Monthly Archives: February 2006

Flying Cars In The Near Future?

A few MIT students are designing a flying car and are aiming for the year 2009 to start manufacturing it:

Plenty of other kids (and gridlocked commuters) have had the same dream, of course. The difference is that Dietrich believed he could one day design a flying car. Now, at 28, he is doing so.

For the past year, he and two others have quietly been developing plans for a flying car, or Personal Air Vehicle. Dubbed the Transition, it is still in the design stage, but they hope to begin manufacturing it by 2009. Already they have applied for four patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office and have discussed their plans with Federal Aviation Administration officials.

Few who know Dietrich would bet against him. Even by MIT’s standards, he is considered a standout — so much so, in fact, that today he will be announced as the winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. An outside panel of scientists and technologists chose Dietrich for his ”portfolio of novel inventions,” including not just the flying car but also a desktop-size fusion reactor and a lower-cost rocket engine.

They’re not the only ones trying to get flying cars off the ground, though. Also have a look at this SkyCar.

IBM Pushes Chipmaking Below 30nm

IBM pushes optical lithography below 30nm:

IBM researchers have claimed a way to extend traditional chip-manufacturing processes to generate smaller chip circuits, potentially postponing the semiconductor industry’s high-risk conversion to an alternative.

IBM scientists have created high-quality line patterns using deep-ultraviolet (DUV) 193nm optical lithography for spaced ridges 29.9nm wide, below the 32nm point that industry consensus held as the limit for optical lithography techniques.

“Our goal is to push optical lithography as far as we can so the industry does not have to move to any expensive alternatives until absolutely necessary,” said Dr Robert Allen, manager of lithography materials at IBM’s Almaden Research Center.

Eventually, the whole chipmaking process will move to another paradigm. Before that happens, we’ll squeeze the last few years out of Moore’s Law. When Moore’s Law dies, exponential acceleration in computer chip speed will still continue. Moore’s Law only says something about the number of transistors on a chip. But in the future, our chips won’t consist of conventional transistors anymore. They’ll be built at the nanoscale, probably making use of crossbar latches.

Anybody who tells you that chip speeds will soon begin to come to a screeching halt, should definately Google up the other dozens of news articles that all report on methods to keep exponential gains going for quite some time to come.

Singularity Institute Successfully Completes $100.000 Challenge

The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which is working diligently to create a superior artificial intelligence to solve the world’s problems, has succeeded in collecting $100.000 from donors. The amount will be matched by Peter Thiel, former CEO of PayPal.

The money will be used to hire new staff, do more Singularity-research and to educate people on the topic of the Singularity.

Mutant Algae Is Hydrogen Factory

Mutant Algae Is Hydrogen Factory:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have engineered a strain of pond scum that could, with further refinements, produce vast amounts of hydrogen through photosynthesis.

The work, led by plant physiologist Tasios Melis, is so far unpublished. But if it proves correct, it would mean a major breakthrough in using algae as an industrial factory, not only for hydrogen, but for a wide range of products, from biodiesel to cosmetics.

Melis got involved in this research when he and Michael Seibert, a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, figured out how to get hydrogen out of green algae by restricting sulfur from their diet. The plant cells flicked a long-dormant genetic switch to produce hydrogen instead of carbon dioxide. But the quantities of hydrogen they produced were nowhere near enough to scale up the process commercially and profitably.

“When we discovered the sulfur switch, we increased hydrogen production by a factor of 100,000,” says Seibert. “But to make it a commercial technology, we still had to increase the efficiency of the process by another factor of 100.”

Melis’ truncated antennae mutants are a big step in that direction. Now Seibert and others (including James Lee at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and J. Craig Venter at the Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland) are trying to adjust the hydrogen-producing pathway so that it can produce hydrogen 100 percent of the time.

Imagine that… a world in which our cars run on hydrogen, and the hydrogen is being massproduced practically for free.

I think we can all look forward to a world where our transportation is a whole lot cheaper than it is now.

Smart Cars To Hit The Road In 2010

Clever Cars Put The Brakes On Accidents:

In-car technology projects underway in Europe could stop thousands of accidents every year, according to the European Commission.

Driving the development of smarter, safer and cleaner cars is part of the EU’s European Information Society 2010 (i2010) strategy to boost growth and jobs in the digital economy.

The ‘intelligent car’ is one of three i2010 flagship projects aiming to show how IT can improve quality of life. But the EC is warning more work needs to be done.

According to the EU, a series of innovations could put the brakes on accidents across Europe if adopted.

They are:

  • If all vehicles in the EU were equipped with automatic emergency call technology by 2010, road accident fatalities could be reduced by five to 15 per cent. The system could also reduce time lost to traffic congestion by between 10 and 20 per cent, with cost savings of €2bn to €4bn.
  • Autonomous Cruise Control could prevent up to 4,000 accidents per annum if just three per cent of vehicles were equipped with it by 2010.
  • Systems to warn if a car is wandering out of its lane could prevent 1,500 accidents per year, even if a mere 0.6 per cent of vehicles had it installed in four years – or 14,000 accidents if take-up was more like seven per cent.
  • The Awake project is developing a driver ‘hypovigilance’ system that wakes up drowsy drivers, and estimates its work can prevent up to 30 per cent of fatal crashes on motorways and nine per cent of all fatal crashes.

Solar Panels Ready For Home Use?

Scientists of the University of Johannesburg claim to have made a breakthrough in solar panels after 10 years of research:

In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun.

This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past.

The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies.

The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers – in short all the mod-cons of the modern house.

The new technology should be available in South Africa within a year and through a special converter, energy can be fed directly into the wiring of existing houses. New powerful storage units will allow energy storage to meet demands even in winter. The panels are so efficient they can operate through a Cape Town winter. while direct sunlight is ideal for high-energy generation, other daytime light also generates energy via the panels.

If true, then this means solar panels have become cost competative with conventional energy sources. This is remarkable, since extrapolations of solar panel efficiency point out that this should not have happened until about 2010.

But then again, cars weren’t supposed to be driving 130 miles all by themselves, but they did it anyway.

And these are only two of many examples where quantum leaps are made in technology, basically bringing the technology of the future into the present.

Also have a look at these two articles in which Bush states that the U.S. (and by that he probably means the whole world) is on the verge of an energy breakthrough that will startle most Americans (by which he probably means human beings in general):

“Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house,” Bush said. “The vision is this – that technology will become so efficient that you’ll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don’t use the energy you generate you’ll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid.”

Unlocking The Secrets Of Longevity Genes

Scientific American has a lengthy article that goes into detail about unlocking the secrets of longevity genes:

A handful of genes that control the body’s defenses during hard times can also dramatically improve health and prolong life in diverse organisms. Understanding how they work may reveal the keys to extending human life span while banishing diseases of old age.

And in the longer term, we expect that unlocking the secrets of longevity genes will allow society to go beyond treating illnesses associated with aging and prevent them from arising in the first place. It may seem hard to imagine what life will be like when people are able to feel youthful and live relatively free of today’s diseases well into their 90s. Some may wonder whether tinkering with human life span is even a good idea. But at the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy at birth was around 45 years. It has risen to about 75 thanks to the advent of antibiotics and public health measures that allow people to survive or avoid infectious diseases. Society adapted to that dramatic change in average longevity, and few people would want to return to life without those advances. No doubt, future generations accustomed to living past 100 will also look back at our current approaches to improving health as primitive relics of a bygone era.

That’s right!

Before you ask yourself whether tinkering with our biology, ask yourself if you’d like to back in time a hundred or two hundred years.

As Ray Kurzweil writes in one of his books… We didn’t stick to land. Instead we went sailing and flying, and even travelled into outer space. We won’t stick with our biology. Going past our own limits is part of what defines us as humans.

(inaccurately quoted from memory, but the essence is correct)

Anybody interested in detailed talk about longevity related genes, should definately read the source article.

Anti Aging Drugs On The Horizon

Redherring has a detailed article online that discusses the likeability of the arrival of real anti aging medication in the coming years:

But drugs that prevent aging itself are on the distant horizon, and with them could come dramatic social changes, such as much later ages for everything from puberty to retirement, and massive inequality in life expectancy between those who can afford the life-lengthening compounds, and those who can’t. These changes, in turn, would have a significant impact on the global economy.

“What we’re talking about is not curing diseases… but slowing the aging process itself,” said Alan Cohen, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, who on Friday moderated a panel on the topic at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.

“Over the past couple of years, definitely, aging science has experienced momentum and I think we now know enough to consider the consequences of slowing down aging,” Shin-ichiro Imai, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology at Washington University.

The article also reflects on the economic implications of this:

“If anti-aging drugs have effects similar to our assumptions, the ratio jump will be from 0.2 to 0.4 by 2050. In other words, the burden of supporting people if they retired at 65 would double,” added Professor Tuljapurkar.

“It is very difficult to hold down a job after 65,” he added. “We are going to have to rethink career structures away from simply hierarchies.”

He suggests careers where people can work their way up the ladder and back down the ladder again, without firings, shame, or failure.

The article has a good point that increasing lifespans would indeed create problems. But that is only true in a society which only invents rejuvenation therapies, and has no other technological types of progress.

This is ofcourse not how our society works. Next to robots entering the mainstream, we’re looking at a nanotechnological industrial revolution in about 10 years. These technologies will be turning our world upside down, and major economic restructuring will likely be necessary.

As with any other industrial revolution, the result will likely be that we will work less and gain more material posessions at the same time.

On Hydrogen Creation And Storage

The three problems standing in the way of a full blown hydrogen economy are:

  1. Hydrogen creation
  2. Hydrogen storage
  3. Hydrogen usage (fuel cells)

I recently stumbled upon two interesting articles that address the former two.

Researcher Invents New Way To Make Hydrogen:

Borrowing from two different research areas that he’s pursued over his career, Sandia researcher Rich Diver (6218) has invented a whole new way to make hydrogen to power automobiles and homes.

His invention, the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5, for short), splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, using a simple, two-step thermochemical process.

The CR5 is a stack of rings made of a reactive ferrite material, consisting of iron oxide mixed with a metal oxide such as cobalt, magnesium, or nickel oxide. Every other ring rotates in opposite directions. Concentrated solar heat is reflected through a small hole onto one side of the stack of rings. The side of the rings in the sunlit area is hot, while the other side is relatively cold. As the rotating rings pass each other in between these regions, the hot rings heat up the cooler rings, and the colder rings cool down the hot rings. This arrangement results in a conservation of heat entering the system, limiting the energy input required from the sunlight.

Steam runs by the rings on the cooler side causing a chemical reaction to take place, allowing the ferrite material to grab oxygen out of the water, leaving the hydrogen. The hydrogen is then pumped out and compressed for use.

Rich envisions fields of large mirror dish collector systems making hydrogen, which would be stored and sent to stations where hydrogen-electric hybrid vehicles could “fill up.”

Carbon Nanotubes Store Hydrogen:

Imagine this: your fuel gauge is hovering near empty. You stop by the nearest store, turn in your empty hydrogen cartridge, buy a full one and pop it into your car. Presto, you’re on your hydrogen-powered way again, emitting just the faintest traces of water out the tailpipe.

Single-walled carbon nanotubes are essentially a one-atom-thick layer of carbon rolled into a tube. All the carbon atoms are on the surface, allowing easy access for bonding. The carbon atoms have double bonds with each other. The incoming hydrogens break the double bonds, allowing a hydrogen to attach to a carbon while the carbon atoms renew their grip on each other with single bonds. The carbon nanotubes offer safe storage because the hydrogen atoms are bonded to other atoms, rather than freely floating as a potentially explosive gas.

The researchers estimated that five percent of the total weight of the hydrogenated nanotubes came from the hydrogen atoms, and they are already working to boost that number. For its FreedomCAR program, the Department of Energy has set the goal of developing a material that can hold six percent of the total weight in hydrogen by the year 2010. Because hydrogen is the lightest element, the storage material also needs to be light—as is carbon—to hold a high percentage of hydrogen by weight.