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Is long-term Mars living possible?

This week's Question: A recent study created by the Arizona-based Paragon Space Development Corporation says its life support system could help humans survive on Mars. The proposed Environmental Control and Life Support System, the company says, could extract water from Mars’ rocky material and convert some of the water to breathable oxygen. The habitat would be built by autonomous rovers. The study was commissioned by Mars One, a Dutch company that proposes to send colonists on a one-way trip to Mars. What do you think? Is long-term Mars living possible?

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Will robots be suitable emotional companions?

This week's Question: In June, Softbank sold its first 1,000 Pepper robots in less than a minute. Using cameras, touch sensors, an accelerometer, and other sensors in its neural network, Pepper has the ability to read (and develop its own) emotions. According to the company's Web site, the social companion is able to converse, recognize emotions, and move autonomously. Softbank recently announced that the technology will be available for sale beginning August 1st, at the rate of 1,000 per month. What do you think? Will robots be suitable emotional companions?

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Will robo-cabs lower gas emissions?

This week's Question: In last week's Nature Climate Change journal, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers reported that, by 2030, traveling by driverless electric taxi could lower greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 90% compared with the same length ride in a privately owned gas-powered car today. Almost half of the savings is attributable to “right-sizing,” where the size of the taxi deployed is tailored to each trip’s occupancy needs. According to a report by the Rand Corp., all manufacturers working on cars that can drive themselves plan to release vehicles with semi-autonomous features by 2017. What do you think? Will robo-cabs lower gas emissions?

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Will remote-controlled passenger flights take off in the next 5 years?

This week's Question: Last month, the Manassas, VA-based Aurora Flight Sciences Corp. tested its 4100-pound twin-propeller experimental airplane. The Centaur flew without a pilot and within airspace also being used by commercial aircraft. John Langford, the CEO of Aurora, is very optimistic about the test flight and the future of Centaur and other unmanned aircraft. Langford recently told CNN: “I’m a huge believer that the unmanned airplane revolution will make aviation safer for everybody. That isn’t to say there won’t be accidents, but the overall level of safety will go up as the robotic stuff is introduced.” Merging large unmanned aircraft into commercial airspace will require adjustments to aircraft and operator certification, air traffic control, and the FAA's air traffic system. Langford believes that planes like Centaur will be able to fly with FAA approval in 5 to 7 years. What do you think? Will remote-controlled passenger flights take off in the next 5 years?

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Will seaplanes take flight?

This week's Question: As global air traffic increases and airports expand, researchers from Imperial College London's Department of Aeronautics have developed a design concept for a medium to long-range seaplane. The proposed design, the Imperial College team says, may reduce the pressure on inland airports, lower noise pollution, and the halt the need for extensive infrastructure. The design has a V-shape hull, inspired by the flying boat aircraft the 1940s. The hull provides buoyancy and navigability as the plane lands and take off from the water. The team says their concept seaplane design would have the capacity to carry up to 2000 passengers at a time. In an interview with CNN, Dr. Errikos Levis, a researcher in the Department of Aeronautics at Imperial College London, said he doesn't believe seaplanes would replace land planes or match their current fuel efficiency, and it would take a decade for the design to become a reality. What do you think? Will seaplanes take flight?

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Would you implant a technology under your skin?

This week's Question: During a speech at last week's Sensors Expo in Long Beach, California, keynote speaker and NewDealDesign technology designer Gadi Amit explained a new concept that he believes could be the next step in wearable technology. The idea, Project Underskin, is an implantable device that places a display within your palm. Powered by the body's electro-chemical energy, the proposed technology would enable the control of your various wearable devices. Specific quadrants of the device, for example, could act as a glucose sensor, a door opener, a payment confirmation, a data transfer, or a display of your emotional state. Amit imagines that the concept is five to ten years away from reality. What do you think? Would you implant a technology under your skin?

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Will robots hurt the job market?

This week's Question: In a cover article in this month's issue of The Harvard Business Review, two researchers suggest strategies for remaining gainfully employed in an age of robotics and smarter machines. Although the authors concede the advance of automation, editor at large Julia Kirby and Babson College professor Thomas H. Davenport write that machines will increase possibilities for employment and that “the threat of automation” could be reframed as an “opportunity for augmentation." The authors provide examples of opportunities for humans to collaborate with machines, including big-data drug discovery, precision agriculture, design work, and elder care. Machines and computers, however, already perform tasks formerly done by humans, including factory sorting, manufacturing, and even journalism. What do you think? Will robots hurt the job market?

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