May 08, 2009

Limits To Growth Examined by J Storrs Hall

J Storrs Hall, President of the Foresigth Institute, has an excellent article on "Limits to Growth Model".

Above is the graph for “services per capita” — the upper purple curve [actual observed result is purple, green is the prediction] is electricity, the bottom ones are literacy. This parameter shows again just how lousy LtG is as a model of any kind of causality. Literacy rates are strongly affected by worldwide religions which prohibit the education of women; electricity rates, and thus usage, are affected by everything from resource depletion, which they are trying to measure, to political distortion of technology substitution. Even so, the real-world graphs are just as consistent with a slow-growth or leveling-off null hypothesis as they are with LtG. No hint of a collapse is to be found.

This 1992 Yale paper re-examined the limits to growth

For pollution analysis in the Limits to Growth Update

J Storrs Hall notes:
The “actual data” line has nothing to do with anything that was considered pollution in 1972; it’s CO2. CO2 is a very cheesy proxy for pollution, since the Earth has a hormesis response to its levels: too little of it would be as disastrous as too much (ice ages). Meanwhile, the levels of actual pollutants have gone down in the more advanced industral societies even as they have gone up in the more recently-developing ones such as China. History indicates that pollution levels rise with industrialization to a certain level and then decline, a phenomenon that LtG completely ignores. (and if we’re substituting, why can’t we have “computing cycles per capita” in Services?) So I would claim that this graph is comparing apples and oranges and says nothing substantive.

All Turner’s figures show is that we’ve been on a nice, steady exponential growth curve. They say nothing whatsoever about “mass starvation and economic collapse.” The paper makes not even the slightest attempt to distinguish cases which would support a simple null hypothesis of continued growth from those which would support LtG. There is not one shred of evidence — none — to support the latter.

Sorry Collapsitarians, Doomers and Dystopians a Full Collapse Will Not Happen

DARPA Trying To Validate New Theory of Intelligence

Darpa’s latest venture, called “Physical Intelligence” (PI) is to prove, mathematically, that the human mind is nothing more than parts and energy. In other words, all brain activities — reasoning, emoting, processing sights and smells — derive from physical mechanisms at work, acting according to the principles of “thermodynamics in open systems.” Thermodynamics is founded on the conversion of energy into work and heat within a system (which could be anything from a test-tube solution to a planet). The processes can be summed up in formalized equations and laws, which are then used to describe how systems react to changes in their surroundings.

The military wants a new equation: one that explains the human mind as a thermodynamic system. Once that’s done, they’re asking for “abiotic, self-organizing electronic and chemical systems” that display the PI principles. More than just computers that think, Darpa wants to re-envision how thought works — and then design computers whose thought processes are governed by the same laws as our own.

The Physical Intelligence program aspires to understand intelligence as a physical phenomenon and to make the first demonstration of the principle in electronic and chemical systems. A central tenet is that intelligence spontaneously evolves as a consequence of thermodynamics in open systems. The program plan is organized around three interrelated task areas: (1) creating a theory (a mathematical formalism) and validating it in natural and engineered systems; (2) building the first human-engineered systems that display physical intelligence in the form of abiotic, self-organizing electronic and chemical systems; and (3) developing analytical tools to support the design and understanding of physically intelligent systems. If successful, the program would launch a revolution of understanding across many fields of human endeavor, demonstrate the first intelligence engineered from first principles, create new classes of electronic, computational, and chemical systems, and create tools to engineer intelligent systems that match the problem/environment in which they will exist. Concepts relevant to the objectives of the Physical Intelligence program can be found in numerous disciplines and areas of research including statistical physics, non-equilibrium thermodynamics, dissipative systems, group theory, collective behavior, complexity theory, consciousness theory, non-linear dynamical systems, complex adaptive systems, systems analysis, multi-scale modeling, control systems, information theory, computation theory, topology, electronics, evolutionary computation, cellular automata, artificial life, origin of life, microbiology, evolutionary biology, evolutionary chemistry, neuropsychology, neurophysiology, brain modeling, organizational behavior, operations research and others.

There will be meetings in June in Reston, VA and in San Jose, CA

East Coast Workshop
Time: June 9, 2009, 7:00am-5:00pm
Location: Hyatt Regency Reston
1800 Presidents Street
Reston, VA 20190
Registration website:
(Password = pieast).

West Coast Workshop
Time: June 11, 2009, 7:00am-5:00pm
Location: Hayes Mansion
200 Edenvale Avenue
San Jose, CA 95136
Registration website:
(Password = piwest).

There is no fee for the PI Proposers' Day Workshops. Registration for each workshop is limited (maximum 100 people; 2 persons per organization) by the venue capacity and early registration is strongly recommended. The Poster Session will be limited to 1 poster per organization with a cut-off of 40 posters total.

There is an online website where project members can interact. The main part of the access to the online interaction requires registration.

Super Soldier 2030

There is a 19 page pdf that describes an integrated vision for Super soldiers in 2030. Many of the pieces are being funded and developed separately. An integrated program has not been funded. However, the United states has over $50 billion per year in undisclosed/classified military projects.

This site has previously covered the $3 billion in DARPA projects to enhance soldier endurance, performance and to develop metabolically dominant soldiers or mechanical and electronic devices for enhancement.

The document is conceptual and is not U.S. Army doctrine, nor is it intended to answer every question raised about warfare in 2030. Their intent is to stir imaginations, and start a dialogue about how best to equip the Soldier.

There are seven major areas within Future Soldier:
1. Human Performance & Training
2. Soldier Protection
3. Lethality
4. Mobility and Logistics
5. Soldier Network
6. Soldier Sensors
7. Soldier Power & Energy

Expected Enhancement and Virtual Reality

Augmented and virtual environments will be ubiquitous and will support almost every facet of warfare including communications, data visualization, system control, and training. Soldiers will be able to move seamlessly among real, augmented, and virtual environments. Using virtual reality (VR) systems and serious gaming technologies will be the primary mode of delivery for personnel selection and training. Training will be embedded and available anytime, anywhere. The training would be augmented with the use of intelligent software agents and modeling and simulation tools resident on every Soldier system type, giving them analytic and decision-making capabilities that dwarf what is currently available to major command posts and rearward C4ISR centers.

Augmenting this capability would be mental and physical readiness assessments that would monitor a Soldiers status in real time using a suite of behavioral, neural, and physiological sensors that would be embedded within all aspects of the Soldiers ensemble. The data would then be captured and used to drive command decisions regarding unit tasking, Soldier assignments, and medical/psychological intervention.
A powered exoskeleton would be available and integrated into the Soldier system. The use of the VR capability would enable Soldiers to interact with robotics, software systems, and hardware platforms via an array of “third generation” interfaces that will rely on natural language commands, gestures, and virtual display/control systems.

Consumer demand and scientific exploration will yield an explosion in cognitive and physical enhancers, including nootropic (smart) drugs, neural prosthetics, and permanent physical prosthetics. These could yield dramatic enhancements in Soldier performance and provide a tremendous edge in combat, but will require the Army to grapple with very serious and difficult ethical issues. At the same time, if societal ethics change to embrace such enhancers, the Army will need to decide to use these types of systems.

• Integrated nanotechnology based exoskeleton – improved speed, strength, and agility
• Cognitive enhancers (nutritional, nootropic or other smart drugs)
• Physical enhancers (nutritional, pharmaceutical)
• Neural prosthetics (controversial now, but perhaps ubiquitous in 2030)
• Behavioral
• Neural
• Internal (fNIR sensing of blood oxygenation, glucose)
• Linked to individual predictive model of Soldier performance as a function of state variables

Soldier Armor and Future Bullets
Nanotechnology is expected to significantly improve the strength and durability of textile fibers through the production of nanocomposite fibers incorporating oriented, high aspect ratio, nanoscale domains. Based on current projections, a significant increase in penetrating power of projectiles is anticipated as tungsten carbide core bullets and tungsten fragmentation rounds become widely available. The anticipated future protection systems will be composite rather than pure textile with the addition of nanocomposite matrixes that react to ballistic, blast, fire, and other threats. The ballistic protection properties are projected to improve by a factor of 10 based on calculated properties for materials such as carbon nanotube-based composites.

These materials could enable the design of armor with bullet protection (against current threats) that meets the areal density goal of 3.5 lb/sq.ft. This value translates into an armor thickness of about 1.7 cm (0.67 in.) for a primarily organic material (such as a carbon nanotube reinforced polymer). A ceramic material with a true density of around 3 g/cc would result in a correspondingly thinner armor of 0.85 cm (0.33 in). A hybrid system designed with outer layers of ceramic and polymer matrix composite backing material would have a thickness of 1.7 cm value. The high strength and stiffness of these materials will allow the protective armor plates to double as mounting points. These materials would also be applicable to head protection

Super Soldier 2030 Weapon System

The Future Soldier weapon system will provide unequalled lethality and versatility on the future battlefield. The weapon system will permit direct and indirect target engagements, while effecting decisively violent and suppressive target effects at extended range and against defilade targets. The counter defilade target engagement high explosive munitions would be effective to 1,000M, while the caseless kinetic energy projectiles will be effective to 600M. Fire control electro-optics would be seamlessly integrated into the Soldier platform, minimizing complexity on the weapon. The weapon aim point will be illuminated on the headgear display and the fire control optoelectronic algorithms would substantially increase the number of observable targets in military operations in urban terrain (MOUT), jungle, desert, and rural environments by electronically tagging targets in the Headgear system’s display. Wireless connectivity to the digital battlefield extends the lethality dimension by creating a “virtual trigger” capability for each Soldier. All dismounted Soldiers will have a “forward observer” capability and will be able to call-for-fire from a suite of air, ground, and water lethality platforms.
The Weapon Subsystem operation is as follows. The target is acquired through normal line-of-sight or through a weapon or headgear mounted sensor. The weapon aim point is illuminated in the Headgear see-thru display and placed on or near the target. A voice actuated or electronic trigger is activated which launches the projectile out of the lightweight weapon platform. The munition will violently explode at the target affecting a 5+m2 lethal area. For the close-in battle, the rifle will also fire caseless kinetic energy munitions. These munitions provide the maximum lethality for a fraction of the weight and size of brass cased ammunition. The rifle itself provides a highly ergonomic, low recoil platform for aiming and firing the ammunition. Key enabling technologies for the lethality include:
Weapon/Munition Pod
• Low Recoil mechanisms
• Nano-composite materials
• Electronic ignition
• Caseless Kinetic Energy Rifle
Fire Control
• Micro-sensors/hyper spectral electro-optics/sensor fusion
• Polymer/adaptive and plastic zooming optics
• Optical Augmentation with dazzle/stun features
• Target state estimation and prediction with predicted target de-confliction
• Target geo-location and hand-off
• Laser radar for closed loop target and munition tracking and munition guidance
• Wireless link to Soldier
• Effect based weapon – target pairing algorithm
• Target classification
• Collaborative engagement
• Non-magnetic digital compass
• Caseless munitions
• Air bursting and scalable munitions from non-lethal to lethal in incremental levels of lethality
• Family of guided small caliber munitions

Lower Body Exoskeleton

Note: Field trials of an early version of the low body exoskeleton are starting now.

A Soldier may be outfitted with a form fitted lower body exoskeleton which will be the foundation for all other applications/modifications to the platform. The lower body unit (LBU) will be unique to that Soldier, providing components that are molded specifically to that Soldier. The Lower Body unit will stay with that Soldier as the Soldier transfers from unit to unit throughout their career.
The LBU will provide strength augmentation to the legs and act as a load carriage platform if need be. The LBU will have its own power source and can be used to power external radios, recharge electronics, power weapons/sensors. The LBU will be capable of being up-armored as well as encased for chemical / pulsed energy weapon protection. Advanced, lightweight polymers and electronics will be field repairable with simple tools that are embedded within the LBU exoskeleton limbs. Although lightweight, the LBU will feel virtually weightless to the Soldier. The LBU will be designed with an Intuitive Learning System that will over time, learn the unique gait and muscle actions of that Soldier. The benefit of such a system is that in times of injury or mobility restrictive wounds, the LBU can assist by “moving” for the Soldier using the gait and muscle actions that the LBU has learned.

Mission Enhancement Chassis for Exoskeleton

As the missions, environments, and threats change, then the enabling exoskeleton would be modified. The LBU will be designed to work independently or in concert with one of several mission enhancement chassis (MAC) options that will be available.

Each MAC will be self-powered to provide additional power and redundancy. A Soldier upon receiving his mission specific details will work with the Squad to allocate capabilities and distribute options. Each MAC will be designed to accomplish a base set of capabilities:
• Enhanced strength and muscle endurance
• Impact and blunt trauma protection
• Self Power options
• Recharge capability
• Unique load carriage options
• Ballistic and Up-armor protection
• Interlocking with LBU creating a full body exoskeleton
• Advanced Headgear Integration

Power System

The main power source would consist of a hybrid device located on the body and consists of a multi-fueled generator combined with a small rechargeable battery. The multi-fueled generator would convert any liquid fuel available in the field (methanol, butanol, jet fuel, diesel, and non-fossil fuel products) directly into electricity via electrochemical means, quietly and efficiently. The rechargeable battery would be a high efficiency nano-structured solid-state composite with lithium nickel cobalt manganese cathode and silicon carbon-black anode. The electronics would also be powered by lightweight, rechargeable, polymeric nano-fiber battery patches (energy densities of ~200 whr/kg) embedded in critical components. The small, flat battery patch would weigh less than 1 ounce. When fully charged, these small-distributed power sources would provide enough energy to power the soldier for up to 3 hours. The generator and the rechargeable battery would be extremely energy and power dense and last the Soldier for up to 4 days. The ensemble will also contain a nano fiber system to capture energy transmitted to the ensemble. The wireless energy transfer system would enable Soldier to recharge without plugging into a device. The energy would be transmitted from the vehicle or other secondary system.

Some Other Highlights

Novel transparent ceramics such as aluminum oxynitride (ALON) spinels or transparent composites with nanophase reinforcement are projected to provide up to 5 times the performance of current transparent materials.

A microelectronics/optics suite integrated into the Headgear system will provide unaided visual, thermal, light amplified, acoustic, NBC detection with laser radar (LADAR) and radar sensor fusion. Multi-band, multi-mode radio frequency (RF/nonRF) communications will permit remote operation of micromachines, unattended microsensors, and/or miniature land robotic devices; communication with organizational assets such as micro unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs); remote detection of CB agents; and communication with non-organizational assets such as large UAVs and space-based satellites.

Wired has a summary of the supersoldier vision for 2030

Uniforms will be packed with nano-antenna arrays, capable of communicating with everything from drones to satellites. The soldiers will all be Hulk-strong, and Spiderman-agile, thanks to their nanotech-based exoskeletons. “Neural prosthetics” and “smart drugs” will make them battlefield geniuses. On-board computers will let them understand every language — and every cultural reference — as if they were natives. Naturally, their flexible, nanofiber uniforms will be all-but-impervious to bullets, flame, and lasers, too.

Magnetic Monopoles Found in Spin Ice

A special material called spin ice, co-discovered in 1997 by Professor Steven Bramwell of the London Centre for Nanotechnology has come close to revealing a secret of the universe.

Most computer memories store information magnetically, and if there was the ability to use magnetic rather than electric charges to read and write bits to and from those stores could have great advantages in speed and flexibility. What's more, the three-dimensional configuration of spin ice might allow for memories of much higher density than is currently possible.

Magnetic Monopoles are described at wikipedia

Spin Ice is described at wikipedia

Tiny magnetic poles that can move around a lump of matter are of interest for another reason: they might be exploited in futuristic memory elements for computers.

A magnet has two poles - north and south - but cut a magnet in half and each half has its own north and south pole. However much you divide a magnet, you can never isolate a pole on its own. You can’t say carry a north pole in your pocket and leave the south pole at home. Yet if such isolated poles or “monopoles” were to exist they would explain a lot about the universe, as first realised by the Paul Dirac, the pioneer of quantum mechanics, in the 1930s. Physicists have hunted for these monopoles for years because of the key role they play in the theory of the universe - but without success.

Ordinary water ice (H2O). has the strange property that the hydrogen (H) atoms remain disordered even at the absolute zero temperature. Spin ice is a substance composed of atoms like tiny magnets which show exactly the same pattern of disorder as ice’s hydrogens (the name ‘spin ice’ arises because the atoms’ magnetism is caused by spinning electrons). It turns out that if you lived inside a lump of spin ice - if spin ice was your universe - then you WOULD be able to isolate magnetic monopoles, as they really exist within the material. This was recently proved by scientists from Oxford, Dresden and Princeton. However, these monopoles cannot escape the material so are not exactly the elementary monopoles from the dawn of time dreamed of by particle physicists

New Scientist Magazine has extensive coverage

It seems the elusive monopoles have been pinned down at last. But Blas Cabrera, who looked for monopoles in cosmic rays passing through his laboratory at Stanford University in the 1980s, sounds a note of caution. The monopoles discovered in spin ice are rather different beasts from those he and others were looking for. For a start, they are some 8000 times less magnetic and are free to move only within the spin ice, not to roam the wider universe. So they are not really analogous to electric charges, and it doesn't look as if they are going to solve the dark matter problem.

Do they count at all? Quite possibly. When Dirac dreamed up his cosmic monopoles, he imagined a vacuum as the lowest possible energy state that free space could assume. Monopoles then represented a higher-energy "excitation" of a vacuum, in much the same way that the low-energy two-in, two-out spin-ice state is excited to create monopoles. The new research even borrows elements of Dirac's description of free-space monopoles - such as the invisible "strings" he envisaged between pairs of poles that have separated. The similarities mean that the interactions of spin-ice monopoles could provide a way to learn about cosmic monopoles by proxy - for example, how they might have interacted in the early universe.

May 07, 2009

Improved Spectroscopy Will Help Detect Earth Sized Planets

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Mass. have created an "astro-comb" to help astronomers detect lighter planets, more like Earth, around distant stars.

Presentation CMII1, "Femtosecond Laser Frequency Comb for Precision Astrophysical Spectroscopy," Chih-Hao Li et al, 3:45 p.m., Monday, June 1.

Right now standard spectroscopy techniques can determine star movements to within a few meters per second (m/sec). In tests, the Harvard researchers are now able to calculate star velocity shifts of less than 1 m/sec, allowing them to more accurately pinpoint the planet's location.

Smithsonian researcher David Phillips says that he and his colleagues expect to reach a velocity resolution of 60 cm/sec, and maybe even 1 cm/sec, which when applied to the activities of large telescopes presently under construction, would open new possibilities in astronomy and astrophysics, including simpler detection of more Earth-like planets.

Astro-comb: revolutionizing precision spectroscopy in astrophysics

Searches for extrasolar planets using the periodic Doppler shift of stellar spectral lines have recently achieved a precision better than 60cm/s. To find a 1-Earth mass planet in an Earth-like orbit, a precision of 5cm/s is necessary. The combination of a laser frequency comb with a Fabry-Perot filtering cavity has been suggested as a promising approach to achieve such Doppler shift resolution via improved spectrograph wavelength calibration. Here we report the fabrication of such a filtered laser comb with up to 40 GHz (~1 Angstrom) line spacing, generated from a 1 GHz repetition-rate source, without compromising long-term stability, reproducibility or spectral resolution. This wide-line-spacing comb (astro-comb) is well matched to the resolving power of high-resolution astrophysical spectrographs. The astrocomb should allow a precision as high as 1cm/s in astronomical readial velocity measurements.

Improved precision in the detection of the motion of stars and galaxies will improve all kinds of astronomy. It will reveal the structure of the universe with several hundred times more accuracy.

Harvard astronomers achieve their great improvement using a frequency comb as the basis for the astro-comb. A special laser system is used to emit light not at a single energy but a series of energies (or frequencies), evenly spaced across a wide range of values. A plot of these narrowly-confined energy components would look like the teeth of a comb, hence the name frequency comb. The energy of these comb-like laser pulses is known so well that they can be used to calibrate the energy of light coming in from the distant star. In effect, the frequency comb approach sharpens the spectroscopy process. The resultant astro-comb should enable a further expansion of extrasolar planetary detection.

E-books with Larger Screens and Soon Brighter Color

A prototype in-plane electrophoretic display consisting of 1,000 pixels.
Credit: Philips

MIT TEchnology Review reports A new approach developed by Philips now offers fresh hope for color e-paper displays that are so bright and clear that even traditional liquid crystal displays (LCDs) will pale in comparison.

The new approach has the potential to create color images that are three times brighter than displays that use color filters, including LCDs. Another aspect that could make in-plane electrophoretics more attractive: the fact that it relies on cheaper and simpler electronics to address the pixels. Electrophorectics promise the possibility of cheaper, flexible displays with brighter colors.

One of the most common e-paper technologies was created by E-Ink and is used for the monochrome screens in a wide range of devices, from Sony's Reader and Amazon's Kindle to Polymer Vision's forthcoming foldable Readius. The technology employs electrophoresis: colored particles dispersed in a liquid that are controlled using an electric field. Each pixel is made of a microcapsule filled with a black oily liquid within which very small white particles are suspended. Because these particles are charged, they can be made to migrate to the top of the microcapsule--the surface of the page--by applying an electric field across them. The presence or absence of these particles at the surface of the screen acts like ink, changing the way that light reflects and giving it a lighter or darker appearance.

Philips's technique, which is called in-plane electrophoretics, differs in that it involves suspending colored particles in a clear liquid and moving them horizontally instead of vertically. Each pixel is made up of two microcapsule chambers: one containing yellow and cyan particles, the other, below, containing magenta and black particles. Within each microcapsule, one set of colored particles is charged positively while the other is charged negatively.

By carefully controlling the voltages at electrodes positioned on the edges of the pixels, it is possible to spread the colored particles across the pixel or remove them from view altogether by hiding them behind the electrodes, says Lenssen. This means that different shades of color can be achieved by controlling how many of each group of colored particles are visible. To create white, all of the particles are simply shifted to the side to reveal the white substrate beneath the two microcapsules.

"It seems like a good approach," says Polymer Vision's van Lieshout. But he notes that the technology is still very much in its infancy compared with more traditional approaches, such as using color filters. Because of this, he believes that the first full-color e-paper displays will use filters.

Electrofluidic Display Technology: Alternative for Color E-Book Displays

Electrofluidic Display Technology (EFD), the first technology to electrically switch the appearance of pigments in a manner that provides visual brilliance equal to conventional printed media.
This new entry into the race for full-color, from the University of Cincinnati, electronic paper can potentially provide better than 85 percent “white-state reflectance,” a performance level required for consumers to accept reflective display applications such as e-books, cell-phones and signage.

“If you compare this technology to what’s been developed previously, there’s no comparison,” says developer Jason Heikenfeld, assistant professor of electrical engineering in UC’s College of Engineering. “We’re ahead by a wide margin in critical categories such as brightness, color saturation and video speed.”

An electrofluidic display is built from two sheets of plastic. Onto one sheet, mesa-like polymer structures are printed to form pixels. For each pixel, a hole taking up 5 to 10 percent of the pixel area (about 50 micrometers) is formed in the polymer and filled with a droplet of pigmented fluid. Surrounding the pixel is a trench cut into the polymer that contains air or oil. The pixels are topped by another sheet of plastic—this one containing a transparent electrode—leaving a 3-µm gap between it and the polymer pixel.

When there is no voltage between the plastic sheets, the pigment will stay inside the hole, essentially invisible to the naked eye. But when a voltage is applied, the pigment is pulled out of the hole and spread out along the glass, revealing its rich color to the viewer. The air or oil surrounding the pixel prevents the pigment in one pixel from spilling into another. Switching off the power lets the pigment recoil back into the hole.

If they meet their potential, electrofluidic displays “would be the best technology there is,” says Russell J. Schwartz, vice president of color technology at Sun Chemical. “It’s got durability, it has brightness of color, it has video speed, it has very low power consumption. So what am I missing?”

Michael Sinclair, a principal researcher working on displays at Microsoft who was not involved in the research, says electrofluidic displays are a novel idea. “The fact that it is a reflective display is a big plus,” says Sinclair. “Competing against the less than 10 percent efficiency of today’s LCD and their backlights, this technique ought to be a tremendous power-efficiency improvement.”

But Sinclair points out that researchers still need to work on a gray scale. And, he notes, if this new technology is to compete with the likes of the E Ink display in the Kindle, the Ohio engineers will have to find a way for the display to hold an image even when the power is off—a property called bistability.

Response time is another challenge. The current prototype has an average response time of just over 30 milliseconds, barely fast enough to display video. But the researchers say they have identified ways to improve the design that would theoretically decrease the response time to less than 1 ms.

Bigger E-book Screens

The Amazon Kindle DX will come with a 9.7 Inch Screen

Fujitsu Flepia Here Already

For about $1000 you can get a Fujitsu color e-book with an 8 inch screen now [in Japan, launched April 20, 2009].

The FLEPia is a color eBook reader that has an 8 inch XGA screen that can display 260000 colors. Other features include Bluetooth and WiFi for connectivity. The device can be expanded up to 4GB in storage capacity by way of an SD card. It measures less then half an inch thick. Battery life will see this color eBook reader last for up to 40 continuous hours which is quite good. The screen is touchscreen allowing you to flick through various eBooks and pages of books.

Update on Cheap Robotic Arms and IBMs Attempt to Revolutionize Automated Question Answering

1. Heartland Robotics Update

Rod Brooks, of Heartland Robotics, pointed out that between iRobot and Foster-Miller, New England has a virtual lock on the military robot business. Brooks wouldn’t give details about what his own company, Heartland Robotics, is up to—but he did say that it’s working on systems that will help American workers be more productive, and that unlike
iRobot, it’s “not doing anything with batteries or wheels.”

Previous Nextbigfuture coverage was that Heartland was going to make cheap sub-$1000 robotic arms for new applications and markets instead of the $10,000+ robotic arms used for car assembly.

Mass High Tech coverage on what Rod Brooks said.

Brooks predicted that as baby boomers age, our population will become top-heavy with seniors. They’ll need services from lawn care to home health care, but there won’t be an adequate younger population to perform those tasks. That will mean fast-growing opportunities in consumer robotics, he said.

2. IBM Computer will try to win Jeopardy!

IBM is trying to revolutionize automated question answering.

The quest for building a computer system that can do open-domain Question Answering is ultimately driven by a broader vision that sees computers operating more effectively in human terms rather than strictly computer terms. They should function in ways that understand complex information requirements, as people would express them, for example, in natural language questions or interactive dialogs. Computers should deliver precise, meaningful responses, and synthesize, integrate, and rapidly reason over the breadth of human knowledge as it is most rapidly and naturally produced -- in natural language text.

The DeepQA project at IBM shapes a grand challenge in Computer Science that aims to illustrate how the wide and growing accessibility of natural language content and the integration and advancement of Natural Language Processing, Information Retrieval, Machine Learning, Knowledge Representation and Reasoning, and massively parallel computation can drive open-domain automatic Question Answering technology to a point where it clearly and consistently rivals the best human performance.

One of OAQA's primary expectations is that QA systems are built according to a common and general architecture that would facilitate Rapid Domain Adaptation. That is, the ability to rapidly customize and adapt the QA system to deliver higher levels of performance on new domains, new data, new languages, and different question types and styles. A common architecture that can be easily extended, customized, and tested by the broader scientific and business community is an important goal for ensuring that QA technology can progress more rapidly to have deeper impact on society and business.

The Jeopardy! Challenge poses a different kind of problem than what is solved by web search. It demands that the computer deeply analyze the question to figure out exactly what is being asked, deeply analyze the available content to extract precise answers, and quickly compute a reliable confidence in light of whatever supporting or refuting information it finds. IBM believes that an effective and general solution to this challenge can help drive the broader impact of automatic question answering in science and the enterprise.

Frequently asked questions about the IBM DeepQA project

How can Watson handle the puns and wordplay that occur in Jeopardy?
By reading many, many texts Watson learns how language is used. That means it learns the context and associations of words, which allows it to deal with some of the wordplay we find in Jeopardy!. But what is special about Watson is that it is able to also produce a confidence in its answer. If that confidence is low, it realizes: maybe it doesn't understand the question--maybe there is a pun or something it's not getting. On the other hand, if the confidence is high, it knows it likely understood the question and stands a good chance of getting that question right.

When will the contest take place on Jeopardy! and who specifically will Watson play against?
The first step is for Watson to demonstrate its worthiness to play against champions by competing in a series of sparring matches starting sometime this year. The date and specific contestants for the final match have not been decided. When the date is set and the contestants are decided, Jeopardy! and IBM will make a public announcement.

Worlds First Quantum Cryptography Network Developed in China

Safe quantum communication will be ready for daily use with the world's first optical quantum cryptography network completed in east China's Anhui Province recently. The American journal Science reported about the result, which was published in the latest issue of Optic Express in April.

The network allows real-time voice telephone among three users, or a broadcast from one user to the other two users by using one-time pad encryption.

Recent revolutionary progress has been achieved by introducing the idea of decoy state, and by turning the idea into systematical and rigorous theory and scheme. By using decoy state within the common setup, one can obtain much higher key generation rates and longer distances (typically from less than 30 km, to more than 100 km), in the same level compared with the case of using true single photon sources. This leads to the first successful demonstration by Lo's group from Canada for 15 km, and later for 60km. Recent research by Pan's group has extended the distance to 200km.

The Abstract from Optic Express:
Field test of a practical secure communication network with decoy-state quantum cryptography

Science Confirms the Obvious : Very Fat Men Less Likely to be Married by 40

Men who were grossly overweight at the age of 18 had nearly 50 percent less chance of being married by their 30s and 40s, an international conference on obesity heard in Amsterdam.

The findings, which held true regardless of the men's intellectual performance or socio-economic position, could suggest that women rank a man's appearance higher than other traits when choosing a partner.

So even if you are rich and powerful, you are still less likely to get married if you are very fat. (At least if you are a swedish man).

Kark's study was conducted among more than 500,000 Swedish men born between 1951 and 1961.

It found that men who had been obese at 18 were 46 percent less likely to be married in 1991, when they were aged between 30 and 40, than men with no weight problem, and 45 percent less likely by 2004.

For men who were overweight but not obese at 18, the chances of marriage were somewhat higher -- 10 percent lower than for men of normal weight in their 30s and nine percent lower in their forties.

May 06, 2009

DNA Box : 3D DNA Nanotechnology

Chemistry World is reporting that Danish researchers have made a nano-sized box out of DNA that can be locked or opened in response to 'keys' made from short strands of DNA. By changing the nature or number of these keys, it should be possible to use the boxes as sensors, drug delivery systems or even molecular computers.

To make the box shape, the team took a long, circular single strand of DNA from a virus that infects bacteria called bacteriophage M13. This M13 sequence is a cheap source of single-stranded DNA and is convenient size for building with. To turn this ring of DNA into a box, the team used a computer to work out exactly the right combination of short strands of complementary DNA which could 'staple' the appropriate areas of the ring together to get the desired box shape. When they mixed the M13 strand with the 220 short 'staple strands' and heated them up for an hour, the boxes neatly self-assembled.

Kjems reveals that the group have already had some success with putting cargo inside the boxes, including enzymes and quantum dots. 'It's quite big (about 30nm) inside - it could fit virus particles or quite big enzymes and other macromolecules.' In terms of applications, Kjems can foresee three main purposes for the box: 'One is as a calculator or logic gate; the second is for controlled release, for example of drugs, in response to external stimuli; and the last is as a sensor - where the thing you are sensing causes the box to open or close and give a readout.'

The DNA origami technique is quite straightforward, Mao comments, so could be applied to all sorts of similar structures. The fact that the box can be easily opened and closed also makes it ideal for moving guest molecules around. 'I'm really looking forward to seeing what the group do next,' he adds.

MIT Technology Review also has coverage.

Deoxyribose sugar cubes: Because complementary regions of DNA like to pair up, researchers were able to design a long strand of DNA that, combined with many tiny DNA staples, would automatically assemble itself into a nano-sized box. This technique is known as DNA origami. Here, the boxes were imaged using cryo-electron tomography to confirm their cubelike structures and hollow interior.
Credit: : Ebbe S. Andersen, Aarhus University

21 pages of supplemental information from the Journal Nature article.

The abstract in the journal Nature. [Nature 459, 73-76 (7 May 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature07971; Received 9 November 2008; Accepted 6 March 2009]
Self-assembly of a nanoscale DNA box with a controllable lid

The unique structural motifs and self-recognition properties of DNA can be exploited to generate self-assembling DNA nanostructures of specific shapes using a 'bottom-up' approach1. Several assembly strategies have been developed for building complex three-dimensional (3D) DNA nanostructures. Recently, the DNA 'origami' method was used to build two-dimensional addressable DNA structures of arbitrary shape that can be used as platforms to arrange nanomaterials with high precision and specificity. A long-term goal of this field has been to construct fully addressable 3D DNA nanostructures. Here we extend the DNA origami method into three dimensions by creating an addressable DNA box 42 36 36 nm3 in size that can be opened in the presence of externally supplied DNA 'keys'. We thoroughly characterize the structure of this DNA box using cryogenic transmission electron microscopy, small-angle X-ray scattering and atomic force microscopy, and use fluorescence resonance energy transfer to optically monitor the opening of the lid. Controlled access to the interior compartment of this DNA nanocontainer could yield several interesting applications, for example as a logic sensor for multiple-sequence signals or for the controlled release of nanocargos.


The DNA origami design software program with documentation and tutorials is
available here:

Current Space Elevators Tether Expectations and Engine Power Density

Spaceward has a page on space elevator feasibility that looks at tether strength and power to weight ratio for the power system for the space elevator climber.

Based on a gradual convergence of experimental and theoretical results, the specific strength of raw CNTs will not exceed 50 MYuri [1 Mega-Yuri = 1 N/Tex = 1 GPa-cc/g]. A failure mechanism known as the Stone-Wales causes spontaneous defects in the Nanotube structure and limits the possible strength. Using 45-50 MYuri CNTs, we can expect a near-flawless spun tether to perform at 40 MYuri, and with a 33% safety margin, we can load the tether at a TSL of 30 MYuri.

Reaching a power mass density of 1.5 – 2.5 kWatt/kg is difficult. The best electric motors today achieve just under 1.5 kWatt/kg, leaving no margin for the PV panels. In order for the complete power system to reach 1.5 kWatt/kg, electric motor weight needs to be reduced by a factor of at least 2

Assuming extropolated technology space elevators are still feasible but space elevators are pushing what might be possible on several levels. More conservative space access systems would seem to be a better way forward.

This sites idea for an underground nuclear cannon could enable cheap launching of a lot material using technology that is already available.

All the nuclear fallout could be contained underground.

We would use an existing nuclear bomb to send propellant at a large projectile which would hold what is being launched.

Full blown molecular manufacturing would provide higher power density for engines.

Space piers, rotovators and nuclear power launches would greatly lower launch costs and should be feasible far earlier than space elevators.

Here is a 100 kilometer tall space pier.

Remember that a 100 kilometer tall space pier is something that is about ten times more feasible than space elevators. More feasible in terms of the strength of materials that are needed.

Genome Sequencing for $100 Funded

NABsys scientists, in close collaboration with scientists at Brown University, are developing a proprietary platform to build solid state, electrically addressable nanopore arrays that can sequence DNA without amplification or labeling. This Hybridization-Assisted Nanopore Sequencing platform combines nanopore sequencing with sequencing-by-hybridization (SBH) to create what NABsys believes will be the lowest cost, fastest whole-genome sequencing technology available.

NABsys has been funded for $4 million.

NABsys aims eclipse the $1,000 genome sequencing cost target with a sequencing system that could potentially sequence a person’s DNA for less than $100 in under an hour. NABsys calls its approach “electronic, solid-state DNA sequencing.” In the process, DNA fragments are supposed to flow into nano-sized pores in a silicon chip. As the molecules of DNA pass through the pores, the system detects changes in the electrical current caused by probes attached to the DNA. The company is developing algorithms to reconstruct the data, generated from the electronic detection of multiple DNA fragments, into the sequence of a whole genome.

Applied Biosystems, a division of Life Technologies Corporation (NASDAQ:LIFE) today announced that its research and development scientists used human disease samples from the Baylor College of Medicine Human Genome Sequencing Center to sequence an entire human genome in a single run at 17-fold coverage using the SOLiD 3 System, the only next-generation advanced genomic analysis platform to achieve this milestone to date.

Scientists at the HGSC are currently equipped with 10 SOLiD Systems and are using them for a variety of human disease research programs, spanning cancer and genetic disorders. As part of two research projects, the SOLiD technology, equipped with new bead finding and quantitation genomic analysis software, was utilized to perform two sequencing runs. The mate pair run, which contained a sample from a genetic disorder, generated 50 billion mappable bases, or 17-fold sequence coverage of the human genome, which is comprised of approximately 3 billion bases. The second was a fragment run, which contained a sample from a brain cancer patient, and yielded 30 billion mappable bases, or 10-fold sequence coverage of the human genome.

May 05, 2009

Interview Dr. Richard Nebel of IEC/Bussard Fusion Project by Sander Olson

EMC2 Fusion is the company that Dr. Richard Nebel is leading to develop IEC/Bussard Fusion. This interview was conducted by Sander Olson as an exclusive for Nextbigfuture.

This site has many articles on IEC fusion and other nuclear fusion efforts.

Question: Could you provide an overview of your nuclear fusion process?
Answer: Our machine is a hybrid machine - part magnetic confinement and part electrostatic. Our approach involves holding plasma together and heating with electrostatic fields. With the parameters that we have put into this device, we have gotten the results that we expected. We are currently using low magnetic fields, and the major issue with this is to what degree it will scale. At this point we don't know the answer to that question.

Question: How is your concept for nuclear fusion different than that of the Government's tokamak project?
Answer: Tokomaks are pure magnetic confinement devices, so the physics on our devices are considerably different than for Tokamaks. The advantage of our system is that high temperatures are not difficult to obtain, but we struggle to get the high densities that magnetic confinement devices do easily. We have disadvantages as well - the things that are difficult for us are easy for them and vice versa. But overall we believe we have a superior concept for several reasons. First, our hybrid system uses PB-11(proton-boron 11) for fuel, which doesn't produce radioactive material. Second, our system is compact, and could be portable enough to be used on ships. Third, this system is cheap to develop and to run - we don't require enormous development budgets like the tokamak does.

Question: How close are you to creating a fusion machine capable of actual energy generation?
Answer: We are hoping to have a net energy production product within six years. It could take longer, but this definitely won't be a 50 year development project.

Question: You are currently operating on a shoestring budget. How are budgetary limitations hampering your work?
Answer: Unsurprisingly, our biggest constraints relate to funding and schedules. Due to time limitations, we haven't been able to test the device as thoroughly as we'd like, and we couldn't put all of the diagnostics on the machine that we initially wanted. But these constraints compel us to operate efficiently and expediently. My biggest concern at this point is getting things right the first time, which is difficult when doing fundamental research.

Question: When is the earliest that an actual fusion plant based on your concept could be built?
Answer: The project that we hope to have out within the next six years will probably be a demo, which won't have the attendant secondary equipment necessary for electricity generation. Hopefully the demo will demonstrate everything that is needed to put a full-scale working plant into commercial production. So if the concept works we could have a commercial plant operating as early as 2020.

Question: How safe would these fusion plants be, relative to fission reactors? What byproducts would they produce?
Answer: There are no radioactive materials or waste made with this process. The only serious hazard with operation are the high voltages involved, which pose a risk to the workers. But that is a risk that conventional powerplants have as well. These machines shouldn't require containment vessels, like the fission machines have. The only byproduct of our fusion process is helium.

Question: How portable could these devices be made? Could they be used to power ships?
Answer: The navy is funding our work because they are interested in using our fusion technique to power their ships. The minimum size on these machines isn't yet clear, and that will depend on how this scales. Dr. Robert Bussard was very interested in using this fusion technique to power spaceships.

Question: What do you estimate a kilowatt hour from your fusion reactor to cost?
Answer: We are looking at 2-5 cents per kilowatt hour. That should make electricity generation less expensive than any alternative, including coal and nuclear. So if this technology works it will be like a silver bullet, and be fundamentally superior to any competing technology. The issue is whether it works or not.

Question: What fuel sources could your fusion system use?
Answer: Our system uses a proton and the boron11 isotope , which is called PB-11. It is easier to run a fusion device on helium 3, since it is easier to generate power out of helium 3. But there are accessibility issues with helium 3, so it is currently extremely expensive. People have argued that we should be mining the moon, since helium 3 is abundant on the moon. But I believe that PB-11 is a superior approach, if we can make it work.

Question: What is your assessment of cold fusion? Will it ever become feasible?
Answer: I don't know if it will ever be feasible or not. What we have seen so far is excess heat production, and we don't know the cause of that. But we should wait and see what the cold fusion proponents accomplish.

Question: Are there any corporations/civilian agencies funding your research?
Answer: There are, but I am not at liberty to discuss that at this point. We currently have multiple funding sources, and certain corporations and private organizations are very interested in this technology. We have had numerous inquiries from various sources, and we tend to be forthright and explain the inherent risks involved. Some corporations are more amenable to funding high-risk projects than others.

Question: If this technology progresses as you hope, how could it affect society?
Answer: If we get super excited about this, than we will lose perspective, and that is deadly for science projects. People who lose perspective tend to start misinterpreting the data to meet their expectations. This technology will either be a world-changing process or a bust. If it works, it will dramatically alter the world within the next two decades. This is a truly disruptive technology, and if successful will result in a safe, cheap, and nearly limitless source of energy.

Here is an interview by Sander Olson with Tom Shelley, VP Marketing for Space Adventures

Here is an interview of Faysal Sohail, managing director of CMEA Ventures, who are funding several robotics companies.

Here is a list of 11 important nuclear fusion and new nuclear fission technologies with pictures for each.

May 04, 2009

Nuclear Fusion and New Nuclear Fission Technology

(H/T to Torulf Greek who created several of the images of Bussard/IEC fusion) and found or created one of the tri-alpha energy images)

1. High Temperature Pebble Bed Reactors

China is starting a full size 250 Megawatt high temperature pebble bed reactor this year (2009) China will be following up by developing factory mass production of pebble bed reactors and deploying several pebble bed reactors at some locations.

(TRISO baseball size pellets used for the pebble bed reactors) are achieving 16% burn-up without failure. To provide some perspective, most light water fuels are only licensed to achieve about 5% burn-up. There is a $7 million project to work on achieving deep burn (60-70% burnup) of TRISO fuel pebbles. 3 to 20 times more uranium can be used in one pass through a reactor. The pebble bed reactors also are basically immune from meltdown. China has run a test where their 10 MW reactor had its coolant turned off and the reactor shutdown by itself.

Higher temperatures mean more efficient conversion of heat to electricity and the reactors can be adapted more easily for industrial uses and could be swapped in to replace coal burners at coal plants. Coal plants could be more easily converted to be carbon free by re-using the site and the steam generators and the power grid connections.

2. Integral Fast Reactors

Integral fast reactors can achieve 99.5% burn up of uranium. They could be used with deeper burning pebble bed reactors and with existing reactors to close the fuel cycle.

3. Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor

Videos explaining the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) are here

There is a proposal to use LFTR to make power cheaper than power from coal plants by making factory mass produced 100 MW reactors.

This reactor like the Integral Fast Reactor can burn up almost all of the nuclear fuel.

4. Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Hybrid

LIFE, an acronym for Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy, is an advanced energy concept under development at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

This system would also enable all of the uranium to be completely burned. Nuclear waste from current plants or waste (unburned fuel) that is currently in storage can also be burned in the fission part of this fusion-fission hybrid. The nuclear fusion part generates the neutrons that transmute the uranium.

5. Compact Tokomak Fusion-Fission Hybrid

U of T at Austin scientists propose destroying nuclear waste from other nuclear fission reactors using a fusion-fission hybrid reactor, the centerpiece of which is a high power Compact Fusion Neutron Source (CFNS) made possible by a crucial invention, the Super X Divertor.

6. Uranium from Seawater

Japan has a plan to scale up uranium from seawater by using modified seaweed as a source of biofuel and to trap uranium from seawater.

Uranium in seawater is a 3.5 billion ton source which is being replenished by river runoff.

There are a lot of regular uranium reserves and uranium in phosphate deposits and with the deeper burn and deep burn of uranium mentioned above (3-30 times more efficient usage of uranium and thorium) there will not be an urgent need for uranium from seawater. However, mastering this capability will ensure tens of thousands to billions of years of fuel supply. (Depending upon rate of usage.)

7. Inertial Electrostatic (IEC/Bussard) Fusion

IEC fusion has gotten another $2 million in funding.

IEC fusion uses magnets to contain an electron cloud in the center. It is a variation on the electron gun and vacuum tube in television technology. Then they inject the fuel (deuterium or lithium, boron) as positive ions. The positive ions get attracted to the high negative charge at a speed sufficient for fusion. Speed and electron volt charge can be converted over to temperature. The electrons hitting the TV screen can be converted from electron volts to 200 million degrees.

The old problem was that if you had a physical grid in the center then you could not get higher than 98% efficiency because ions would collide with the grid. The problem with grids is that the very best you can do is 2% electron losses (the 98% limit). With those kinds of losses net power is impossible. Losses have to get below 1 part in 100,000 or less to get net power. (99.999% efficiency)

Bussard system uses magnets on the outside to contain the electrons and have the electrons go around and around 100,000 times before being lost outside the magnetic field.

The fuel either comes in as ions from an ion gun or it comes in without a charge and some of it is ionized by collisions with the madly spinning electrons. The fuel is affected by the same forces as the electrons but a little differently because it is going much slower. About 64 times slower in the case of Deuterium fuel (a hydrogen with one neutron). Now these positively charged Deuterium ions are attracted to the virtual electrode (the electron cloud) in the center of the machine. So they come rushing in. If they come rushing in fast enough and hit each other just about dead on they join together and make a He3 nucleus (two protons and a neutron) and give off a high energy neutron.

Ions that miss will go rushing through the center and then head for one of the grids. When the voltage field they traveled through equals the energy they had at the center of the machine the ions have given up their energy to the grids (which repel the ions), they then go heading back to the center of the machine where they have another chance at hitting another ion at high enough speed and close enough to
cause a fusion.

8. General Fusion

9. Helion Fusion

Helion Energy has the exclusive license to a novel energy technology, the Fusion Engine. A prototype at 1/3 commercial scale is operational and generating energy from fusion. The Fusion Engine works by forming hot, ionized deuterium and tritium gas known as a Field Reversed Configuration plasma. Two of these plasmas are then electromagnetically accelerated to greater than 1 million mph and then collided in a burn chamber. In this isolated region, temperatures reach 50 million degrees and release enormous amounts of energy.

10. Focus Fusion

Focus Fusion has raised $1.2 million to prove out its system concept over the next two years.

Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Inc., a small research and development company based in West Orange, NJ, has announced the initiation of a two-year-long experimental project to test the scientific feasibility of Focus Fusion, controlled nuclear fusion using the dense plasma focus (DPF) device and hydrogen-boron fuel. Hydrogen-boron fuel produces almost no neutrons and allows the direct conversion of energy into electricity. The goals of the experiment are first, to confirm the achievement the high temperatures first observed in previous experiments at Texas A&M University; second, to greatly increase the efficiency of energy transfer into the tiny plasmoid where the fusion reactions take place; third, to achieve the high magnetic fields needed for the quantum magnetic field effect which will reduce cooling of the plasma by X-ray emission; and finally, to use hydrogen-boron fuel to demonstrate greater fusion energy production than energy fed into the plasma (positive net energy production).

The experiment will be carried out in an experimental facility in New Jersey using a newly-built dense plasma focus device capable of reaching peak currents of more than 2 MA. This will be the most powerful DPF in North America and the second most powerful in the world. For the millionth of the second that the DPF will be operating during each pulse, its capacitor bank will be supplying about one third as much electricity as all electric generators in the United States.

Eric Lerner, Lawrenceville Plasma Physics, Google Talk 64 minutes

11. Tri-alpha Energy

Dr. Hendrik Monkhorst of the Quantum Theory Project and his collaborator, Dr. Norman Rostoker of UC Irvine, designed a novel type of fusion reactor called the Colliding Beam Fusion Reactor (CBFR). Tri-alpha energy is a stealth mode startup that has over $40 million to develop this colliding beam reactor.

Australias Entecho has UAVs and Hoverpod

The Hoverpod is Entecho's personal flight Compact Air Vehicle (CAV) and employs their patented radial drum fan lifting system. With its small footprint and vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) ability, it is easily transported, can be launched from anywhere and fly over any surface; be it snow, water, sand or wetland.

The Hoverpod is the ultimate recreational vehicle, combining the freedom of the hovercraft and All-Terrain-Vehicles (ATV) with the performance of Personal-Watercraft (PWC) and Snowmobiles. The Hoverpod flies at a greater altitude than a conventional hovercraft, allowing it to pass over any terrain. The Hoverpod also enjoys the freedom to tilt and develop translational g-forces in any direction. This omni-directional ability makes the Hoverpod further unique compared to conventional recreational vehicles.

Top speed should be around 120kmh (75 mph), and an initial range of 3km (2 miles) will improve through development.

Entecho are building two models using the enclosed rotor technology. The first is the small, 11 pounds (5kg) unmanned Mupod, which can be used for a variety of UAV applications and measures 3 feet (60cm) in diameter. Entecho have already demonstrated a flying prototype of the Mupod.

The larger Hoverpod is a manned version with up to 3 seats. It's 5 feet (2.7m) in diameter and limited to fly 5 feet (1.5m) above ground - this doesn't make it the flying car everyone's holding out for, but it's a significant improvement on, for example, the standard hovercraft - and opens up a much wider range of passable terrains.

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