Maryland’s Maglev Train Gets First Round Of Federal Funding

Maglev Train in Shanghai

For the past forever, high-speed rail in the United States has existed as a sugarplum dream, sweet to think about, but dissolving instantly upon contact with reality. One of the sweetest and fastest of these dreams is maglev trains, a super-high-speed rail system that already exists in other parts of the world, reaching speeds of 373 miles per hour in Japan. Soon, our high-speed aspirations might become reality thanks to new funding for maglev research here in the United States.

On Saturday, the office of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that the state had received a $27.8 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to assess the feasibility of a superconducting maglev (also known as SCMaglev) train line between Baltimore and Washington DC.

Currently, the trip between Baltimore and Washington DC takes about an hour by car, approximately an hour and 15 minutes by commuter rail, and 40 minutes via the only current high-speed option, the Acela Express. A new maglev route could reduce that down to 15 minutes.

“The ability to travel between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. in only 15 minutes

A New Coat Is Made From Biotech Spider Silk

For the past three weeks, outdoor apparel maker The North Face and materials company Spiber have been touring a gold-colored parka across Japan. The prototype, called the “Moon Parka,” is a first—a coat whose outer shell is spun from synthetic spider silk.

“Not since DuPont first launched Lycra 40 years ago has a textile come along set to revolutionize the fashion industry,” says Suzanne Lee, founder of Biofabricate, a design and biotech conference, and author of Fashioning the Future.

Light, supple, stretchy, and stronger than steel, spider silk has long been sought as a thread for all sorts of uses, including bulletproof vests, wound dressings, and car materials. But spiders don’t lend themselves to industrial harvesting, unless by extraordinary means, because they cannibalize each other when confined together.

Spiber’s Qmonos fabric is made from bioengineered microbes.

Over the last decade, a series of companies has sought to create spider silk with little financial success. Most famously, Nexia, whose bioengineered “spider goats” secreted spider proteins in their milk, folded in 2009.

A new batch of companies, however, has taken the

How Google Aims To Dominate AI

Google Photos researcher Tom Duerig

Today Google is announcing TensorFlow, its open ­source platform for machine learning, giving anyone a computer and internet connection (and casual background in deep learning algorithms) access to one of the most powerful machine learning platforms ever created. More than 50 Google products have adopted TensorFlow to harness deep learning (machine learning using deep neural networks) as a tool, from identifying you and your friends in the Photos app to refining its core search engine. Google has become a machine learning company. Now they’re taking what makes their services special, and giving it to the world.
Introducing TensorFlow, the Android of AI

TensorFlow is a library of files that allows researchers and computer scientists to build systems that break down data, like photos or voice recordings, and have the computer make future decisions based on that information. This is the basis of machine learning: computers understanding data, and then using it to make decisions. When scaled to be very complex, machine learning is a stab at making computers smarter. That’s the broader, and more ill-defined field of artificial intelligence. TensorFlow is extraordinary complex, because of

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Energy-efficient reaction drives biofuel conversion technology

A new study from the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory explains the mechanism behind a technology that converts bio-based ethanol into hydrocarbon blend-stocks for use as fossil fuel alternatives.

Scientists have experimented for decades with a class of catalysts known as zeolites that transform alcohols such as ethanol into higher-grade hydrocarbons. As ORNL researchers were developing a new type of zeolite-based conversion technology, they found the underlying reaction unfolds in a different manner than previously thought.

“For 40 years, everyone thought that these reactions must go first from ethanol to ethylene, and then from there it forms longer chains. We were able to show that it’s not how this occurs,” said ORNL’s Brian Davison, coauthor on the study published in Scientific Reports.

The researchers’ analysis found that this energy-consuming intermediary step is not necessary for the conversion to happen. Instead, an energy-producing “hydrocarbon pool” mechanism allows the zeolite catalysts to directly produce longer hydrocarbon chains from the original alcohols.

“It challenges a long-held but incorrect assumption,” said ORNL coauthor Chaitanya Narula. “It has been assumed that you must go from ethanol to ethylene, which is endothermic and requires energy. We showed this step doesn’t occur, and that the overall

What Is A Digital To Analog Converter, And Do You Need One

If you’ve ever wondered why the sound you hear through your laptop’s headphone jack is wildly different from the sound that comes through your stereo system, the short answer is that your laptop is missing one of the key steps to make sound out of numbers: digital to analog conversion.

Better home audio is a nebulous world of micro-advances in technology that are tedious enough to make your head spin like a record. It’s a frustrating, seemingly endless struggle to improve what we hear. And as more and more of what we listen to comes from our hard drives and cloud services, we’re less dependent on the medium itself and more dependent on the technology that turns data to drum beats.

But the audio company, Schiit, which started back in 2010, argues that the best way to maximize the sound that comes into your headphones is to connect the headphones via USB to an external digital-to-analog converter (DAC). The idea is that, whether you have lossless, uncompressed files (which, unlike stripped down MP3s, hold more information and more accurately represent the original sound), iTunes, or a streaming service like Spotify, you’re not getting the full potential without a middleman.

Automated Car Vending Machine Opens In Nashville

Carvana started as a way to buy cars online. Ernie Garcia, Carvana’s CEO, wanted to take the hassle out of haggling prices and signing paperwork. And he also hoped to shave a little off the cars’ prices as well. So, like any good entrepreneur, he looked toward the Internet and automation, which led to them creating a car vending machine. The facility opened on Thursday in Nashville, Tennessee.

Selling cars out of a giant robotic vending machine might sound like a fun gimmick, but doing something radically different from other dealerships, according to Garcia, makes a lot of economic sense.

“The lack of differentiation locked everyone into the exact same cost structure that forced them to attract customers with a low-priced car, and then put them in a back room and try to sell them thousands of dollars of things they don’t really need, in order to make up for their undifferentiated cost structure,” Garcia told Popular Science.

So, drawing up the paperwork, selling cars online, and delivering them via vending machine means Carvana doesn’t need to have a robustly staffed car

Computer Vision Is Better At Seeing Your Secret Emotions Than Humans

A lot of people aren’t able to perceive micro expressions. They’re the tiny facial ticks that reveal what we’re feeling when we’re trying not to let it show. So, understanding those micro expressions could allow you to look deeper into peoples’ faces and know what what’s really going on inside.

But even people who can perceive micro expressions aren’t always accurate. In 2012, researchers in Finland described what they claimed to be the first system that used a computer to detect micro expressions. In the paper, they write that computers are particularly attractive in this field, since humans are only correct about 47 percent of the time.

And computers have only gotten better at their craft. In a paper submitted to arXiv, Xiaobai Li and a team of researchers (also in Finland), share their new machine vision algorithm. And they say it’s better at reading human faces than humans themselves. To test it, they first needed a database of what all of these micro expressions look like. To create the database, they asked 20 study participants to watch videos designed to elicit an emotional response. But, they were told, if they did demonstrate a response, they would have to

Gene Amdahl, The Man Behind The Mainframe, Dies At Age 92

Gene Amdahl, the man credited with pioneering mainframe design at IBM, died on Tuesday at the age of 92. Growing up without electricity in South Dakota, Amdahl went on to study engineering physics and theoretical physics. When he was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, he developed an early digital computer known as the Wisconsin Integrally Synchronized Computer for his PhD thesis.

Amdahl joined IBM right after he graduated, having been recruited while in school. He was instrumental in developing IBM’s mainframe system, known as the System/360 series. It was introduced at a shareholder’s meeting on April 7, 1964, and became the most successful line of mainframe systems for IBM. And indeed, the design and architecture was evident in computers for decades to come.

Amdahl worked at IBM for six years, before leaving to forge his own path. He went on to found a rival company called the Amdahl Corporation in 1970 which built faster, cheaper hardware that was compatible with IBM software, and it became the first company to truly compete with IBM. The corporation became part of Fujitsu in 1997 and is no longer a stand-alone company, but the Computer History Museum notes that Amdahl

Hyperloop Tech CEO Predicts The Hyperloop Could Become Reality

Rob Lloyd is working towards a “Kitty Hawk” moment.

That’s what the CEO of the startup company Hyperloop Tech revealed during a presentation at Web Summit in Dublin last week, referring to the time and place (December 17, 1903, in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina) when the Wright brothers achieved manned flight for a few seconds, forever chaging transportation as we know it.

Now Lloyd and others like him in the tech innovation space are also seeking forever change transportation using the Hyperloop— high speed pods that levitate off tracks, offering an “on-demand” method of transportation. The goal: a system that could send people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 30 minutes.

In 2013, Elon Musk, chief executive of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, posed the idea of the Hyperloop. Back then, it sounded like something out of “The Jetsons.” But today, just two years later, transportation innovation companies are racing to make that dream a reality. And Hyperloop Tech is leading the way.

At Web Summit, I sat down with Lloyd, who is the former president of Cisco, to discuss the future of the Hyperloop. When Lloyd joined Hyperloop Tech in September, he became a part of an

The Selfie Of The Future Is A 3D Figure

If you are waiting for the selfie trend to go away, make sure you’re in a comfortable spot. As selfies continue to dominate social media platforms, a new app from the Swiss company Dacuda plans to bring the selfie into the three dimensional world. The company just unveiled an app that puts sophisticated 3D scanning technology in the hands of anyone with a smart phone and reasonable hand-eye coordination.

And yes, the new app is built around an algorithm precisely tailored for taking selfies.

A beta version of the app, currently called 3DSelfie, will be available later this year and is set to be announced on November 23rd. However, the name 3DSelfie is a placeholder as the official name is still in the works and may change by then. In the meantime, Dacuda provided a preview earlier this month at TEDxCambridge 2015. Dacuda founder and Vice President Erik Fonseka recently spoke with Popular Science about the new app.

The app works by connecting mobile 3D scanning

Tiny Machine Paddles Water, Eats Pollution, Spits Out Electricity

Inside these tiny machines is a colony of hungry bacteria, yearning to eat. The row-bot, as this charming little device is named, paddles about on the surface of water, funneling waste and pollution into its bacteria-rich stomach and receiving electrical power in return. It’s a self-sufficient cleaner on a tiny scale, made to bob in the sea and eat tiny bites of waste until there’s nothing left.

Presented last month at the IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems in Hamburg, Germany, the paper “Row-bot: An Energetically Autonomous Artificial Water Boatman” by a team of academic researchers in Bristol, details the design and development of the tiny garbage-eating machines. The initial goal was to create a machine that could forage, like a wild animal, so it wasn’t dependent on humans to constantly recharge and reenergize itself. Inspired also by the water boatman insect, the robot they created is a tiny, hungry, buoyant surface skimmer.

For flotation, the machine has four little stabilizers. To move, there are two paddles in the middle of its body, which have flexible flipper joints to make sure they move efficiently and minimize drag. Powering the row-bot is a bacteria-filled fuel cell. In the

Microsoft’s Huge Update Could Bring Artificial Intelligence To Your Apps

This has been a good week for artificial intelligence: On Monday, Google publicly released TensorFlow, a powerful machine learning platform that researchers can use to create their own artificial intelligence programs. On Tuesday Nvidia announced a sizable update to its supercomputer-on-a-chip, the Jetson TX1. Now Microsoft has updated its own suite of artificial intelligence tools, called Project Oxford, with a series of powerful new features that could soon find their way in apps used by all of us, including a program that identifies human emotion, and another that can identify individual human voices in a noisy room.

The big new features include a series of new application programming interfaces (APIs), which are tools that software developers outside Microsoft can use to build their own independent apps. Microsoft mainly hyped its Emotion API, which uses machine learning to recognize eight states of emotion (anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness, or surprise), based on facial expressions. (It’s a lot like the work of Paul Ekman, more popularly made into the defunct TV show “Lie To Me.”)

The Emotion API is available today, and was debuted earlier in the week in MyMoustache, a moustache-identifying web application for the Movember charity.


The Plastic Used In 3D Printers Is Toxic To Some Fish

Toxins from 3D printed plastic discs disrupted the development of zebrafish embryos, according to a study published last week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology Letters.

A year ago, researchers at the University of California Riverside bought a 3D printer to help with their research in zebrafish embryos, but they were dismayed to find that the embryos were dying after being exposed to the chemicals.

The researchers decided to investigate whether it was the chemicals causing the problem and if so, which ones. They decided to test proprietary plastics from two different 3D printers–one, called Dimension Elite, which creates an object by melting solid plastic then cooling it into the desired shape, and another called Form 1+ that starts with liquid resin. The researchers printed a total of six small plastic discs, two from each printer. Each disc was then placed in a tank with 30 newly fertilized zebrafish embryos and left there for four to seven days.

University of California, Riverside

From left to right, liquid resin used in some 3D printers, piece of plastic 3D-printed from liquid resin, and a resin piece after being treated with UV light.


Amateur Hobbyists Fire A Muzzle Loading Railgun

Properly built, railguns could be a world changing weapon. Electromagnetic forces accelerating projectiles at high speeds means powerful guns could one day again line the decks of ships. And the Navy has taken note. It is investing in railguns for the future, and is already building ships that would someday carry the sophisticated weapon. This 250 pound railgun, built by YouTube user Ziggy Zee, though, is not that kind of a tool. Zee’s craft built, muzzle-loading single shot circuit-frying railgun is very much not that. Here’s the gun’s first shot:

The first test showed that the gun worked, but the voltage fried all circuit connections and even dislodged the wires from the railgun itself. The team behind the railgun set to work to further refine the design. For test number five, the railgun was powered by 27,000 Joules. Here it is firing a shot into a block of ballistic gel (slowed down for dramatic effect):

Further tests see the railgun destroying smartphones, pumpkins, ceramics, and even, in a video released yesterday, a piggy bank.

The railgun is the result of two

Scans Reveal Strange Warm Spot At Giza Pyramid

There’s a lot we know about the iconic Pyramids at Giza. We know they were built thousands of years ago to hold royal mummies and grave goods (not grain). The pyramids were likewise not the home/landing site/temples of aliens dead set on taking over humanity.

That’s what we know. But despite the fact that humans have been studying the pyramids for centuries, these giant structures still have some secrets that we haven’t uncovered yet. Earlier this week, Egypt’s antiquities ministry announced that researchers have noticed strange thermal readings during scans of the largest of the Giza pyramids.

After scanning the pyramids with instruments designed to take the temperature of the structures’ stones, researchers noticed three stones near the base of the pyramid that were slightly warmer than the surrounding facade. The scientists aren’t sure why the stones are warmer, but they speculate that it could be because of different materials or space within the structure, potentially indicating a hidden room.

The finding is an exciting start to a research project that also hopes to image the pyramid with subatomic particles. The first phase ended last Sunday, but research will continue into 2016. Future phases, including drone-mounted

MIT’s LineFORM Snakebot Wants To Replace Your Cell Phone

In the age of screens, technology lacks a certain tactile edge to it. What if, instead of watches with screens, we instead wore on our wrists robotic snakes? Or perhaps, instead of rectangular slabs for phones, we held up to our heads robotic snakes? Want a lamp to stay in the right place while reading? Why not attach a lightbulb to the body of a robotic snake. Instead of transferring files through emotionless cords, what if the files traveled through robotic snakes, which undulated as they passed.

Does this seem like too many uses for a snake robot? Don’t get yourself in knots over it.

LineFORM is a robot from MIT’s Tangible Media Lab, which takes a snake-like robot and turns it into a physical interface. The robot does all those things mentioned above and more, functioning as a smart ruler, a physical extension of a digital model, a touch pad, and more. The machine is the interface and the display. It sounds silly, but we can’t deny the aesthetic appeal of its movements, especially when a mundane task like transferring a file suddenly takes on physical form:

This snakebot is the art

In Greece, Driverless Buses Are Now Accepting Passengers

Greek commuters have a new way to get to work: a completely driverless bus that operates within normal traffic. The buses are part of a program that has been running in Trikala, Greece, since earlier this summer, but so far they’ve only been tested without passengers–up until last Saturday, that is. Now people will be able to use the buses to get around. The trip is completely free of charge, and could be safer and more efficient than buses driven by humans.

“It’s the first time someone dared to bring a totally automated vehicle into open traffic,” Angelos Amditis tells Popular Science. Amditis is the research director at Greece’s Institute of Communication and Computer Systems, which is handling the technical side of the project. Previously, automated vehicles in Greece were either operated only in segregated lanes or exhibition areas, or under the supervision of a professional driver in case of emergency. There’s no human backup for Trikala’s six automated buses, which operate surrounded by other cars, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

New laws had to be passed to make way for the project, and