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Will commercial supersonic planes become a viable way to travel?

This week's Question: NASA announced last week that it was resurrecting a supersonic aircraft called the Quiet SST (“QueSST”). The space agency believes that the traditional sonic boom can be mitigated into a soft thump, or “heartbeat.” Supersonic planes could potentially reduce cross-country travel times to two hours or less, and make a trans-Atlantic trip in a matter of a few hours. The question is whether commercial jet makers and airlines will use the design concept.   What do you think? Will commercial supersonic planes become a viable way to travel?  

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Will driverless cars increase road reliance?

This week's Question: Autonomous vehicles have been touted as a way to combat roadway accidents and reduce energy expenditure and greenhouse gas emissions. A new study from University of Leeds, University of Washington, and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, however, claims that the actual impact may be both positive and negative due to how technology will change humanity’s relationship with vehicles. The study estimated, for example, a 50% to 60% increase in car energy consumption due to travelers choosing to use driverless cars in situations where they would have previously taken alternative transport, such as trains or planes. Additionally, the study predicts that people who currently find it difficult to drive, such as the elderly or those with disabilities, will have increased access to road transport with the advent of the new systems, resulting in an estimated 2% to 10% increase in road energy use for personal travel.  What do you think? Will driverless cars increase road reliance?  

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Do you want to be a "space tourist"?

This week's Question: After more than three years of construction, Virgin Galactic unveiled its new spaceship at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California. Physicist Stephen Hawking named the new vehicle Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity. Although the spacecraft faces an extensive testing period, the company plans to ferry passengers up to 50 miles above the Earth's surface. What do you think? Do you want to be a "space tourist"?  

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Are wearable health devices effective?

This week's Question: The market for smartwatches and fitness bands is growing, but how effective are today's wearable health devices? A study from Lancaster University, the University of the West of England, and Nottingham Trent says that the technologies are marketed under the premise that they will help improve general health and fitness, yet the majority of manufacturers provide no empirical evidence to support the effectiveness of their products. Evidence for the value of the wearables is anecdotal, according to the researchers, and there is little scientific evidence as to how they improve health. What do you think? Are wearable health devices effective?

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Would you like to ride in a Hyperloop?

This week's Question: A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) team took top honors this month at a competition to design the Hyperloop, a high-speed transportation concept from Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk. In the absence of air or surface friction, the Hyperloop design enables passenger pods to travel through airless tubes at more than 600 mph. Using low-energy propulsion systems, the Hyperloop theoretically utilizes air pressure to “hover” above a track. MIT's team will now have the opportunity to build and test its design in the US. The researchers will perform simulations, try out braking systems, and, with great caution, test dangerously strong magnets. What do you think? Would you like to ride in a Hyperloop? 

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Will "Antipodes" take off?

This week's Question: Canadian industrial designer Charles Bombardier has developed an aircraft concept that, in theory, could send passengers from London to New York in 11 minutes. The "Antipode" would have a scramjet engine and wings fitted with rocket boosters, propelling the aircraft to 40,000 feet and enabling the aircraft to reach Mach 5. To bring the concept to reality, engineers are challenged with addressing sonic booms as well as the materials' resistance to high heat. A proposed aerodynamic technique called long penetration mode (LPM), however, would use a nozzle on the aircraft's nose to blow out air and cool down the surface temperature, while also muffling the noise made from breaking the sound barrier. The design is decades away, according to the researchers. What do you think? Will "Antipodes" take off?

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Will a brain modem become a reality?

This week's Question: The U.S. military’s Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) unveiled plans last week to develop a "brain modem." The implantable neural interface allows wearers to transmit data from their brains to external digital devices. DARPA's goal is to achieve this communications link in a biocompatible device no larger than one cubic centimeter in size. Applications of the neural interface technology include boosting a soldier’s hearing or vision by providing additional digital auditory or visual information into the brain. What do you think? Will a brain modem become a reality? 

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