Building a Network of Tunnels Underground to Ease the Flow of Traffic

Posted on October 1, 2017  Comments (0)

Guest post by Aron Alba

“Roads must go 3D” – Elon Musk

The Boring company plans to build the network of tunnels under the ground in order to combat traffic congestions all over United States. As seen in their presentation video, the idea is to construct a system of tunnels in which electric vehicles autonomously zip around cars, people and cargo transport in high speed under the surface (like a scene from a science fiction movie).

The ride would begin with the lift that lowers the vehicles from the surface into the tunnel system. These lifts could be a possible bottleneck for the entire system, but it may be the best solution. To secure the vehicle to the autonomous pod and possibly select the end destination would take some time anyways, so this transition into the tunnel system could go unnoticed. Pods could travel at higher speeds than those allowed for the human driver, since the system is autonomous and completely monitored. The scenery wouldn’t be much though, so probably not the most interesting ride, but certainly fast.

Why build a tunnel network in the first place?
Traffic congestion is a very common nuisance in american lives. With the problem just getting worse. In order to solve this problem you have to build more roads or have fewer cars on them with arranging a better public transport. The land for the roads is scarce. The alternative of going up using drones to fly people around may not become possible due to safety concerns in a long time. Where to go then? Underground.

This has not been done before for obvious reasons, it is really expensive. The most expensive roads to build are tunnels and bridges. Tunnels have even more problems the larger they get. With people driving inside of them there needs to be proper ventilation to get rid of the carbon-monoxide. Resting stops for people. Great deal of risk with so many people driving inside a closed tunnel. The subway system is one solution to many of these problems. Except subways lack the flexibility and require substantially more infrastructure.

Elon Musk’s big plan is to use the technology that his other company Tesla already has developed. Instead of trains like in a subway system, Musk plans to have autonomous pods that run on battery power to zip along the tunnels. This has several advantages. First the battery powered pods to not require power lines to be continuously run through the tunnel like the train does, this saves on the costs of the tunnel. Also since the pods will be autonomous, this saves on personnel needed to operate the system. But probably the smartest idea behind the Boring company’s plans is to build a tunnel with a smaller bore diameter. Probably large enough to fit a pod with a largest planned Tesla vehicle but certainly smaller than the current tunnels for trains.

The Boring company plans to build the tunnel network using a tunnel boring machines. These machines are massive systems build to bore tunnels with circular cross section. They consist of cutting head system, a system for removing earth, systems for advancing the cutting head, systems for laying the concrete walls around the bore. At the end these machines leave a tunnel pretty much ready to use.

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Dr. Steve Goodman’s Work as a Field Biologist in Madagascar

Posted on September 2, 2017  Comments (2)

Dr. Steve Goodman‘s work is a legendary Field Biologist and spends 9-10 months out of the year conducting research in other countries, with a focus on Madagascar for nearly 30 years. Learn more about the future of Madagascar’s biodiversity and research.

This video is from the great Brain Scoop channel with Emily Graslie; if you are not following that channel I highly recommend doing so for people interested in science.

Related: The Michael Jordan of Field BiologyInsect ArchitectureNew Life Form Found at South African Truck StopNeil Degrasse Tyson: Scientifically Literate See a Different World

Stanford Research Scientists Discover 99% of the Microbes Inside Us are Unknown to Science

Posted on August 24, 2017  Comments (0)

Readers of this blog know I am fascinated by the human microbiome. It is amazing how much of our biology is determined by entities within us that are not us (at least not our DNA) (bacteria, viruses etc.). This whole area of study is very new and we have quite a bit to learn. There are scientists across the globe studying this area and learning a great deal.

Stanford study indicates that more than 99% of the microbes inside us are unknown to science

Of all the non-human DNA fragments the team gathered, 99 percent of them failed to match anything in existing genetic databases the researchers examined.

The “vast majority” of it belonged to a phylum called proteobacteria, which includes, among many other species, pathogens such as E. coli and Salmonella. Previously unidentified viruses in the torque teno family, generally not associated with disease but often found in immunocompromised patients, made up the largest group of viruses.

“We’ve doubled the number of known viruses in that family through this work,” Quake said. Perhaps more important, they’ve found an entirely new group of torque teno viruses. Among the known torque teno viruses, one group infects humans and another infects animals, but many of the ones the researchers found didn’t fit in either group. “We’ve now found a whole new class of human-infecting ones that are closer to the animal class than to the previously known human ones, so quite divergent on the evolutionary scale,” he said.

Related: We are Not Us Without The Microbes Within UsWebcasts on the Human MicrobiomePeople are Superorganisms With Microbiomes of Thousands of Species (2013)We Have Thousands of Viruses In Us All the Time (2015)Tracking the Ecosystem Within Us (2007)

Very Low Frequency Radio Waves Protect Earth

Posted on August 5, 2017  Comments (0)

Very Low Frequency (VLF) radio communications signals are transmitted from ground stations at huge powers to communicate with submarines deep in the ocean. While these waves are intended for communications below the surface, they also extend out beyond our atmosphere, shrouding Earth in a VLF bubble. This bubble is even seen by spacecraft high above Earth’s surface, such as NASA’s Van Allen Probes, which study electrons and ions in the near-Earth environment.

The probes have noticed an interesting coincidence – the outward extent of the VLF bubble corresponds almost exactly to the inner edge of the Van Allen radiation belts, a layer of charged particles held in place by Earth’s magnetic fields. Dan Baker, director of the University of Colorado’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, coined this lower limit the “impenetrable barrier” and speculates that if there were no human VLF transmissions, the boundary would likely stretch closer to Earth. Indeed, comparisons of the modern extent of the radiation belts from Van Allen Probe data show the inner boundary to be much farther away than its recorded position in satellite data from the 1960s, when VLF transmissions were more limited.

With further study, VLF transmissions may serve as a way to remove excess radiation from the near-Earth environment. Plans are already underway to test VLF transmissions in the upper atmosphere to see if they could remove excess charged particles ”” which can appear during periods of intense space weather, such as when the sun erupts with giant clouds of particles and energy.

Related: NASA’s Van Allen Probes Spot Man-Made Barrier Shrouding EarthAstronaut SelfieMagnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth (2008)Webcast of Man Landing on the MoonNASA Biocapsules Deliver Medical Interventions Based Upon What They Detect in the Body (2012)

Large Scale Redox Flow Battery (700 megawatt hours)

Posted on July 16, 2017  Comments (1)

Scientists and engineers in Germany have created the largest battery in the world with redox flow technology.

Redox flow batteries are liquid batteries. The Friedrich Schiller University of Jena has developed a new and forward-looking salt-free (brine) based metal-free redox flow battery. This new development will use salt caverns as energy storage.

schematic for salt-free (brine) based metal-free redox flow battery

Schematic for salt-free (brine) based metal-free redox flow battery by Ewe Gasspeicher. Two caverns each have a volume of 100,000 cubic meters.

A redox flow battery consists of two storage tanks and an electrochemical cell in which the reactions take place. Storage for solar and wind sources of power is an important challenge being explored in many ways today. Efforts such as this one provide a path to continue the rapid adoption of more solar and wind power.

In the electrochemical cell the two storage liquids – catholyte and anolyte – are separated from one another by a membrane. This prevents the large storage liquids from mixing with one another. The ions, however, can pass unimpeded through the membrane from one electrolyte solution into the other.

When charging the battery, the charging current ensures that electrons are deposited on the polymers of the anolyte. At the same time, the catholyte releases its electrons.

The charged catholyte and anolyte molecules are pumped from the cell into storage containers and replaced by uncharged ones. When the battery is discharged, the reaction is reversed. The anolyte molecules emit their electrons, which are available as electrical current.

Both charged electrolytes can be stored for several months. The maximum storage capacity of this redox-flow battery is limited only by the size of the storage containers for the electrolyte liquids.

The project is being ramped up now, going through a test phase before bringing the full system online; they are aiming to achieve this in 6 years. The electrical capacity of 700 megawatt hours will be enough to supply over 75,000 households with electricity for one day.

Related: Molten Salt Solar Reactor Approved by California (2010)Battery Breakthrough Using Organic Storage (2014)Chart of Global Wind Energy Capacity by Country from 2005 to 2015

Wiring a Thermometer to Your Van to Turn on AC as Needed as You Sleep

Posted on July 8, 2017  Comments (4)

You may well not be familiar with the growing vanlife community, but I learned of it and see it as an intriguing lifestyle possibility. It allows you to travel and stay in National Forest and BLM land for free (in the USA) and relatively cheaply at campgrounds etc.. People also live in them in cities while traveling stay at welcoming businesses like Walmart. Anyway you can read more about the vanlife in posts on my Freelance Lifestyle, Finance and Entrepreneurship Blog.

This video shows a cool way to wire a thermometer to your car/van so that the van starts when the AC (or heat) is needed. This is some cool home engineering.

Most pursuing the vanlife now use solar energy, which is great in many ways. It is difficult (expensive) to create a solar based system that can run an AC. The option in the video is intriguing. And it is a cool illustration of home engineering. I hope you enjoy it.

Related: Home Halloween Engineering: Gaping Hole Costume (2010)Home Engineering: Bird Feeder That Automatically Takes Photos When Birds FeedGeneral Relativity Einstein/Essen Anniversary TestEZ-Builder Robot Control Software

Dogs and Wolves Share a Sense of Fair Pay

Posted on July 1, 2017  Comments (0)

Dogs and wolves share sense of fair play

The scientists tested similarly raised dogs and wolves that lived in packs. Two animals of each species were placed in adjacent cages, equipped with a buzzer apparatus. When the dog or wolf pressed it with their paw, both animals got a reward on some occasions. Other times, the dog or wolf doing the task got nothing while the partner did.

The key finding was that when the partner got a high value treat, the animal doing the task refused to continue with it.

photo of a Gray Wold looking at the camera

Gray Wolf by Gary Kramer (USFWS), public domain

This is a similar result as that found with Capuchin monkeys that don”™t like being paid less than others.

The question of social status or hierarchy also played an important role in the experiments with dogs and wolves of higher rank taking umbrage more quickly.

The human impact on dogs isn’t entirely absent though. Pet dogs are less sensitive to being treated unfairly – probably because of their experience with us!

It is fun to see these results mirror aspects of our psychology. It is fun to see how these experiments test out animal’s responses.

Related: Goats Excel at Learning and Remembering a Complex TasksRats Show Empathy-driven BehaviorInsightful Problem Solving in an Asian ElephantsHow Wolves Changed the Yellowstone Ecosystem

Drone Deliveries to Hospitals in Rwanda

Posted on June 25, 2017  Comments (1)

Partnering with the Government of Rwanda, Zipline serves 21 hospitals nation-wide. They provide instant deliveries of lifesaving blood products for 8 million Rwandans.

Their drones are tiny airplanes (instead of the more common tiny helicopter model). Supplies are delivered using parachute drops from the drone. Landings are similar to landings on aircraft carriers (they grab a line to help slow down the drone) and, in a difference from aircraft carrier landings, the drone line drops them onto a large air cushion.

Zipline Muhanga Distribution Center launched in October 2016 making Rwanda the first country to integrate drones into their airspace and to begin daily operations of autonomous delivery.

As of May 2017, Zipline had completed over 350 delivery flights to real hospitals and their pace is accelerating. Zipline can cut delivery time from 4 hours to 15 minutes (which is extremely important in time critical health care emergencies).

I wrote in 2014 about the huge potential for drone delivery of medical supplies. It is wonderful to see Zipline improving people’s lives with their effort.

Related: Inspirational Engineer, William Kamkwamba from Malawi (2008)Using Rats to Sniff Out TBUS Fish and Wildlife Service Plans to Use Drones to Drop Vaccine Treats to Save FerretsWater Wheel

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Small Farm Robots

Posted on June 17, 2017  Comments (3)

The IdaBot was created by researchers at Northwest Nazarene University (Idaho, USA).

Using robots in farming is limited today but the future could see a huge growth in that use. Benefits of introducing more robots to farming include reducing the use of pesticides and chemicals to control weeds.

Reducing labor costs is also a potential benefit but at current market prices (due to high costs of robotics and available cheap labor) that is more something for the future than today. However that can change fairly quickly – as for example the collapse in solar panel costs have made solar energy economically very attractive. In areas with high labor costs (Japan etc.) or areas where there are active efforts to reduce the supply of labor (in the USA where a significant portion of labor does not have proper visa to work in the USA and the current administration is seeking to reduce that labor availability) robots become more attractive economically.

Robot farmers are coming to a field near you

In Japan, using robots to harvest strawberries is roughly cost-equivalent to human labor if the ‘bots are shared between multiple farms, Lux Research said.

“With strawberry-picking being slow and labor-intensive, and labor scarce and expensive ”” the average agricultural worker in Japan is over 70 years old ”“ the robot is quickly likely to become the cheaper option,” it said.

Lux Research also forecast European lettuce-growing ”” a major industry on the continent ”” would become automated by 2028.

“Automated lettuce weeding is already competitive with human labor in Europe, thanks to regulatory limitations on agrochemicals. Lettuce thinning is still accomplished manually at lower cost, but robots are likely to reach breakeven with human labor in 2028,”

The global market for agricultural robots will explode to $73.9 billion by 2024, up from $3.0 billion 2015

Related: For Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSustainable Ocean FarmingCool Robot Locomotion: Transforms from Wheeled to Walking For Stairs and Rough Terrain (2012)Lean Science: Using Cheap Robots to Aid ResearchMoth Controlled Robot (2009)

Elephants Learn to Cooperate to Reach Their Objective

Posted on June 10, 2017  Comments (0)

This clip shows elephants learning to work together to achieve what they can’t achieve alone (from BBC’s Super Smart Animals). It is interesting to see what animals are capable of. See the related post links for more amazing animal behavior.

Related: Insightful Problem Solving in an Asian Elephant (2007)Crows can Perform as Well as 7 to 10-year-olds on cause-and-effect Water Displacement TasksBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsCapuchin Monkeys Don”™t Like Being Paid Less Than Their PeersFriday Fun: Bird Using Bait to Fish

Hacker News Suggestions for Engineering Team Blogs

Posted on June 3, 2017  Comments (0)

See this comment page on Hacker News suggestions for engineering team blogs. Some of the suggested blog:

Somehow the Hacker News discussion missed the Curious Cat Science and Engineering blog. It must be that we are not an “engineering team” blog.

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