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Will We Send Astronauts Beyond the Moon?

The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that NASA's next major mission could be the construction of a "gateway spacecraft" outpost that would send astronauts 277,000 miles from Earth, farther than ever before. The outpost would hover in orbit on the far side of the moon, support a small astronaut crew, and function as a staging area for future missions to the moon and Mars. The spacecraft would be much more remote than the current space station, which orbits about 200 miles above Earth. The distance raises questions about how to protect astronauts from the radiation of deep space — and rescue them if something goes wrong.

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Will Robots Work Directly with Humans?

In today's work environments, robots are often kept isolated from humans due to their massive weight and speed, traits that could possibly endanger humans in their vicinity. Many machines are kept either inside glass cages or behind laser-controlled light curtains. New robots, however, are being built with mechanisms and sensors to protect the human workers it assists, including sonar sensors that automatically slow a robot's movements whenever a human approaches. The Demark-based Universal Robots firm, for example, has introduced a robot arm that does not need to be put in a glass cage, though the system requires a knowledgeable programmer to operate it.

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Will Exoskeletons and Robotic Suits Become a Part of Everyday Life?

Many companies, including Raytheon and the Israel-based Argo Medical Technologies, have created self-contained, wearable robotic suits to reduce injuries from heavy lifting, for example, and help paraplegics walk again. Ekso, based in Richmond, California, builds a suit without any tethers to a power supply. Its suits are currently used in rehabilitation centers. In an article in The New York Times, Russ Angold, a founder and the chief technology officer of Ekso, predicted that exoskeletons, like today’s smartphones, would become, slimmer, powerful, and more affordable.

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Are You Encouraged by the Capabilities of Medical Sensors and Stretchable Electronics?

Many wireless-monitor products today track daily activity, including a person's steps and calories burned. Wearable sensors, and even internal ones, however, may also be used to monitor one's specific biological processes. "Stretchable electronics," for example, can placed on (or in) a user's body to measure heart rate, brain activity, body temperature, and hydration levels. A company called Sano Intelligence, too, will try to use needle sensors on skin patches to gain continous information about one's bloodstream. Other vendors have similar technologies that aim to monitor biological processes and collect important health data. In the future, that data could be shared between customers and healthcare providers, which may be helpful to patients, but concern those who want to keep that data private.

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Does Wave Energy Have Potential?

The first commercially licensed grid-connected wave-energy device in the United States, designed by the New Jersey-based Ocean Power Technologies, is in its final weeks of testing before a planned launch in October. The computer-equipped buoy captures the energy created by a wave, which is fueled by the wind as it travels. Wave energy is expensive, however, and waves themselves are inconsistent. Some fishing industry lobbyists also worry that an increase in wave energy will impact ecology in surrounding areas. Others see potential and think of wave energy as just an accumulation of wind energy.

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Would You Wear a "Smart" Wristwatch?

Smartphone capabilities have extended, even to the wristwatch. Companies like Apple, Nike, Sony, as well as other startups, have created new wrist devices that connect to an individual’s smartphone. Most display the time, but the bands also provide information that keeps users from having to take out their mobile devices. Sony, for example, released its Smartwatch, which includes a 2" screen that displays emails, Twitter posts, and other kinds of texts. Other devices track a user's daily activity.

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Do Personalized Learning Methods Show Promise in Remaking Education?

As the school season arrives, an increasing number of students will be studying through Internet-based systems. An NYC-based company called Knewton, for example, uses an adaptive learning technique that tracks learners' progress and shadows their online activities as they work. The technology personalizes online learning content for individual students. It can determine which topics a student excels at, and can even establish the best time of day for a specific student to study a given subject.

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