A new plasma boring robot can dig tunnels 100 times faster and 98% cheaper

Earthgrid plans to re-wire grids across the U.S. at record speed and at a fraction of the cost.

By Chris Young

San Francisco-based startup Earthgrid is developing a plasma boring robot that is capable of digging tunnels 100 times faster, and up to 98 percent cheaper than existing boring systems, a report from New Atlas reveals.

The company plans to use its technology to re-wire energy, internet, and utility grids in the U.S.

Meet Earthgrid’s Rapid Burrowing Robot.

Unlike conventional boring machines, which typically use massive cutting wheels to slowly excavate tunnels, Earthgrid’s robot blasts rocks with high temperatures to break and even vaporize them via a process called spallation. 

The machine can run on electricity, meaning it can also be emissions-free, depending on how energy is sourced. Earthgrid also claims that its system, which doesn’t need to come into contact with the rocks directly as it excavates, is so fast and cheap it will open up a whole host of possibilities. In other words, projects that were once deemed economically unfeasible will now be possible.

Earthgrid is currently operating on pre-seed funding, and it is developing its “Rapid Burrowing Robot (RBR)”, a spallation boring robot with several 48,600 °F (27,000 °C) plasma torches mounted on large discs.

When operational, the RBR will fire up those torches and rotate the discs to blast the rocky surface in its way. The torches on the discs are arranged in a Fibonacci spiral, meaning they widen out away from the center for full coverage. Debris is collected in small pushcarts.

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A major breakthrough in quantum sensing technology is being described as an “Edison moment” that could, scientists hope, have wide-reaching implications.

A new study in Nature describes one of the first practical applications of quantum sensing, a heretofore largely theoretical technology that marries quantum physics and the study of Earth’s gravity to peer into the ground below our feet — and the scientists involved in this research think it’s going to be huge.

Known as a quantum gravity gradiometer, this new sensor developed by the University of Birmingham under contract with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense is the first time such a technology has been used outside of a lab. Scientists say it’ll allow them to explore complex underground substructures much more cheaply and efficiently than before.

While gravity sensors already exist, the difference between the traditional equipment and this quantum-powered sensor is huge because, as Physics World explains, the old tech takes a long time to detect changes in gravity, has to be recalibrated over time, and can be thrown off by any vibrations that occur nearby.

This new type of highly sensitive quantum sensor, on the other hand, is able to measure the minute changes in gravity fields from objects of different sizes and compositions that exist underground — such as human-made structures buried by the eons, tantalizingly — much faster and more accurately.


The World’s Largest Liquid-Mirror Telescope Comes Online

Ask any astronomer, astrophysicist, or cosmologist, and they’ll probably tell you that a new age of astronomy is upon us! Between breakthroughs in gravitational-wave astronomy, the explosion in exoplanet studies, and the next-generation ground-based and space-based telescopes coming online, it’s pretty evident that we are on the verge of an era of near-continuous discovery! As always, major discoveries, innovations, and the things they enable inspire scientists and researchers to look ahead and take the next big step. 

Take, for example, the research into liquid mirrors and advanced interferometers, which would rely on entirely new types of telescopes and light-gathering to advance the science of astronomy. A pioneering example is the newly-commissioned International Liquid Mirror Telescope (ILMT) telescope that just came online at Devasthal Peak, a 2,450 m (8,040 ft) tall mountain located in the central Himalayan range. Unlike conventional telescopes, the ILMT relies on a rapidly-rotating 4-meter (13 ft) mirror coated with a layer of mercury to capture cosmic light. 

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Cheap gel film pulls buckets of drinking water per day from thin air

A sample of the new gel film, which can pull huge amounts of drinking water out of thin air

By Michael Irving

Water scarcity is a major problem for much of the world’s population, but with the right equipment drinking water can be wrung out of thin air. Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have now demonstrated a low-cost gel film that can pull many liters of water per day out of even very dry air.

The gel is made up of two main ingredients that are cheap and common – cellulose, which comes from the cell walls of plants, and konjac gum, a widely used food additive. Those two components work together to make a gel film that can absorb water from the air and then release it on demand, without requiring much energy.

First, the porous structure of the gum attracts water to condense out of the air around it. The cellulose, meanwhile, is designed to respond to a gentle heat by turning hydrophobic, releasing the captured water.

Making the gel is also fairly simple, the team says. The basic ingredients are mixed together then poured into a mold, where it sets in two minutes. After that it’s freeze-dried, then peeled out of the mold and ready to get to work. It can be made into basically any shape needed, and scaled up fairly easily and at low-cost.

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This new piece of MIT technology uses sugar from the human body to create power

Silicon chip with 30 individual glucose micro fuel cells, seen as small silver squares inside each gray rectangle.

By Gwen Egan

The glucose fuel cell is 1/100 the diameter of a single human hair and could power miniature implants inside the human body.

What if there was a piece of ultrathin technology that was powered by sugar from the human body?

Researchers at MIT and the Technical University of Munich are answering that question with a new piece of mini tech — a tiny, yet powerful, fuel cell. 

This new and improved glucose fuel cell takes glucose absorbed from food in the human body and turns it into electricity, according to MIT News. That electricity could power small implants while also being able to withstand up to 600 degrees Celsius — or 1112 degrees Fahrenheit — and measuring just 400 nanometers thick. 

400 nanometers is around 1/100 of the diameter of a single human hair. 

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Scientists create tattoo-like sensors that reveal blood oxygen levels

A silk film holding a chromophore and implanted under the skin will glow under UV light to reveal levels of oxygen in the blood.

by  Tufts University

People get tattoos to remember an event or a person, to make a statement, or simply as an aesthetic embellishment. But imagine a tattoo that could be functional—telling you how much oxygen you are using when exercising, measuring your blood glucose level at any time of day, or monitoring a number of different blood components or exposure to environmental toxins.

Now engineers at Tufts University have taken an important step toward making that happen with the invention of a silk-based material placed under the skin that glows brighter or dimmer under a lamp when exposed to different levels of oxygen in the blood. They reported their findings in Advanced Functional Materials.

The novel sensor, which currently is limited to reading oxygen levels, is made up of a gel formed from the protein components of silk, called fibroin. The silk fibroin proteins have unique properties that make them especially compatible as an implantable material.

When they are re-assembled into a gel or film, they can be adjusted to create a structure that lasts under the skin from a few weeks to over a year. When the silk does break down, it is compatible with the body and unlikely to invoke an immune response.

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Nuclear-Powered Vessel Named Thor Could Be Next Generation Of Sea Travel

A potential answer to a sustainable cruise ship industry has been announced in the shape of a nuclear-powered vessel named Thor.

By Anamarija Brnjarchevska

A potential answer to a sustainable cruise ship industry has been announced in the shape of a nuclear-powered vessel named Thor.

Norway-based company Ulstein say the eye-catching 149m (489ft) replenishment, research and rescue ship concept is powered by a thorium Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) that can be used to recharge battery-driven cruise ships at sea.

This enables the vessel to operate as a mobile power/charging station for a new breed of battery driven cruise ships.

Ulstein claim Thor’s charging capacity has been scaled to satisfy the power needs of four expedition cruise ships simultaneously. Thor itself would never need to refuel. As such, the ship is intended to provide a blueprint for entirely self-sufficient vessels of the future.

“The vessel concept is capable of making the vision of zero-emission cruise operations a reality,” the firm states.

Ulstein believes the concept may be the missing piece of the zero emissions puzzle for a broad range of maritime and ocean industry applications.

To demonstrate its feasibility, Ulstein has also developed the Ulstein Sif concept, a 100m-long, 160 POB capacity, zero-emission expedition cruise ship. This Ice Class 1C vessel will run on next-generation batteries, utilising Thor to recharge while at sea.

Sif would accommodate up to 80 passengers and 80 crew, offering silent, zero-emission expedition cruises to remote areas, including Arctic and Antarctic waters.

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Ulstein reveals thorium-powered ship concept to support ecocruising

The nuclear-powered Thor concept

By David Szondy

Norway-based marine group Ulstein has introduced Thor, its concept design for a 149-m (489-ft) replenishment, research and rescue (3R) ship powered by a thorium Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) that can be used to recharge battery-driven cruise ships at sea.

As environmental consciousness grows, ecotourism has become a booming business, but with the desire to visit exotic environments comes the need to protect these often under-threat locations. This is particularly urgent for cruise ships going into the polar regions, which are notoriously fragile.

Polar cruises not only have to deal with the intrinsic needs to protect the Arctic and Antarctic coastal regions, but also meet increasingly stringent government regulations and pressure from environmental groups. On top of this, icy seas make refueling ships away from port difficult, expensive, and potentially damaging to the surrounding area.

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Stanford’s Futuristic Gravity Telescope Could Image Exoplanets – 1,000x More Powerful Than Current Technology

An example of a reconstruction of Earth, using the ring of light around the Sun, projected by the solar gravitational lens. The algorithm that enables this reconstruction can be applied to exoplanets for superior imaging. Credit: Alexander Madurowicz


A futuristic “gravity telescope” technique conceptualized by Stanford astrophysicists could enable astronomical imaging significantly more advanced than any present today.

In the time since the first exoplanet was discovered in 1992, astronomers have discovered more than 5,000 planets orbiting other stars. However, when astronomers detect a new exoplanet, we learn relatively little about it: we know that it exists and a few features about it, but the rest is a mystery.

To sidestep the physical constraints of telescopes, Stanford University astrophysicists have been developing a new conceptual imaging technique that would be 1,000 times more precise than the strongest imaging technology currently in use. By taking advantage of gravity’s warping effect on space-time, called gravitational lensing, scientists could potentially manipulate this phenomenon to create imaging far more advanced than any currently available.

In a paper published today (May 2, 2022) in The Astrophysical Journal, the researchers describe a way to manipulate solar gravitational lensing to view planets outside our solar system. By positioning a telescope, the sun, and exoplanet in a line with the sun in the middle, scientists could use the gravitational field of the sun to magnify light from the exoplanet as it passes by. As opposed to a magnifying glass which has a curved surface that bends light, a gravitational lens has a curved space-time that enables imaging far away objects.

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This Diamond Could Store As Much Data As 1 Billion Blu-ray Discs

Even though it has a diameter of just two inches.

By Nathaniel Mott

Adamant Namiki Precision Jewel Co. has created a diamond wafer that, according to the company, could make its way into a variety of quantum computing projects.

“A 2-inch diamond wafer theoretically enables enough quantum memory to record 1 billion Blu-ray discs,” Adamant Namiki says. “This is equivalent to all the mobile data distributed in the world in one day.” The purity of the diamonds produced using this process could allow the material to be used in quantum computers, quantum memory, and quantum sensing devices.

Adamant Namiki collaborated with Saga University to develop this new diamond creation method. The company says it originally produced a diamond wafer of this size in September 2021, but that iteration of the process introduced too many impurities for the resulting diamond to be useful in quantum computers, so it’s spent the last few months investigating that problem.

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Neural network can read tree heights from satellite images

Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a world map that for the first time uses machine learning to derive vegetation heights from satellite images in high resolution.

by Stéphanie Hegelbach

Using an artificial neural network, researchers at ETH Zurich have created the first high-resolution global vegetation height map for 2020 from satellite images. This map could provide key information for fighting climate change and species extinction, as well as for sustainable regional development planning.

Last year marked the beginning of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration. This initiative is aimed at halting the degradation of ecosystems by 2030, preventing it going forward and, if possible, remedying the damage that has already been done. Delivering on these kinds of projects calls for accurate foundations, such as surveys and maps of the existing vegetation.

In an interview, Ralph Dubayah, the Principal Investigator of NASA’s Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) mission, explains: “We simply do not know how tall trees are globally. […] We need good global maps of where trees are. Because whenever we cut down trees, we release carbon into the atmosphere, and we don’t know how much carbon we are releasing.”

Analyzing and preparing precisely this kind of environmental data is what the EcoVision Lab in the ETH Zurich Department of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering specializes in. Founded by ETH Zurich Professor Konrad Schindler and University of Zurich Professor Jan Dirk Wegner in 2017, this lab is where researchers are developing machine learning algorithms that enable automatic analysis of large-scale environmental data. One of those researchers is Nico Lang. In his doctoral thesis, he developed an approach—based on neural networks—for deriving vegetation height from optical satellite images. Using this approach, he was able to create the first vegetation height map that covers the entire Earth: the Global Canopy Height Map.

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NVIDIA’s New Tech Can Turn A Set of Photos into 3D Scenes in Seconds


NVIDIA’s Instant NeRF is a neural rendering model that can produce a 3D scene from 2D data inputs in seconds and can render images of that scene in milliseconds. 

The process is known as inverse rendering and allows AI to approximate how light behaves in the real world, which can be used to turn a collection of still images into a digital 3D scene in seconds. NVIDIA’s research team has developed an approach that accomplishes the task extremely rapidly — almost instantly — which makes it one of the first models of its kind that can combine ultra-fast neural network training and rapid render.

What is a NeRF?

NVIDIA simplifies this explanation and says that NeRFs use neural networks to represent and render 3D scenes based on an input collection of 2D images. The neural network requires a few dozen images taken from multiple positions around the scene as well as the camera’s position of each of those shots.

“In a scene that includes people or other moving elements, the quicker these shots are captured, the better. If there’s too much motion during the 2D image capture process, the AI-generated 3D scene will be blurry,” NVIDIA says.

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