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Technology tagged posts lean toward software and computers and appropriate technology but include other areas too.
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Toyota Mirai – Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Car

I am curious, even skeptical, about the potential for hydrogen fuel cell versus battery passenger cars. I do respect Toyota and so am wondering if they do indeed see something that most others are missing.

The current production Toyota Mirai has a range of 650 km.

I do think hydrogen fuel cells may provide a better option for larger vehicles (maybe even shipping), but I have done next to no research on this so I may be wrong.

It seem unlikely to me that hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars are going to make it but I would be happy to be wrong. Perhaps the advantages will overcome what seem to me to be challenges that are going to prevent them from being successful. I am confused about how committed to this strategy Toyota is (which makes me question my belief that hydrogen fuel cell passenger cars are not going to be successful).

Related: Toyota Engineering Development ProcessToyota Develops Thought-controlled WheelchairHow to Develop Products like Toyota (2011)Innovation at ToyotaElectric Cars (post on our blog in 2007)Toyota Scion iQ: 37 MPG (2011)Toyota Engineers a New Plant: the Living Kind (2005)

Huge Proposed Increases in USA Government Science and Engineering Support

The Biden administration has proposed greatly increasing USA government spending on science and engineering. They are proposing levels last seen in the 1960s when the USA was most committed to science and engineering spending (as most visibly seen in support for NASA).

Advance U.S. leadership in critical technologies and upgrade America’s research infrastructure. U.S. leadership in new technologies—from artificial intelligence to biotechnology to computing—is critical to both our future economic competitiveness and our national security. Based on bipartisan proposals, President Biden is calling on Congress to invest $50 billion in the National Science Foundation (NSF), creating a technology directorate that will collaborate with and build on existing programs across the government. It will focus on fields like semiconductors and advanced computing, advanced communications technology, advanced energy technologies, and biotechnology. He also is calling on Congress to provide $30 billion in additional funding for R&D that spurs innovation and job creation, including in rural areas. His plan also will invest $40 billion in upgrading research infrastructure in laboratories across the country, including brick-and-mortar facilities and computing capabilities and networks. These funds would be allocated across the federal R&D agencies, including at the Department of Energy. Half of those funds will be reserved for Historically Black College and Universities (HBCUs) and other Minority Serving Institutions, including the creation of a new national lab focused on climate that will be affiliated with an HBCU.

Establish the United States as a leader in climate science, innovation, and R&D. The President is calling on Congress to invest $35 billion in the full range of solutions needed to achieve technology breakthroughs that address the climate crisis and position America as the global leader in clean energy technology and clean energy jobs. This includes launching ARPA-C to develop new methods for reducing emissions and building climate resilience, as well as expanding across-the-board funding for climate research. In addition to a $5 billion increase in funding for other climate-focused research, his plan will invest $15 billion in demonstration projects for climate R&D priorities, including utility-scale energy storage, carbon capture and storage, hydrogen, advanced nuclear, rare earth element separations, floating offshore wind, biofuel/bioproducts, quantum computing, and electric vehicles, as well as strengthening U.S. technological leadership in these areas in global markets.

Eliminate racial and gender inequities in research and development and science, technology, engineering, and math. Discrimination leads to less innovation: one study found that innovation in the United States will quadruple if women, people of color, and children from low-income families invented at the rate of groups who are not held back by discrimination and structural barriers. Persistent inequities in access to R&D dollars and to careers in innovation industries prevents the U.S. economy from reaching its full potential. President Biden is calling on Congress to make a $10 billion R&D investment at HBCUs and other MSIs. He also is calling on Congress to invest $15 billion in creating up to 200 centers of excellence that serve as research incubators at HBCUs and other MSIs to provide graduate fellowships and other opportunities for underserved populations, including through pre-college programs.

This text is from The White House Infrastructure Plan (The American Jobs Plan). Likely this link will stop working in several years (once a new administration takes over.
photo of NASA's Mars Rover: Curiosity
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Appropriate Technology: a Microscope and Centrifuge for Under $1

Malaria is estimated to have killed more than half the people that have ever lived. And it continues to kill millions. One big challenge is diagnosing malaria is difficult (those infected have flu like symptoms).

The video shows two great appropriate technology solutions to help diagnose malaria and save millions of lives. Manu Prakash from Stanford talks about 2 of his labs’ inventions the Foldscope and the Paperfuge. Combined these cost only 68 cents and they can be used to diagnose Malaria. Both of these are examples not only of simple, brilliant design, but of how engineering is used to make a positive dent in the world.

Read more about the Paperfuge: an ultra-low cost, hand-powered centrifuge inspired by the mechanics of a whirligig toy (open access paper).

This solution also shows the huge benefit people everywhere have gained when immigrants can take their skills and desires to institutions like Stanford to create solutions that greatly benefit the world. This powerful force has been creating huge benefits that we all have enjoyed for decades.

Related: Appropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MIT (2014)$1 Device To Give Throat Cancer Patients Their Voice Again (2016)Video showing malaria breaking into cell (2011)Engineering: Cellphone Microscope (2009)One Scientists 20 Year Effort to Defeat Dengue Fever (2012)

Usability for All

Technology can provide huge benefits when we take care to use it wisely. Considering usability is extremely important and we need to keep focusing on improving usability. This video shows an interesting application by Abhishek Singh’s to increase the usability of “smart speakers.” His app runs on a tablet allow a user to use American Sign Language to interact with Alexa (it displays Alexa’s responses in text on the table).

Related: Getting Closer to a Universal Translator (2010)NASA You Have a Problem with Usability (2008)Appropriate Technology and Focus on Improving Lives at MIT (2014)

Growing Citrus in the Snow

The system uses the constant ground temperature 2.5 meters (8 feet) below ground to heat a greenhouse. The underground-temperature on his farm is 11 degrees (52 degrees Fahrenheit). Other nearby areas range from 9 to 17 degrees (17 is near a hot spring).

Just circulating air through 64 meters (210 feet) of tubing buried 2.5 meters underground is enough to allow citrus and other plants to thrive. Selling at local farmer’s markets brings in a very high profit for farmers that can grow and sell locally.

Using the power of the sun to grow and the constant ground temperature to keep the air warm enough creates an opportunity to grow all year round. The same principles can be used to cool down indoor temperatures in very hot locations near the equator.

Due to the controlled environment growing organically is easy so that further increases the payoff for this type of farming.

The cost of the system can be as low as $25,000 if you have access to a backhoe to dig the trenches for the air pipes and can do much of the labor yourself. That is the cost of just the heating systems for a conventional greenhouse.

I really like this type of intersection of engineering and business (as well as environment and health benefits – providing healthy local food) that creates value to society by using our knowledge effectively.

Learn more at Citrus in the Snow. The Nebraska farmer (seen in the video) has been growing Citrus in Nebraska this way since 1992.

Related: Sustainable Ocean FarmingBeehive Fence Protects Farms from ElephantsFor Many Crops Ants Can Provide Pest Protection Superior or Equal to Chemicals at a Much Lower CostSmall Farm Robots

Toyota’s Newest Humanoid Partner Robot

T-HR3 reflects Toyota’s broad-based exploration of how advanced technologies can help to meet people’s unique mobility needs. T-HR3 represents an evolution from previous generation instrument-playing humanoid robots, which were created to test the precise positioning of joints and pre-programmed movements, to a platform with capabilities that can safely assist humans in a variety of settings, such as the home, medical facilities, construction sites, disaster-stricken areas and even outer space.

“The Partner Robot team members are committed to using the technology in T-HR3 to develop friendly and helpful robots that coexist with humans and assist them in their daily lives. Looking ahead, the core technologies developed for this platform will help inform and advance future development of robots to provide ever-better mobility for all,” said Akifumi Tamaoki, General Manager, Partner Robot Division.

T-HR3 is controlled from a Master Maneuvering System that allows the entire body of the robot to be operated instinctively with wearable controls that map hand, arm and foot movements to the robot, and a head-mounted display that allows the user to see from the robot’s perspective. The system’s master arms give the operator full range of motion of the robot’s corresponding joints and the master foot allows the operator to walk in place in the chair to move the robot forward or laterally. The Self-interference Prevention Technology embedded in T-HR3 operates automatically to ensure the robot and user do not disrupt each other’s movements.

Onboard T-HR3 and the Master Maneuvering System, motors, reduction gears and torque sensors (collectively called Torque Servo Modules) are connected to each joint. These modules communicate the operator’s movements directly to T-HR3’s 29 body parts and the Master Maneuvering System’s 16 master control systems for a smooth, synchronized user experience.

Learn more on Toyota’s news site.

Related: Toyota Develops Thought-controlled Wheelchair (2009)Robots for Health Care from Toyota (2017)Toyota Human Support Robot (2012)Lexus Has Built a Working Hoverboard (2015)

Drone Deliveries to Hospitals in Rwanda

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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Solar Storm Could Do $2 Trillion in Damage

I read an interesting article from NASA recently, Near Miss: The Solar Superstorm of July 2012

According to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, the total economic impact could exceed $2 trillion or 20 times greater than the costs of a Hurricane Katrina. Multi-ton transformers damaged by such a storm might take years to repair.

By extrapolating the frequency of ordinary storms to the extreme, he calculated the odds that a Carrington-class storm would hit Earth in the next ten years.

The answer: 12%.

Our high technology is far more at risk than most people appreciate. I don’t understand why the odds are so high (given that the last such event was in 1859 but I would guess there are sensible reasons for them to calculate such high odds. Others (in a quick web search) offer lower odds, but still 7 or 8% of such an event in the next 10 years.

The 2012 event would have done a great deal of damage. Luckily it was directed away from the sun in a direction away from where the earth was at the time. NASA has satellites arrayed around the sun (even where the earth isn’t) and one of those was able to capture data on the event.

There is also disagreement about how much damage such a solar storm would cause on earth. The main direct damage is expected to be done to the power system (of the USA and the rest of the world).

Related: Solar Storm (2006)photo of Solar Eruption (2006)Solar Flares May Threaten GPS (2007)Magnetic Portals Connect Sun and Earth (2008)

NASA explored this idea in a webcast:

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Female African-American Mathematicians at NASA in 1961

Hidden Figures is a film based on the experiences of female African-American mathematicians at NASA in 1961 including Katherine Johnson. It is easy to forget our history if we don’t make an effort to remember.

Popular movie adaptations are not the best source for completely accurate history but they are a great way to raise awareness when they hold somewhat close to historical events.

It is amazing to see what was accomplished and also remember how badly mistaken our society was in important ways. We have made strides as a society, but we still have significant problems we need to address. Movies like Hidden Figures are a positive reminder of what can be accomplished when we give people opportunities. We need to remember that lesson and do what we can to remove the barriers that continue today.

NASA video on Katherine Johnson’s career:

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14 Year Old Signs $700,000 MOU for a Drone to Detect and Defuse Land Mines

Harshwardhan Zala, from Gujarat, India has signed an agreement worth Rs. 5 crore (US$733,940) to explore the possibility of commercial production of a drone created by him which can help in detecting and defusing landmines.

Harshwardhan started work on the prototype of the landmine-detecting drone last year after reading in newspapers about high army casualties due to landmines. Aerobotics7 is the company founded by the 14 years old.

Harshwardhan Zala, 14-year-old trends for Rs 5 crore deal at Vibrant Gujarat Global Summit 2017!

Explaining more about the drone, the zealous 14-year-old said, “The drone is designed to send out waves that cover eight sq. mt area while flying two feet above the surface; the waves detect land mines and communicate their location with a base station. The drone also carries a bomb weighing 50 gram that can be used to destroy the landmine.” Harshwardhan Zala’s proud father Pradhyumansinh is an accountant with a plastic company in Naroda, and his mother Nishaba is a homemaker.

[missing video – removed 🙁 ]

The video has Harshwardhan speaking a bit of English but mainly some other language that I don’t understand. If I understand right, his drone is 98% accurate at identifying mines (where the current solutions are 92% accurate – and much more dangerous for those having to walk around testing). His solution is 17 times faster and 22 times cheaper than the current solutions. Once the mine is detected by the drone through an infrared sensor, a 50 gram detonator will complete the task of defusing it (blowing it up).

This video shows a bit of the drone itself (non-English audio)

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Pepper – A Social Robot from Softbank

Pepper is a social robot developed in France and part of the Japanese conglomerate Softbank.

Pepper robots are at work in retail stores in Asia and Europe as sales associates. The first personal robots have been available in Japan for 2 years now and may be available elsewhere soon.

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