There have been great hopes that a carbon nanotube cable could be used to create a space elevator, providing easy access to orbit. According to recent research, however, that may not be possible for the foreseeable future. Even atomic-level defects in the nanotube will greatly reduce its strength, and current mass manufacturing techniques are quite error-prone.
Archive for the 'Technology' Category
Recently I’ve been hearing about government support for remote kill switches, say in automobiles for law enforcement use, or in cell phones for when they’re stolen. And my first thought is always that some hacker is going to find a way to trigger the switch and cause all kinds of problems.
Apparently the hackers had the same thought. The linked article covers a situation where stolen iCloud credentials were used to lock out iPhones via the “Find My iPhone” anti-theft feature.
The US Navy will be deploying a laser weapon system later this year, a la Star Wars, and has plans to deploy a railgun within the next two years. Railgun systems have been available in laboratory settings for a while now, and the real challenge has been meeting their huge power requirements on a seagoing vessel—the ship hosting the railgun, for example, will be able to generate 78 megawatts of electricity, enough to power a medium-sized city.
Researchers at Ohio State University have found a way to release the energy in coal without producing greenhouse gases or pollution. The process is called coal-direct chemical looping, and it looks very promising. This could be big, very big.
The linked article discusses the state of wireless charging technology for devices (and cars!). There’s a good chance we may see wireless charging becoming commonplace in the near future. (Note that Sonicare toothbrushes have been charging wirelessly for well over a decade.)
Corning, the makers of Gorilla Glass that’s used in many smartphones and tablets, has come up with a new product called Willow Glass. It’s paper-thin and scratch resistant, yet can be rolled into a circle with a 2-inch radius. It’ll be interesting to see what applications they find for this new technology.
Neutrinos are nearly massless particles that can easily go through most materials. Neutrinos routinely zip through massive bodies such as the Earth without touching anything. In fact, billions of them pass through our body every second. As such, neutrinos would be a perfect communications medium—no cables, no satellites, and if you wanted to contact the other side of the planet, you’d just point the beam through the Earth. One could just as easily contact the far side of the Moon or one of the other planets.
This sounds like the stuff of science fiction, but researchers have managed to send a short neutrino-based message through 780 feet of rock. The implications are staggering, but the experiment was only proof-of-concept, and the technology is nowhere near the point that it can be effectively used for real-world communications. But still…
MIT researchers have developed a computer program that’s capable of reading and understanding the instruction manual for the computer game Civilization. Without any prior programming on how to play, the computer read the manual, then was not only able to play the game but went on to win 79 percent of the time.
The US Navy is attempting to develop a superlaser for use on its ships, and the latest prototype can burn through 20 feet of steel per second at 14 kilowatts. The power level needs to reach 100 kilowatts to be useful in the field, and the Navy’s ultimate goal is to reach a megawatt and be able to pierce 2000 feet of steel per second. Expect this technology to be deployed sometime in the next 10-20 years.
Near field communication (NFC) is a wireless technology limited to distances of a few inches. It has the potential to add a whole new paradigm to cell phone use, potentially replacing credit/debit cards and smart cards, or allowing the phone to process tickets or coupons. Expect NFC to be included in the next cell phone you purchase.
IBM’s “Watson” computer wiped out the human competition in the first match of Jeopardy (aired on Tuesday, Feb. 14th). Watson scored $35,734 compared to Ken Jennings at $4,800 and Brad Rutter at $10,400. Keep in mind that Jennings won the most consecutive games, staying in for 74 matches, and Rutter is the all-time money winner at more than $3 million. Long the stuff of science fiction, Watson is a significant step on the road to computers that can respond to natural speech.
3D televisions were all the rage at last January’s Consumer Electronics Show, but the reality is that (1) they require inconvenient 3D glasses, and (2) the glasses are expensive. So demand is not very high. Fortunately there are alternatives on the horizon. Toshiba, for example, will be releasing some glasses-free screens next month. They’re small and very expensive, and you have to to sit in specific locations relative to the screen, but I expect it won’t be too long before the size goes up and the price goes down.