SciTech Briefs

NASA picks concludes poop challenge

On Oct. 16, 2016, NASA opened the Space Poop Challenge to the general public, tasking participants to come up with an innovative way for astronauts to relieve themselves while in their spacesuits. Astronauts spend several hours performing extra-vehicular walks, meaning they do not have access to restroom facilities for extended periods of time. The poop challenge was NASA’s way of addressing this inconvenience. On Wednesday, five ideas were chosen, and the winners received a $30,000 prize. The ideas came from two doctors, a dentist, a product designer, and an engineer.

Spacesuits currently use diapers to solve the problem, which are more than uncomfortable for the occupant. In fact, suit designs have not changed much since the Apollo missions — a consequence of the massive budget cuts the federal space program has seen over the decade.

The winning idea, courtesy of Air Force officer and flight surgeon Thatcher Cardon, draws inspiration from minimally invasive surgical techniques. It uses an airlock disposal mechanism and allows the occupant to change his or her underwear while in the suit. Complementing this ingenious idea are the slender spacesuits Boeing unveiled last month, which make movement is the suits much more unrestricted. An era of comfortable space exploration may be upon us.

Source: NPR

Nokia is re-releasing the 3310

Often referred to as the most reliable phone, the Nokia 3310 will be re-released in 2017. It will be unveiled at the Mobile World Congress later this month. Initially launched in 2000, the phone was a success thanks to its relatively cheap price, efficient battery, small size, and tremendous ability to withstand impact (which spawned an internet meme).

Nokia is hoping to tap into the nostalgia of the millions that used the phone in the early 2000s. The revamp of the 3310 will be sold for only about $60; this will also provide a viable connectivity option for poorer regions of the world, as the phone will be powered by modern processing chips and cellular antennas.

After 2007 and the introduction of the wildly successful iPhone, Nokia struggled to keep up with the smart phone tide. The company was sold to Microsoft soon after, and spend subsequent years releasing retro versions of its most successful phones, such as the Nokia 215. Nokia also ventured into the smartphone sphere, although its sales there were dwarfed by the likes of Apple and Samsung. Perhaps, this is its chance to rise to the top once again.

Source: The Independent

Winston Churchill’s wrote about aliens

In an unearthed essay written by the former prime minister of Britain Winston Churchill, the leader pondered the existence of extraterrestrial life. Churchill sent the essay, titled “Are We Alone in the Universe?” to his publisher on Oct. 16, 1939, a month after Britain entered World War II.

His essay displays his deep thought about the topic. Scientists say Churchill approaches the discussion about extraterrestrial life in a scientific and sophisticated manner, impressing them with his strong reasoning — reasoning quite similar to that of modern scientists concerned with alien life. Churchill writes “I am not sufficiently conceited to think my sun is the only one with a family of planets.” He is correct in saying this, as the probability of life on earth being alone in the universe is extremely low.

Historians believe the essay is inspired by Churchill’s early exposure to science-fiction and academic literature such as ‘War of the Worlds’ by H. G. Wells and ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin. Over his lifetime, Churchill wrote over 30 million words, including African travelogues and a book on oil painting. Thus, it comes as no surprise that he found time to write about aliens while dealing with a world war.

Source: New York Times

Student designs bee-like drones

Reminiscent of a ‘Black Mirror’ episode, a bee robot project has been started by Savannah College of Art industrial design student Anna Haldewang. Inspired by a challenge posed by her professor as well as the need to highlight the necessity of bees in agriculture, Haldewang designed a miniature robot that sucks up pollen and transfers it to other plants, just like bees do. It is wittingly called the Plan Bee project.

The drone consists of a small foam body to make it light, as well as propellers to keep it airborne. Minute holes at the bottom of the body suck pollen in and drop it out. The drone looks nothing like a bee and the pollinating action does not rely on mechanics or electronics.

A patent has already been submitted, and Haldewang hopes to have a market-ready product in two years. The primary use of Plan Bee will be as an educational tool, since it will allow people to actively monitor how pollination occurs. Many see much grander uses of the drone, such as in large-scale farming. However, the dystopian future depicted in ‘Black Mirror’ is far off.

Source: CNN

Drone taxis are now a reality in Dubai

Dubai is the first city to test drone taxis on the public. The drone taxis are no bigger than a smart car and can only fit one person with luggage (all below 220 lbs). The drones will have a travel radius of about 31 miles and reach maximum speeds of 62 miles per hour. The rider simply sits in the taxi and enters the final destination — no flight is performed manually.

The iron taxi will certainly not replace the traditional road taxi, especially since it only fits a single person. Nonetheless, if the trial is to succeed, it will have major implications on transport in Dubai — which has some of the deadliest roads — and around the world. Congestion is on the rise in many cities with the rise in car ownership, so the drone taxi is a possible solution. The pilotless drone will also dramatically reduce labor costs for companies. Its no wonder Uber is looking into flying cars.

Source: The Economist

iPhone 8 will be radically different

A new leak has confirmed suspicions that Apple’s next iPhone will be radically different. In a memo obtained by 9to5Mac — a website dedicated to all things Apple — top Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo revealed many new features that will most-likely be present on the next iPhone.

The first and most obvious change will be the removal of the home button. It will be replaced with a ‘functionality area’, much like the Touch Bar on the latest MacBooks. It will adapt to whatever the user is doing and display the appropriate buttons and information.

The display is also seeing a major upgrade. The screen will not have a bezel, making it a whopping 5.8 inches and curved glass at the edges. The display will use OLED (organic light-emitting diodes), which produces richer and more distinct colors, especially in naturally and darkly lit places.

To add to this, Touch ID may be no more. Apple might replace the security measure with other biometric checks like iris scanning or face recognition. The phone will probably be announced this September, and available for shipping in October.

Source: Forbes