea of transparent solar cells is well known, but this novel application where scientists have been able to translate this idea into practice is a crucial new finding.

And, as an added crucial benefit, the titanium dioxide and nickel oxide materials used yield eco-friendly solar capture solutions.

Story 10: AI helps this Koda social robot dog sense human emotions

Source: C/net Story by Bonnie Burton


See video here:

And here:

Unlike other robot dogs on the market, the Koda artificial intelligence dog is meant to interact socially with its human owners.

The robot’s AI helps it sense when its owner is sad, happy, or excited so it can, over time, respond in an appropriate manner to human emotions.

This robot dog can be a companion, seeing-eye dog, or guard dog, accomplishing tasks thanks to Koda’s “blockchain-enabled decentralized AI infrastructure” that enables it to process complex problems and even learn new skills, according to an official promo video.

Decentralized artificial intelligence, also often called distributed artificial intelligence, is a subfield of artificial intelligence research that focuses on the development of distributed solutions for problems.

Koda’s decentralized AI social robot dog can react to its human owners’ behavior by using AI to learn and adapt along the way while keeping its data private and impossible to hack.

The Koda robot dog is equipped with 3D depth cameras located on the front, back and each side of the robot’s body.

There’s even a 13-megapixel camera on the front of the robot to take high-quality photos.

The robot has a fully functional head and tailpiece and uses 14 high-torque motors with two motors on the neck for animal-like mobility.

The pooch also has a high-resolution display and multiple sensors including a force foot sensor.

The robot’s microphone array has 97% accuracy for voiceprint recognition.

Koda’s AI robot dog has a price range between $45,000 and $55,000.

Story 11: A robot arm toting a Venus flytrap can grab delicate objects

Source: Story by Emily Conover


See video here:

A new robotic grabber is ripped straight from the plant world. The device, made with a severed piece of a Venus flytrap, can grasp tiny, delicate objects, researchers at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore reported in the January 25 in Nature Electronics.

Normally, the carnivorous Venus flytrap scores a meal when unsuspecting prey touches delicate hairs on one of the plant’s jaw like leaves, triggering the trap to snap shut (SN: 10/14/20).

But by sticking electrodes to the leaves and applying a small electric voltage, researchers designed a method to force Venus flytraps to close.

Even when cut from the plant, the leaves retained the ability to shut upon command for up to a day.

Integrating soft, flexible plant material into robotics could aid in picking up fragile objects that would otherwise be damaged by clunky, rigid graspers, the researchers say.

So, the research team attached a piece of a flytrap to a robotic arm and used a smartphone app to control the trap.

In experiments, the robotic grabber clutched a piece of wire one-half of a millimeter in diameter.

And when not strapped to the robotic arm, the dismembered plant also caught a slowly moving 1-gram weight.

Story 12: Electric vehicles close to ‘tipping point’ of mass adoption

Source: The Guardian Story by Damian Carrington


Global sales rose 43% in 2020, but even faster growth is anticipated when continuing falls in battery prices bring the price of electric cars dipping below that of equivalent petrol and diesel models, even without subsidies.

The latest analyses forecast that to happen sometime between 2023 and 2025.

The tipping point has already been passed in Norway, where tax breaks mean electric cars are cheaper.

The market share of battery-powered cars soared to 54% in 2020 in the Nordic country, compared with less than 5% in most European nations.

While electric cars are already cheaper to run, their higher purchase price is a barrier to mass uptake.

The other key factor is “range anxiety”, but this [this month] the first factory production began of batteries capable of giving a 200-mile charge in five minutes. 

Story 13: Tesla Powerwalls selected for first 100% solar and battery neighborhood in Australia

Source: Story by Simon Alvarez


Economic Development Queensland recently announced a landmark deal with Tesla for the use of its Powerwall 2 batteries in a massive sustainability community project.

The initiative aims to establish the first government-backed community in Australia that is 100% powered by solar energy and batteries.

The project would involve 80 homes in the Brisbane suburb of Oxley, with each home receiving a AU$5,000 rebate if they purchase a heavily discounted package for the Tesla batteries and solar panels from Natural Solar.

All homes in the community would come with solar panels, batteries, heat pump hot water systems, WiFi air conditioning, and electric vehicle charging equipment.

Each home in the community would be fitted with seventeen 365w solar panels from Natural Solar and one 13.5 kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 battery.

Such a setup is expected to generate an average of 9000 kWh annually, which equates to an estimated savings of AU$2,100 per year for every household.

Story 14: Congressional Panel: We Have a ‘Moral Imperative’ to At Least Consider Building a Terminator

Source: Story by Tom McKay


The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, a congressional advisory panel held in January mulled whether or not the U.S. should deploy artificially intelligent autonomous weapons.

And, after taking into account the numerous reasons it would be a terrible idea, the panel decided that at least toying around with the idea is “moral imperative.”

The two-day panel, which was chaired by Google CEO Eric Schmidt and vice chaired by former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work, opposed the U.S. joining an international coalition of at least 30 countries that have urged a treaty to ban the development or use of autonomous weapons.

Instead, the panel advised Congress to keep their options open.

Critics have long pointed to the inherent dangers of AI-controlled weaponry, which include everything from glitchy or trigger-happy systems kicking off violent skirmishes that could turn into bigger conflicts.

And the possibility such systems could be acquired by terrorists or subverted against their masters by hackers.

Or that robot tanks and drones could decide to massacre helpless civilians.

The congressional panel instead concluded that killer robots potentially being really good at killing is actually a reason not to rule them out.

The logic goes that perhaps autonomous weapons could be much more discriminating in their target selection and thus somehow kill fewer people.

The panel suggested that an anti-proliferation treaty may also be more realistic than an outright ban.

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