The satellite would burn instead of becoming more space debris.
- Orbiting around Earth are hundreds of thousands of bits of space debris.
- Some of this stuff comes plummeting down eventually, but not enough of it.
- Wood satellites would burn up in the atmosphere without falling on anyone or anything.
It's a mess up there<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTEyMTk5Ni9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2NTA3MjMyMH0.zsNUvN1nv_XfYSqJFYlShouIMECG83T5cgr_fjIPlGM/img.jpg?width=980" id="bbd31" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="3f0cc49ce289531245c6dbd612b172b2" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: JohanSwanepoel/Adobe Stock<p>NASA is currently tracking over <a href="https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station/news/orbital_debris.html" target="_blank">500,000 pieces</a> of satellite debris circling the Earth. These bits of mostly aluminum junk whip around the planet as fast as 17,500 mph and constitute a floating minefield that active and manned space vehicles have to find their way through without being struck, or worse, punctured. And those are just the bits large enough to be tracked—those bigger than a marble. There are many more too small to keep an eye on. And the situation is getting worse, with projects such as SpaceX's estimated <a href="https://www.businessinsider.com/spacex-starlink-internet-satellites-percent-failure-rate-space-debris-risk-2020-10" target="_blank">42,000 satellites</a> or Amazon's <a href="https://www.space.com/amazon-kuiper-satellite-constellation-fcc-approval.html" target="_blank">Kuiper project</a>.</p><p>The wood satellites being developed won't do much to solve <em>that</em> problem. However, they will help out with another one: what happens to space debris when its orbit decays and it falls back to Earth? We've been lucky so far. No serious impacts have yet been documented, but with all the discarded metal up there, it seems only a matter of time until something hits somebody or some important thing here on the ground. On top of that, some of it never falls all the way down, and is left as tiny bits of floating metal in the atmosphere. </p><p>Japanese astronaut and professor at Kyoto University Takao Doi tells the <a href="https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55463366" target="_blank">BBC</a>, "We are very concerned with the fact that all the satellites which re-enter the Earth's atmosphere burn and create tiny alumina particles which will float in the upper atmosphere for many years."</p><p>(Fun side note: During Doi's visit to the ISS in March 2008, he became the first person to throw a boomerang in space. It was designed specifically for microgravity.)</p><p>The proposed wooden satellites to be launched by 2023 will simply burn up harmlessly on their way down through the atmosphere.</p>
Wooden response<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTEyMjAzMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0NTE1NTQwOH0.A_O4xbbvLiXN9-PUSQRz3f1riARCcDeobhKztBYXC80/img.jpg?width=980" id="8cf3a" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="7f8d7406e8d6847e017d4609c28eb792" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="aerial view of forest" data-width="1440" data-height="1080" />
Credit: Geran de Klerk/Unsplash<p>If anyone knows how to construct a wood satellite, it would be Sumitomo Forestry, a company that has been foresting and developing wood products for 400 years. Their <a href="https://sfc.jp/english/" target="_blank">website</a> declares that "Happiness grows from trees." In addition to the satellite project, the company is also in the process of designing a mostly wood, $5.8 billion Tokyo skyscraper to be completed by 2041.</p><p>The proposed satellites won't be made of just any wood. The researchers consider its exact formulation to be a trade secret, releasing little in the way of detail. It is known that it will have to be resistant to the temperature extremes it will encounter in space, and the scientists are reportedly considering both the basic material to be used as well as special wood-derived coatings.</p>
Realistically speaking...<p>The wooden satellites may have some advantages in functionality. With wood not being an obstacle to various communication wavelengths, the devices <a href="https://asia.nikkei.com/Business/Science/World-s-first-wooden-satellite-to-be-launched-by-Japan-in-2023" target="_blank">may need less extensive antennae</a>.</p><p>Even so, the proposed satellites, though novel and sort of poetic, may not ultimately be of much help. Satellite casings are just a small part of the space-junk problem—their metal and plastic insides are also left up there to bang into other stuff. There are also lots of spent rocket boosters and such in orbit.</p><p>All of which brings us back to the larger issue of all the debris that never falls back to Earth, as the wooden satellites are meant to. The problem with all this stuff isn't what happens upon re-entry. It never re-enters at all, circling the planet ad infinitum as part of that great garbage dump in the sky.</p>
Boston Dynamics' notorious robot goes on an interplanetary mission.
- NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory announces the deployment of a robotic "dog" for Mars exploration.
- The robot is a modified Boston Dynamics cyberdog familiar to the internet from YouTube videos over the last few years.
- The bot will be autonomous and smart enough to explore Martian caves that may one day provide shelter for human visitors to the Red Planet.
Spot on<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="b815068cbe73c30294078a6d0c63b277"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/wlkCQXHEgjA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In a way, it's the abuse we've seen Spot suffer on YouTube that makes it such an ideal candidate for Mars missions. If Au-Spot falls over, it can right itself, a not insignificant capability when exploring alien terrain—it's one of the current rovers' most significant shortcomings. "Toppling does not mean mission failure," <a href="https://www.livescience.com/agu-mars-robot-dogs.html" target="_blank">noted the scientists</a> introducing the bot. "Using recovery algorithms, the robot can self-right from a multitude of falls."</p><p>The 70-pound Au-Spot is also capable of moving three times faster than existing rovers. </p><p>This means that Au-Spot will be ideal for exploring Martian caves, an area of great interest to those planning future manned missions to the planet. Satellite images of the red planet have revealed <a href="https://www.usgs.gov/center-news/caves-mars" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">over 1,000 potential cave openings</a> already. It may be possible on such journeys for humans to shelter in caves away from the planet's brutal dusts storms, extreme cold, and punishing UV radiation. These places, however, are not places into which current rovers can be sent.</p><p>On the other hand, Au-Spot's remarkable flexibility and smarts will allow Earth-bound scientists to see if the caves can really be of use to future astronauts. The bot pup can get down into such caves and then get itself back out. While there, it can produce 3D maps of the terrain thanks to onboard LIDAR. Built-in AI allows the bot to learn the terrain too, so it can avoid entrapment or damage from collisions with obstacles. It strategically deploys communications modules along the way to keep its command personnel appraised of what it's doing when it's beneath the surface.</p><p>Au-Spot can even intelligently choose between multiple pathways forward, making it a far more flexible tool than current rovers. Most things that rovers do are pre-programmed routines—improvisation requires communicating with a <a href="https://medium.com/predict/how-to-drive-a-mars-rover-6f0870b0c8e1" target="_blank">human controller</a> back on Earth some 22 minutes away as the signal flies.</p>
The rise of Au-Spot<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="93d8d7bf9c12aa82593aeecaf81d1dfa"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/VitjPLRdY8g?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>Au-Spot is the child of a team of 60 scientists and engineers working together as <a href="https://costar.jpl.nasa.gov" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CoSTAR</a>, or the Collaborative SubTerranean Autonomous Resilient Robots. They've customized a factory-fresh Spot, outfitting it with the <a href="https://arxiv.org/pdf/2010.09259.pdf" target="_blank">NeBula</a> (Networked Belief-aware Perceptual Autonomy) system that makes it autonomous enough to successfully navigate new environments, as shown in the DARPA Subterranean Robotics Challenge video above.</p><p>To get Au-Spot mission-ready, the CoSTAR team is putting it through its paces here on Earth. In addition to sending it up and down staircases and such, it's gone on field trips to Northern California's Tulelake lava tubes for some practice on Mars-like terrain and some cave exploration as well. </p><p>At the presentation, the CoSTAR scientists predicted, "These behaviors could one day enable revolutionary scientific missions to take place on the Martian surface and subsurface, thereby pushing the boundaries of NASA's capability in exploring traditionally inaccessible sites."</p>
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
The WashU electrolyzer<iframe src='https://mars.nasa.gov/layout/embed/model/?s=6' width='800' height='450' scrolling='no' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe><p>The WashU electrolyzer—it has no snappy acronym yet—will not be the first device capable of extracting oxygen from Martian water. That honor goes to the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/instruments/moxie/" target="_blank">MOXIE</a>, which is en route to Mars onboard NASA's <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/" target="_blank">Perseverance</a> rover. The rover was launched on July 30, 2020. It will arrive on February 18, 2021, and will perform high-temperature <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water" target="_blank">electrolysis</a> to extract pure oxygen, but no hydrogen.</p><p>In addition to being able to capture hydrogen, the WashU system can even do a better job with oxygen than MOXIE can, extracting 25 times as much from the same amount of water.</p><p>The new system has no problem with Mars' magnesium perchlorate-laced water. On the contrary, the researchers say it ultimately makes their system work better since such high concentrations of salt keep water from freezing on such a cold a planet by lowering the liquid's freezing temperature to -60 °C. He adds it may "also improve the performance of the electrolyzer system by lowering the electrical resistance."</p><p>Cold itself is no issue for the WashU system. It's been tested in a sub-zero (-33 ⁰F, or -36 ⁰C) environment that simulates Mars'.</p><p>"Our novel brine electrolyzer incorporates a lead <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926337318311299" target="_blank">ruthenate pyrochlore</a> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anode" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anode</a> developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode" target="_blank">cathode</a>," explains Ramani. He adds, "These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance."</p>
Back home<p>"This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source," Ramani notes. His colleagues forsee potential applications such as producing oxygen in deep-sea habitats with ample water available, such as underwater research facilities and submarines.</p><p>The study's joint first author Pralay Gayen says that "having demonstrated these electrolyzers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or salt water feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example, through seawater electrolysis."</p>
Researchers make the case for "deep evidential regression."
- MIT researchers claim that deep learning neural networks need better uncertainty analysis to reduce errors.
- "Deep evidential regression" reduces uncertainty after only one pass on a network, greatly reducing time and memory.
- This could help mitigate problems in medical diagnoses, autonomous driving, and much more.
Credit: scharsfinn86 / Adobe Stock<p>On the road, 1 percent could be the difference between stopping at an intersection or rushing through just as another car runs a stop sign. Amini and colleagues wanted to produce a model that could better detect patterns in giant data sets. They named their solution "deep evidential regression."</p><p>Sorting through billions of parameters is no easy task. Amini's model utilizes uncertainly analysis—learning how much error exists within a model and supplying missing data. This approach in deep learning isn't novel, though it often takes a lot of time and memory. Deep evidential regression estimates uncertainty after only one run of the neural network. According to the team, they can assess uncertainty in both input data <em>and</em> the final decision, after which they can either address the neural network or recognize noise in the input data.</p><p>In real-world terms, this is the difference between trusting an initial medical diagnosis or seeking a second opinion. By arming AI with a built-in detection system for uncertainty, a new level of honesty with data is reached—in this model, with pixels. During a test run, the neural network was given novel images; it was able to detect changes imperceptible to the human eye. Ramini believes this technology can also be used to pinpoint <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2020/jan/13/what-are-deepfakes-and-how-can-you-spot-them" target="_blank">deepfakes</a>, a serious problem we must begin to grapple with.</p><p>Any field that uses machine learning will have to factor in uncertainty awareness, be it medicine, cars, or otherwise. As Amini says, </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Any user of the method, whether it's a doctor or a person in the passenger seat of a vehicle, needs to be aware of any risk or uncertainty associated with that decision."</p><p>We might not have to worry about alien robots turning on us (yet), but we should be concerned with that new feature we just downloaded into our electric car. There will be many other issues to face with the emergence of AI in our world—and workforce. The safer we can make the transition, the better. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His new book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
A new method is able to create realistic models of the human heart, which could vastly improve how surgeons train for complex procedures.
- 3D bioprinting involves using printers loaded with biocompatible materials to manufacture living or lifelike structures.
- In a recent paper, a team of engineers from Carnegie Mellon University's College of Engineering developed a new way to 3D bioprint a realistic model of the human heart.
- The model is flexible and strong enough to be sutured, meaning it could improve the ways surgeons train for cardiac surgeries.
Modeling incorporates imaging data into the final 3D printed object.
Credit: Carnegie Mellon University College of Engineering<p>The FRESH technique isn't currently able to 3D bioprint models onto which real cells can grow and form a functional heart, but similar methods may someday make that possible. If scientists can print functional human hearts, it could help the healthcare industry finally meet the demand for heart transplants, which <a href="https://nyulangone.org/news/nyu-langone-addresses-demand-heart-transplants-has-never-been-higher#:~:text=the%20Transplant%20Institute.-,The%20demand%20for%20heart%20transplants%20has%20never%20been%20higher.,rise%20by%20some%2050%20percent." target="_blank">far exceeds supply</a>.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"While major hurdles still exist in bioprinting a full-sized functional human heart, we are proud to help establish its foundational groundwork using the FRESH platform while showing immediate applications for realistic surgical simulation," said Eman Mirdamadi, lead author on the paper, in a statement.</p><p>In the meantime, the team behind the FRESH technique hopes to use it to generate models for other organs, like kidneys and liver. </p>