The First Big Step By Breakthrough Starshot Toward Interstellar Travel

Breakthrough Starshot, the $100 million initiative aiming to accelerate small spacecraft to a good fraction of the speed of light to send probes to to nearby stars by the mid-21st century, has achieved what might prove to be a “Sputnik moment” in successfully lofting its first spacecraft—the smallest ever launched and operated in orbit.

On June 23, Breakthrough Starshot sent not one but six satellites into low-Earth orbit, riding as supplementary payloads on an Indian rocket PSLV-C38 launching two other educational satellites Max Valier and Venta-1 built by the European space company OHB System AG. These six satellites are comparatively dainty, but punch far above their weight. Called “Sprites,” each is a 4-gram flake of circuit-board just 3.5 centimeters on a side, packing solar panels, computers, sensors and communications equipment into an area equal to a U.S. postage stamp. It is now confirm that at least one of the Sprites (probably the one mounted to Venta-1) is transmitting and has been successfully decoded by several ground stations around the world.

The Sprites seemed to be functioning relatively well for an initial flight. They experienced some communications hiccups. But this is just a small hiccup — the Sprites are just prototypes of the “StarChips” that will eventually launch several decades from now. The goal is to strap a microweight space probe onto a star sail, then fire high-powered pulses of photons from a gargantuan ground-based laser array. This will accelerate it to around 20 percent the speed of light. Starshot plans on sending several at a time, increasing the odds that one or more will make it to their final destination in the Alpha Centauri system.

The Sprites are an important first step. The prototype has been built. Now, it’s just time to scale it up so we can head to the stars.

References:, Scientific American 

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Russia Is Building An AI-Powered Missile That Makes Its Own Decisions

Russia will roll out artificial intelligence-powered missiles in a few years, Tactical Missiles Corporation CEO Boris Obnosov said on Thursday.

“We saw this example, and when the Americans used it in Syria … when it is possible to re-direct [missiles] to targets. Work in this area is under way. This is a very serious field where fundamental research is required. As of today, certain successes are available but we’ll still have to work for several years to achieve specific results,” Obnosov said at the MAKS-2017 international airshow, responding to a question about the development of missiles driven by artificial intelligence.

“It is impossible to build a missile-carrying bomber invisible to radars and supersonic at the same time. This is why focus is placed on stealth capabilities. The PAK DA will carry AI-guided missiles with a range of up to 7,000 kilometers (about 4,350 miles) Such a missile can analyze the aerial and radio-radar situation and determine its direction, altitude and speed. We’re already working on such missiles,”  said General Viktor Bondarev, commander-in-chief of Russia’s air force.

It’s not just missiles that will get a robotic makeover. In May, the head of another leading weapons group said he wanted to bring artificial intelligence to “swarms of drones.” Armen Isaakyan, CEO of the Kronstadt Group, said that, while the technology may take some time to develop, he was looking forward to manufacturing such devices for both military and civilian purposes.

While technically any weapons system capable of making its own decisions based on various sensors and tools incorporates some sort of artificial intelligence, the concept of giving a weapon the power to choose its targets has been a much more recent and controversial innovation.

The U.S. Navy is also planning to weaponize artificial intelligence as part of its Long Range Anti-Ship Missile. While last year, China claimed to pioneer such technology.

Source: TASS

Bitcoin Technology May Split To Create A Clone Virtual Currency

The initiative is being led by a small group of mostly China-based bitcoin miners – who get paid in the currency for contributing computing power to the bitcoin network – who are not happy with proposed improvements to the currency’s technology.

They have initiated what is known as a “fork” – where blockchain, a public ledger of all bitcoin transactions, splits into two potential paths – that is set to be activated on Aug. 1.

A fork, if it goes ahead, would be significant as it could create a new competitor for bitcoin, which remains the oldest and most valuable digital currency. It is not clear if the fork will happen and how much the new coin would be worth.

If the fork goes ahead on Tuesday, anyone owning bitcoins before the split will have access to an equal amount of Bitcoin Cash for free, which they will then be able to trade for fiat currencies – legal tender backed by an issuing government – or other digital currencies.

“This is somewhat like a stock split,” said Jeff Garzik, chief executive and co-founder of Bloq, a blockchain company. “You go to sleep with 100 bitcoins and wake up in the morning with 100 bitcoins plus 100 ‘Bitcoin Cash’, a new token.”

Bitcoin averted a split two weeks ago, when its software developers and miners agreed to implement a software upgrade called the Bitcoin Improvement Proposal (BIP) 91.

BIP 91 was the first step toward a larger effort to upgrade bitcoin through software called SegWit2x, which would make the network faster at processing transactions, such as payments using the virtual currency.

The miners, a powerful segment of the bitcoin community, represent a network of computer operators who validate information on the blockchain. Since bitcoin is powered by open-source code, any group of coders can use it to create clone coins.

Futures of Bitcoin Cash are already trading on certain exchanges at around $282.40. Bitcoin traded at $2,806.27, according to
If the fork goes ahead, users will only be able to receive and sell the new token on certain digital currency exchanges and digital wallet providers, as several have decided not to support it, including Coinbase, BitMEX, and Bitstamp.

“We do not want to support any behavior whereby anyone can potentially split the bitcoin blockchain and effectively create free money out of nothing,” said Greg Dwyer, head of business development at BitMEX.

Two other large exchanges, Kraken and Bitfinex, said they will allow users to trade Bitcoin Cash and will credit them with the same amount of the new token after the fork, if it goes ahead.


Stanford Researchers Develop A New Type Of Soft, Growing Robot

Imagine rescuers searching for people in the rubble of a collapsed building. Instead of digging through the debris by hand or having dogs sniff for signs of life, they bring out a small, air-tight cylinder. They place the device at the entrance of the debris and flip a switch. From one end of the cylinder, a tendril extends into the mass of stones and dirt, like a fast-climbing vine. A camera at the tip of the tendril gives rescuers a view of the otherwise unreachable places beneath the rubble.

This is just one possible application of a new type of robot created by mechanical engineers at Stanford University, detailed in a June 19 Science Robotics paper. Inspired by natural organisms that cover distance by growing — such as vines, fungi and nerve cells — the researchers have made a proof of concept of their soft, growing robot and have run it through some challenging tests.

“Essentially, we’re trying to understand the fundamentals of this new approach to getting mobility or movement out of a mechanism,” explained Allison Okamura, professor of mechanical engineering and senior author of the paper. “It’s very, very different from the way that animals or people get around the world.”

To investigate what their robot can do, the group created prototypes that move through various obstacles, travel toward a designated goal, and grow into a free-standing structure. This robot could serve a wide range of purposes, particularly in the realms of search and rescue and medical devices, the researchers said.

A growing robot

The basic idea behind this robot is straightforward. It’s a tube of soft material folded inside itself, like an inside-out sock, that grows in one direction when the material at the front of the tube everts, as the tube becomes right-side-out. In the prototypes, the material was a thin, cheap plastic and the robot body everted when the scientists pumped pressurized air into the stationary end. In other versions, fluid could replace the pressurized air.

What makes this robot design extremely useful is that the design results in movement of the tip without movement of the body.

“The body lengthens as the material extends from the end but the rest of the body doesn’t move,” explained Elliot Hawkes, a visiting assistant professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara and lead author of the paper. “The body can be stuck to the environment or jammed between rocks, but that doesn’t stop the robot because the tip can continue to progress as new material is added to the end.”

The group tested the benefits of this method for getting the robot from one place to another in several ways. It grew through an obstacle course, where it traveled over flypaper, sticky glue and nails and up an ice wall to deliver a sensor, which could potentially sense carbon dioxide produced by trapped survivors. It successfully completed this course even though it was punctured by the nails because the area that was punctured didn’t continue to move and, as a result, self-sealed by staying on top of the nail.

In other demonstrations, the robot lifted a 100-kilogram crate, grew under a door gap that was 10 percent of its diameter and spiraled on itself to form a free-standing structure that then sent out a radio signal. The robot also maneuvered through the space above a dropped ceiling, which showed how it was able to navigate unknown obstacles as a robot like this might have to do in walls, under roads or inside pipes. Further, it pulled a cable through its body while growing above the dropped ceiling, offering a new method for routing wires in tight spaces.

Difficult environments

“The applications we’re focusing on are those where the robot moves through a difficult environment, where the features are unpredictable and there are unknown spaces,” said Laura Blumenschein, a graduate student in the Okamura lab and co-author of the paper. “If you can put a robot in these environments and it’s unaffected by the obstacles while it’s moving, you don’t need to worry about it getting damaged or stuck as it explores.”

Some iterations of these robots included a control system that differentially inflated the body, which made the robot turn right or left. The researchers developed a software system that based direction decisions on images coming in from a camera at the tip of the robot.

A primary advantage of soft robots is that they can be safer than hard, rigid robots not only because they are soft but also because they are often lightweight. This is especially useful in situations where a robot could be moving in close quarters with a person. Another benefit, in the case of this robot, is that it is flexible and can follow complicated paths. This, however, also poses some challenges.

Joey Greer, a graduate student in the Okamura lab and co-author of the paper, said that controlling a robot requires a precise model of its motion, which is difficult to establish for a soft robot. Rigid robots, by comparison, are much easier to model and control, but are unusable in many situations where flexibility or safety is necessary. “Also, using a camera to guide the robot to a target is a difficult problem because the camera imagery needs to be processed at the rate it is produced. A lot of work went into designing algorithms that both ran fast and produced results that were accurate enough for controlling the soft robot,” Greer said.

Going big — and small

As it exists now, the scientists built the prototype by hand and it is powered through pneumatic air pressure. In the future, the researchers would like to create a version that would be manufactured automatically. Future versions may also grow using liquid, which could help deliver water to people trapped in tight spaces or to put out fires in closed rooms. They are also exploring new, tougher materials, like rip-stop nylon and Kevlar.

The researchers also hope to scale the robot much larger and much smaller to see how it performs. They’ve already created a 1.8 mm version and believe small growing robots could advance medical procedures. In place of a tube that is pushed through the body, this type of soft robot would grow without dragging along delicate structures.

Source: Science Daily

A New, Ultrathin Device Harvests Electricity From Human Motion

Imagine slipping into a jacket, shirt or skirt that powers your cell phone, fitness tracker and other personal electronic devices as you walk, wave and even when you are sitting.

A new, ultrathin energy harvesting system developed at Vanderbilt University’s Nanomaterials and Energy Devices Laboratory has the potential to do just that. Based on battery technology and made from layers of black phosphorus that are only a few atoms thick, the new device generates small amounts of electricity when it is bent or pressed even at the extremely low frequencies characteristic of human motion.

“In the future, I expect that we will all become charging depots for our personal devices by pulling energy directly from our motions and the environment,” said Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering Cary Pint, who directed the research.

The new energy harvesting system is described in a paper titled “Ultralow Frequency Electrochemical Mechanical Strain Energy Harvester using 2D Black Phosphorus Nanosheets” published Jun.21 online by the journal ACS Energy Letters.

“This is timely and exciting research given the growth of wearable devices such as exoskeletons and smart clothing, which could potentially benefit from Dr. Pint’s advances in materials and energy harvesting,” observed Karl Zelik, assistant professor of mechanical and biomedical engineering at Vanderbilt, an expert on the biomechanics of locomotion who did not participate in the device’s development.

Currently, there is a tremendous amount of research aimed at discovering effective ways to tap ambient energy sources. These include mechanical devices designed to extract energy from vibrations and deformations; thermal devices aimed at pulling energy from temperature variations; radiant energy devices that capture energy from light, radio waves and other forms of radiation; and, electrochemical devices that tap biochemical reactions.

“Compared to the other approaches designed to harvest energy from human motion, our method has two fundamental advantages,” said Pint. “The materials are atomically thin and small enough to be impregnated into textiles without affecting the fabric’s look or feel and it can extract energy from movements that are slower than 10 Hertz — 10 cycles per second — over the whole low-frequency window of movements corresponding to human motion.”

Doctoral students Nitin Muralidharan and Mengya Li co-led the effort to make and test the devices. “When you look at Usain Bolt, you see the fastest man on Earth. When I look at him, I see a machine working at 5 Hertz,” said Muralidharan.

Extracting usable energy from such low frequency motion has proven to be extremely challenging. For example, a number of research groups are developing energy harvesters based on piezoelectric materials that convert mechanical strain into electricity. However, these materials often work best at frequencies of more than 100 Hertz. This means that they don’t work for more than a tiny fraction of any human movement so they achieve limited efficiencies of less than 5-10 percent even under optimal conditions.

“Our harvester is calculated to operate at over 25 percent efficiency in an ideal device configuration, and most importantly harvest energy through the whole duration of even slow human motions, such as sitting or standing,” Pint said.

The Vanderbilt lab’s ultrathin energy harvester is based on the group’s research on advanced battery systems. Over the past 3 years, the team has explored the fundamental response of battery materials to bending and stretching. They were the first to demonstrate experimentally that the operating voltage changes when battery materials are placed under stress. Under tension, the voltage rises and under compression, it drops.

The team collaborated with Greg Walker, associate professor of mechanical engineering, who used computer models to validate these observations for lithium battery materials. Results of the study were published Jun. 27 in the journal ACS Nano in an article titled “The MechanoChemistry of Lithium Battery Electrodes.”

These observations led Pint’s team to reconstruct the battery with both positive and negative electrodes made from the same material. Although this prevents the device from storing energy, it allows it to fully exploit the voltage changes caused by bending and twisting and so produce significant amounts of electrical current in response to human motions.

The lab’s initial studies were published in 2016. They were further inspired by a parallel breakthrough by a group at Massachusetts Institute of Technology who produced a postage-stamp-sized device out of silicon and lithium that harvested energy via the effect Pint and his team were investigating.

In response, the Vanderbilt researchers decided to go as thin as possible by using black phosphorus nanosheets: A material has become the latest darling of the 2D materials research community because of its attractive electrical, optical and electrochemical properties.

Because the basic building blocks of the harvester are about 1/5000th the thickness of a human hair, the engineers can make their devices as thin or as thick as needed for specific applications. They have found that bending their prototype devices produces as much as 40 microwatts per square foot and can sustain current generation over the full duration of movements as slow as 0.01 Hertz, one cycle every 100 seconds.

The researchers acknowledge that one of the challenges they face is the relatively low voltage that their device produces. It’s in the millivolt range. However, they are applying their fundamental insights of the process to step up the voltage. They are also exploring the design of electrical components, like LCD displays, that operate at lower than normal voltages.

“One of the peer reviewers for our paper raised the question of safety,” Pint said. “That isn’t a problem here. Batteries usually catch on fire when the positive and negative electrodes are shorted, which ignites the electrolyte. Because our harvester has two identical electrodes, shorting it will do nothing more than inhibit the device from harvesting energy. It is true that our prototype will catch on fire if you put it under a blowtorch but we can eliminate even this concern by using a solid-state electrolyte.”

One of the more futuristic applications of this technology might be electrified clothing. It could power clothes impregnated with liquid crystal displays that allow wearers to change colors and patterns with a swipe on their smartphone. “We are already measuring performance within the ballpark for the power requirement for a medium-sized low-power LCD display when scaling the performance to thickness and areas of the clothes we wear.” Pint said.

Pint also believes there are potential applications for their device beyond power systems. “When incorporated into clothing, our device can translate human motion into an electrical signal with high sensitivity that could provide a historical record of our movements. Or clothes that track our motions in three dimensions could be integrated with virtual reality technology. There are many directions that this could go.”

Source: Sciencedaily

First Time, A US Company Is Offering To Implant Microchips In Its Employees

Three Square Market (32M) is offering implanted chip technology to all of their employees on August 1st, 2017. Employees will be implanted with a RFID chip allowing them to make purchases in their break room micro market, open doors, login to computers, use the copy machine, etc. This program, offered by 32M, is optional for all employees. The company is expecting over 50 staff members to be voluntarily chipped. 32M is partnering with BioHax International and Jowan Osterland.

RFID technology or Radio-Frequency Identification uses electromagnetic fields to identify electronically stored information. Often referred to as “chip” technology, this option has become very popular in the European marketplace. The chip implant uses near-field communications (NFC); the same technology used in contactless credit cards and mobile payments. A chip is implanted between the thumb and forefinger underneath the skin within seconds.

A micro market, also known as a break room market, has become a staple in the U.S. with over 20,000 locations and growing. While in existence for over a decade in the American workplace, the international community began to embrace this only a few years ago. A micro market is a mini convenience store located right in the employee break room using a self-checkout kiosk, similar to what is found at many major retailers. Businesses see multiple benefits when adding a micro market to their location, such as increased employee morale and productivity. 32M entered this growing industry over four years ago and is rapidly growing in market share and believes this technology will help it continue this trajectory.

“We foresee the use of RFID technology to drive everything from making purchases in our office break room market, opening doors, use of copy machines, logging into our office computers, unlocking phones, sharing business cards, storing medical/health information, and used as payment at other RFID terminals. Eventually, this technology will become standardized allowing you to use this as your passport, public transit, all purchasing opportunities, etc.” commented 32M CEO, Todd Westby.
“When working with our operators over in Europe, we came across a company of chipped employees at BioHax International and the concept of using RFID with micro markets quickly grew,” commented 32M VP of International Sales, Tony Danna. “We see chip technology as the next evolution in payment systems, much like micro markets have steadily replaced vending machines. As a leader in micro market technology, it is important that 32M continues leading the way with advancements such as chip implants” added Mr. Westby.

“The international market place is wide-open and we believe that the future trajectory of total market share is going to be driven by who captures this arena first,” said 32M COO Patrick McMullan. “Europe is far more advanced in mobile and chip technology usage than the U.S. and we are thrilled with the growth opportunity this enhancement will bring to us. Thanks to our market partners in Sweden, we met this innovative company and look forward to working with them to take our market share to another level.”

32M is envisioning this technology to help it grow its other self-checkout businesses. “We see this as another payment and identification option that not only can be used in our markets but our other self-checkout / self-service applications that we are now deploying which include convenience stores and fitness centers,” added Mr. McMullan.

Employees will be chipped at the 32M inaugural “chip party” hosted at their headquarters in River Falls, WI on August 1, 2017.

Source: Prolog, 32M

Scientists Have Developed A Flexible Gel Which Is Five Times Stronger Than Steel

Imagine a future where humans wear clothes with soft, mesh-like material that’s robust enough to resist bullets. That will soon become a reality, thanks to a group of scientists at Hokkaido University in Japan. This new gel like material is as durable as metal, has the flexibility of jello, and could revolutionize how our bodies heal and age.

The tough, flexible fabric combines hydrogels, a gelatinous substance made mostly of water — like those found in contact lenses or jello — with glass fibers. This specific combination maximizes its resilience, making the material 100 times tougher than hydrogels and 25 times tougher than glass fiber fabric, based on the amount of energy required to destroy it.

According to the team of Hokkaido University scientists who have spent the past three years working on the material, it is the strongest soft material ever obtained by human beings.

Professor Jian Ping Gong, who leads the team believes the fiber-reinforced hydrogel can be used to produce biomaterials, like artificial organs and prostheses, ready to endure everyday wear-and-tear and can be used as a biological substitute like artificial cartilage, or artificial ligament, or varied forms of artificial organs. Other uses might include sports clothing, helmets or bulletproof vests.

While Gong’s team is still perfecting the technology, they’re already working on collaborations with firms in the field of artificial cartilage.

Source: CNN, MIC

This Tiny Microscope Implanted In The Brain Could Help Restore Lost Eyesight

You’d most likely prefer that doctors restore lost sight or hearing by directly repairing your eyes and ears but Rice University is one step closer to the next big thing: transmitting data directly to your brain using a microscope that weighs about 0.2 grams, about one-five-thousandth the size of a standard microscope.

Engineers at Rice University are working on this project known as FlatScope that sits on your brain to both monitor and trigger neurons modified to be fluorescent when active. They’re planning to make the technology human-ready, thanks to an ambitious initiative funded by the military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

The DARPA initiative encourages scientists to create an implant which will translate brain signals into computer signals and the other way around. The Rice project is just a part of that larger initiative and will rely on other DARPA-funded research to achieve its full potential.

But assuming all those pieces come together, the Rice team thinks it’ll have a device ready that might allow neuroscientists to see the brain at work as never before. It might even restore sight.

To understand how it works, first we need to understand another project inside the larger initiative. Run out of Yale University, it’s working on finding a way to make human neurons light up when they’re doing something. That process has already been developed in mice through genetic engineering, however translating that to humans is trickier. A second related process does the reverse — so when you shine a light on a neuron, it fires.

The FlatScope would sit on an area of the visual cortex and look for flashes of light — from about a million neurons. Algorithms convert that pattern of flashing neurons into an image. That’s inspired by work members of the team have done on a project known as FlatCam, a lens-less camera about the thickness of a dime. However while that project worked in two dimensions, FlatScope needs to add three to see how neurons interact.

The team has already engineered a prototype of the device. So far, they’ve only used it to look at manufactured fluorescing samples, and it still depends on wires for power and to submit its data. But it can already zoom into about the scale required to look at individual neurons.

Once scientists know how neurons act processing visual cues, they must be able to flash light on individual neurons to form the pattern that matches the image they want the person to see — to restore sight to the blind.

Information Source:

Image Source: Rice University


Development of Artificial Synapses To Simulate The Basic Function of Our Nervous System

The most common challenges in the development of Artificial Intelligence is knowing the working of human brain and determining the way to mimic it. Now, a team of researchers reports in ACS Nano that they have developed an artificial synapse capable of simulating a basic processes of our nervous system — the release of inhibitory and stimulatory signals from an equivalent “pre-synaptic” terminal.

The human nervous system is formed of over one hundred trillion synapses, structures that enable neurons to pass electrical and chemical signals to one another. In mammals, these synapses will initiate and inhibit biological messages. several synapses simply relay one style of signal, whereas others will convey each kind at the same time or will switch between the two. To develop AI systems that better mimic human learning, cognition and image recognition, researchers are imitating synapses within the research laboratory with electronic elements. Most current artificial synapses, however, are solely capable of delivering one kind of signal. So, Han Wang, Jing Guo and colleagues sought-after to form a man-made synapse that may reconfigurably send stimulatory and inhibitory signals.

The researchers developed a synaptic device that may reconfigure itself based on voltages applied at the input terminal of the device. A junction manufactured from black phosphorus and tin selenide allows switch between the excitative and inhibitory signals. This new device is flexible and versatile, that is extremely fascinating in artificial neural networks. additionally, the artificial synapses might alter the planning and functions of nervous system simulations.

Source: Science Daily

AlphaGo, Google’s AI Machine has defeated world’s no-1 player of Go

Some of the biggest companies of the world are investing heavily in Artificial Intelligence in a move to make machines more intelligent to reduce the workload of human beings and to increase the productivity with efficiency. IBM with Watson, Elon Musk with Neuralink and Microsoft with Cortana are making news about the advancement of Intelligent Machine. Even some of the biggest thinkers are warning of a doom with the arrival of advance machines, companies are not hesitating to invest more in this technology segment.

AlphaGo has already been in the news for some time, in October 2015 it had beaten Mr Fan Hui with a result of 5-0, who is three time European Champion of Go as it was published in Nature. AlphaGo then went ahead with another accomplishment when it had defeated Mr Lee Sedol, who is considered by many as one of the greatest players. In March 2016 after winning a match with 4-1 in South Korea it reached to highest ranking – 9, which a machine ever achieved.

But in this moth of May Google’s AlphaGo has achieved much greater appreciations when it has defeated Ke Jie, who is a Chinese Grand Master and number -1 player in the world. This win which people initially thought would take more than decades has been achieved within this short period of time will surely boost the ignite of AI geeks.