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Will We Be a "Spacefaring Nation?"

NASA's Chief Technologist Mason Peck delivered the keynote address, "Technology and the Future," at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Fall Symposium in Hampton, Virginia. The speech showed that Peck envisions a "spacefaring nation" where our relationship with spacecraft, space hardware, or data from space is as strong as our current relationship with the Internet, smartphones, and personal computers. He believes that the new relationship could boil down to "killer apps," space tourism, or space medicine. Identification of this type of app is "close," according to Peck. Will our relationship with spacecraft soon be as strong as today's technologies like the Internet and smartphones?

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Will Drones Beam Wi-fi from the Skies?

If a future hurricane causes power outages, regulators say they could float wireless antennas from balloons or drones to solve problems with telecommunications networks. The Federal Communications Commission is exploring the use of such airborne technology to restore communications after disasters. Beaming 3G or Wi-Fi signals may be especially helpful for first responders after a hurricane. There are still questions, however, of how the technology would be implemented. Commercial wireless providers have never used such technology to serve customers after a disaster. Drones, too, would need to comply with federal aviation regulations, and floating wireless equipment could interfere with signals at cell phone towers.

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Will That Be Our Best Idea?

A new asteroid-deflecting idea proposes that paintballs shot into space could prevent a dangerous asteroid from colliding with Earth. The initial force from the paintballs would veer the asteroid slightly off course. The paint resulting from the splattered pellets would more than double the asteroid's sunlight reflectivity. The increase of photons bouncing off the rock's surface would enhance solar radiation pressure and bump it further off course. The strategy, unveiled in October, won the 2012 Move an Asteroid Technical Paper Competition, sponsored by the United Nations' Space Generation Advisory Council.

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Will We See a Greater Use of 'Beaming' Avatar Technology?

Researchers successfully tested a beaming technology that allowed humans and a rat to interact through virtual reality avatars. Using digital representations of themselves, the researchers enabled the rat to interact with a rat-sized robot controlled by a human participant in a different location. Similarly, the "virtual" human participant interacted with a human-sized avatar controlled by the movements of the distant rat. The researchers say that the ability to digitally transport a representation of a person to a distant place could help scientists study behavior in new ways.

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Will We Accept the Use of Robots for Personal Care or Social Activities?

A study by the Georgia Institute of Technology indicates that older adults are willing to use robots for the daily activities that become more challenging with age, unless the tasks involve personal care or social activities. After showing adults (ages 65 to 93 years) a video of a robot's capabilities, the researchers interviewed them about their willingness for assistance with 48 common household tasks. Participants generally preferred robotic help over human help for chores such as cleaning the kitchen, doing laundry, and taking out the trash. When it came to help getting dressed, eating, and bathing, however, the adults tended to say they would prefer human assistance over robot assistance.

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Is Affective Programming a Promising Technology?

The New York Times recently reported on Egyptian programmers' attempts to train computers to recognize facial expressions and define human emotion. This emerging technology field called "affective programming" could be used in a variety of applications, such as providing better learning experiences for online education programs, or even alerting drivers as they deal with stress. The technology, however, raises privacy concerns, as well as questions of accuracy (since human beings themselves commonly make mistakes when interpreting emotions).

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Will We See Bio-Printed Organs in the Near Future?

3D printing has been used in the health care field to make prosthetic limbs, custom hearing aids, dental fixtures, and other helpful tools for patients. The printing technology is now being used to create more complex structures, even human tissue. Bio-printers, for example, form human tissue using a "bio-ink" made of living cell mixtures. The structure is then built with the bio-ink, layer by layer, to build tissue. Eventually, researchers hope to use the bio-printing technology to create and replace organs.

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