How Our Colony On Mars Will Get Built

Absolutely amazing development in robotics…

According to the Wall Street Journal, Harvard University researchers have developed autonomous robots inspired by termites or ants.

They can build complex structures by working in a group or swarm.

Each robot is independent, yet by being programmed with the target structure, they work harmoniously together to build the structure without further guidance.

They have sensors along with a set of rules that enable them to interact with each other and the environment to get the job done.

They can even build stairs to enable themselves to get to higher levels of the structure and add the next set of building bricks.

The robots are 8″ by 4.5″ with pinwheel tires for traction and are powered by off-the-shelf motors.

“Each robot ‘walks around the structure until it sees something that needs to be done and then does it…they can recognize errors and correct them.'”

Perhaps, the robots can not only learn from the termites, but we can learn from the robots. 😉

3-Bedroom Homes on Mars

I am very excited about Bigelow Aerospace’s BA-330 space inhabiting module.

The BA-330 is an inflatable, expandable habitat that can be launched into orbit or used to colonize another planet.

According to Bloomberg BusinessWeek (2 May 2013), the space vessels are inflatable–like a football or car tire.

The inner core is an airtight bladder for living. The outer shell is composed of protective layers of foam and bullet-resistant Vectran fabric. In the center is a metal framework of electronics and equipment.

The “space habitat is folded tightly into the trunk of a rocket for launch, and released in orbit, where is inflated with a breathable atmosphere.”

Internal pressure makes the hull rigid and the up to 40″ of layered protective material make the habitat stronger and safer than conventional aluminum modules–and yet can be produced at half the cost!

The modules can be arranged vertically into the equivalent of a three-story home with kitchen, dining room, bedrooms, and gym.

NASA has plans for one of these modules to join with the International Space Station and to test it for future uses.

Bigelow wants to be the 1st space landlord renting out dwellings, work environments, and laboratories to tourists, scientists, and companies. “Bring your clothes and your money. We provide everything else.”

For only $51M you can travel to the Bigelow Alpha Station–it’s first commercial outpost–and enjoy 110 cubic meters for 60 days.

Someday, these early ventures into space will seen as the pioneers crossing the oceans to discover and settle new far away lands, but the difference will be millions of miles and infinite choices. 😉

How Good Is Our DNA

Dna

Where do we store the vast and expanding information in our universe?

These days it’s typically in 0 and 1s–binary code–on computer chips.

But according to the Wall Street Journal(18 August 2012), in the future, it could be encoded in the genetic molecules of DNA.

DNA has “vastly more capacity for their size then today’s computer chips and drives”–where a thumb size amount could store the entire Internet–or “1.5 milligrams, about half the weight of a house ant could hold 1 petabyte of data, which equals to 1,000 1-terabyte hard drives.”

As opposed to binary code, DNA will store information as strands made up of four base chemicals: adenine (A), guanine (G), cytosine (C) and thymine (T).

Just like letters in the alphabet make up words, sequencing of these 4 base chemicals can store biological instructions (e.g. 3 billion for a person) or any other information.

Using DNA for storage involves 4 key steps:

1) Encoding information into binary code

2) Synthesizing the chemical molecules

3) Sequencing them in a string to hold the information

4) Decoding the molecules back into information

Overall, DNA is seen as a “stable, long-term archive for ordinary information”–such as books, files, records, photos, and more.

Researchers have actually been able to store an entire book of genetic engineering–with 53,426 words–into actual DNA, and “if you wanted to have your library encoded in DNA, you could probably do that now.”

With the cost declining for synthesizing and sequencing DNA, this type of data storage may become commercially practical in the future.

And with the amount of information roughly doubling every 2 years, large amounts of reliable and cost-effective memory remains an important foundation for the future of computing.

Frankly, when we talk about storing so much information in these minute areas, it is completely mind-boggling–really no different than the corollary of imaging all the stars in vastness of sky.

It is almost incredible to me that we have people that can not only understand these things, but make them work for us.

With NASA’s Curiosity Rover exploring Mars over 34 million miles away, and geneticists storing libraries of information in test tubes of DNA coding, we are truly expanding our knowledge at the edges of the great and small in our Universe.

How far can we continue to go before we discover the limitations to our quest or the underlying mysteries of life itself?

What is also curious to me is how on one hand, we are advancing our scientific and technological knowledge as a society, yet on the other, as individuals, we seem to be losing our knowledge for even basic human survival.

How many people these days, are proficient on the computer in an office setting, but couldn’t survive in the wilderness for even a few days.

Our skills sets are changing drastically–this is the age of the microwave, but knowing how to cook is a lost art to many.

So are we really getting smarter or just engaging our minds in a new direction–I hope we have the DNA to do more than just one! 😉

(Source Photo: adapted from here with attribution to Allen Gathmen)

>We Need A Grand Vision—Let It Be Smart!

>We can build systems that are stand-alone and require lots of hands-on monitoring, care, and feeding or we can create systems that are smart—they are self-monitoring providing on-going feedback, and often self-healing and they help ensure higher levels of productivity and up-time.

According to the Wall Street Journal, 17 February 2009, smart technology is about making systems that are “intelligent and improve productivity in the long run…they [makes use of] the latest advances in sensors, wireless communications and computing power, all tied together by the Internet.”

As we pour hundreds of billions of dollars of recovery funds into fixing our aging national infrastructure for roads, bridges, and the energy grid—let’s NOT just fix the potholes and reinforce the concrete girders and have more of the same. RATHER, let’s use the opportunity to leap forward and build a “smarter,” more cost–effective, and modernized infrastructure that takes us, as nation, to the next playing-level in the global competitive marketplace.”

Smart transportation—the “best way to fight congestion is intelligent transportation systems, such as roadside sensors to measure traffic and synchronize traffic lights to control the flow of vehicles…real time information about road conditions, traffic jams and other events.” Next up is predictive technology to tell where jams happen before they actually occur and “roadways that control vehicles and make ‘driving’ unnecessary.”

Smart grid—this would provide for “advanced electronic meters that send a steady stream of information back to the utility” to determine power outages or damage and reroute power around trouble areas. It also provides for consumer portals that show energy consumption of major appliances, calculate energy bills under different usage scenarios and allow consumers to moderate usage patterns. Additionally, a smart grid would be able to load balance energy from different sources to compensate for peaks and valleys in usage of alternative energy sources like solar and wind.

Smart bridges—this will provide “continuous electronic monitoring of bridges structures using a network of sensors at critical points.” And there are 600,000 bridges in the U.S. As with other smart technologies, it can help predict problems before they occur or are “apparent to a human inspector…this can make the difference between a major disaster, a costly retrofit or a minor retrofit.”

Smart technology can be applied to just about everything we do. IBM for example, talks about Smart Planet and applying sensors to our networks to monitor computer and electronic systems across the spectrum of human activity.

Building this next level of intelligence into our systems is good for human safety, a green environment, productivity, and cost-efficiency.

In the absence of recovery spending on a grand vision such as a cure for cancer or colonization of Mars, at the VERY least, when it comes to our national infrastructure, let’s spend with a vision of creating something better—“Smarter”–for tomorrow than what we have today.