Is Space-Based Solar Power Ready for Its Moment in the Sun?

An artistic depiction of sunlight-harvesting satellites supplying electricity from Earth orbit by beaming power to ground-based receiving stations.

By Leonard David

When inventor Charles Fritts created the first crude solar photovoltaic cells in the 1880s, one might have thought the achievement would rapidly revolutionize global electricity production. There is, after all, no power source cheaper, cleaner and more ubiquitous than sunlight. Yet despite enormous (and ongoing) technical advances making solar power ever more capable and affordable, some 140 years on it still supplies less than 5 percent of the world’s electricity. For all its benefits, solar power does have drawbacks that can limit its use—chief among them the fact that half the planet’s surface is in darkness at any given time.

In 1968 U.S. aerospace engineer Peter Glaser detailed a potential solution to these problems that was not only “outside the box” but entirely outside Earth’s atmosphere. Instead of building gigantic solar farms across vast, ecologically vulnerable tracts of land, Glaser proposed to loft the photovoltaics into orbit on fleets of solar power satellites. In orbit—unattenuated by clouds and freed from planetary cycles of day and night—sunlight could be harvested with optimum efficiency, then beamed as microwaves to ground-based “rectifying antennas” (rectennas). Back on Earth, the microwaves would be converted to electricity and channeled into power grids across the globe.

At the time and for decades afterward, however, the cost of space launches was too high and the performance of photovoltaics was too low to make Glaser’s bright idea a reality. But now technological advances, paired with the growing need for clean energy, are reinvigorating the concept of space-based solar power (SBSP), with pilot projects emerging in the U.S., China, Europe and Japan. As a new wave of research begins, the question lingers: Will SBSP ever be ready for its moment in the sun?

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The unimon, a new qubit to boost quantum computers for useful applications

Artistic impression of a unimon qubit in a quantum processor.

A group of scientists from Aalto University, IQM Quantum Computers, and VTT Technical Research Center have discovered a new superconducting qubit, the unimon, to increase the accuracy of quantum computations. The team has achieved the first quantum logic gates with unimons at 99.9% fidelity—a major milestone on the quest to build commercially useful quantum computers. This research was just published in the journal Nature Communications.

Of all the different approaches to build useful quantum computers, superconducting qubits are in the lead. However, the qubit designs and techniques currently used do not yet provide high enough performance for practical applications. In this noisy intermediate-scale quantum (NISQ) era, the complexity of the implementable quantum computations is mostly limited by errors in single- and two-qubit quantum gates. The quantum computations need to become more accurate to be useful. 

“Our aim is to build quantum computers which deliver an advantage in solving real-world problems. Our announcement today is an important milestone for IQM, and a significant achievement to build better superconducting quantum computers,” said Professor Mikko Möttönen, joint Professor of Quantum Technology at Aalto University and VTT, and also a Co-Founder and Chief Scientist at IQM Quantum Computers, who was leading the research.

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Red Wing Shoes wants virtual homes designed in Roblox to become real homes


This is a tiny home designed in Roblox.

Talk about moving from the metaverse to real life. 

Red Wing Shoes is launching the Builders Exchange Program so that people can design “tiny houses” in the virtual world of Roblox that could become actual homes in the real world.

For every five skilled trades workers leaving the industry, only one is joining. But Red Wing Shoes figured out people are building but not in the traditional way we all think about; millions of young people are building in the virtual world in places like Roblox.

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The World’s First Floating Spaceport Will Launch Travelers Into the Stratosphere in 2024

MS Voyager will be the waterborne launchpad for Spaceship Neptune. 

Spaceship Neptune’s inspiring journey from MS Voyager to the edge of space.

By MICHAEL VERDON 

Talk about a new kind of pleasure vessel. Space Perspective plans to launch the first-ever Marine Spaceport named, appropriately, MS Voyager, for test flights in early 2023. The Cape Canaveral-based firm plans to start testing its Spaceship Neptune—a cockpit tethered to a giant space balloon—next year for six-hour civilian journeys in 2024 that will go high into the stratosphere. Unlike competitors Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, the space balloon won’t involve rockets or ten-minute spaceflights.

The 292-foot Voyager is designed to be a floating “spaceport,” which gives Space Perspective the option of launching Spaceship Neptune from either land or water. The company has a land-based launch site on Florida’s Space Coast for its initial flights in 2024, but its long-term plans include other destinations around the world.

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How Generative AI Is Changing Creative Work

By Thomas H. Davenport and Nitin Mittal

Summary.   Generative AI models for businesses threaten to upend the world of content creation, with substantial impacts on marketing, software, design, entertainment, and interpersonal communications. These models are able to produce text and images: blog…more

Large language and image AI models, sometimes called generative AI or foundation models, have created a new set of opportunities for businesses and professionals that perform content creation. Some of these opportunities include: 

  1. Automated content generation: Large language and image AI models can be used to automatically generate content, such as articles, blog posts, or social media posts. This can be a valuable time-saving tool for businesses and professionals who create content on a regular basis. 
  2. Improved content quality: AI-generated content can be of higher quality than content created by humans, due to the fact that AI models are able to learn from a large amount of data and identify patterns that humans may not be able to see. This can result in more accurate and informative content. 
  3. Increased content variety: AI models can generate a variety of content types, including text, images, and video. This can help businesses and professionals to create more diverse and interesting content that appeals to a wider range of people. 
  4. Personalized content: AI models can generate personalized content based on the preferences of individual users. This can help businesses and professionals to create content that is more likely to be of interest to their target audience, and therefore more likely to be read or shared.

How adept is this technology at mimicking human efforts at creative work? Well, for an example, the italicized text above was written by GPT-3, a “large language model” (LLM) created by OpenAI, in response to the first sentence, which we wrote. GPT-3’s text reflects the strengths and weaknesses of most AI-generated content. First, it is sensitive to the prompts fed into it; we tried several alternative prompts before settling on that sentence. Second, the system writes reasonably well; there are no grammatical mistakes, and the word choice is appropriate. Third, it would benefit from editing; we would not normally begin an article like this one with a numbered list, for example. Finally, it came up with ideas that we didn’t think of. The last point about personalized content, for example, is not one we would have considered.

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Cerebras Reveals Andromeda, a 13.5 Million Core AI Supercomputer

The world’s largest chip scales to new heights. 

By Paul Alcorn

Cerebras, the company that builds the world’s largest chip, the Wafer Scale Engine 2 (WSE-2), unveiled its Andromeda supercomputer today. Andromeda combines 16 of the wafer-sized WSE-2 chips into one cluster with 13.5 million AI-optimized cores that the company says delivers up to 1 Exaflop of AI computing horsepower, or 120 Petaflops of 16-bit half-precision. 

The chips are housed in sixteen CS-2 systems. Each chip delivers up to 12.1 TB/s of internal bandwidth (96.8 Terabits) to the AI cores, but the data is fed to the CS-2 processors via 100 GbE networking spread across 124 server nodes in 16 racks. In total, those servers are powered by 284 third-gen EPYC Milan processors wielding 64 cores apiece, totaling 18,176 cores. 

The entire system consumes 500 KW, which is a drastically lower amount of power than somewhat-comparable GPU-accelerated supercomputers. However, scaling a workload across such massively-parallel supercomputers has long been one of the primary inhibitors — at some point, scaling tends to break down, so adding more hardware results in a rapidly diminishing point of returns. 

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Industrial Robots in Automotive Manufacturing: IDTechEx Asks Whether Electric Vehicles will Reduce the Demand

The Adoption of Automation Typically Accelerates After Crisis

Robotics and automation have gained significant momentum during the past two decades. However, with the recent global turmoil, the increasing likelihood of recession, unprecedented inflation in many countries, and geopolitical tensions, many challenges in the manufacturing industry have been exacerbated. Nevertheless, IDTechEx believes that automation and robots in the manufacturing industry will regain their fast growth rates according to the historic performance.

The unit sales of industrial robots accelerated quickly from 2003 to 2007 after the dot-com bust. A similar trend also happened after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. With all the uncertainties, such as China/US trade conflict in 2019, supply chain disruption in 2020 and 2021, and a potential recession in 2022 and/or 2023, IDTechEx believes that the post-crisis industrial robots and manufacturing automation will likely gain more momentum after 2023. IDTechEx’s recent research reports, “Collaborative Robots (Cobots) 2023-2043: Technologies, Players & Markets” and “Mobile Robotics in Logistics, Warehousing and Delivery 2022-2042”, have provided a granular market size forecast of what applications are expected to adopt more robots and automation, how the changes in regulations will lead to market size growth, and considers many other factors for adoption.

On the supply side, COVID has significantly limited the accessibility of factory workers. IDTechEx has learned that many small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have suffered from labor storage, and the border closure and travel restrictions have further exacerbated this issue over the past two years. In addition, customers are looking for more unique selling points and differentiation from the products they purchase. The increasing variability in manufacturing puts a higher requirement for short-handed manufacturers. Many companies, particularly SMEs, have started to adopt automation to mitigate this issue.

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Nanotechnology platform can make solid tumor cells more receptive to immunotherapy

By Emily Henderson

A team of researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has developed a nanotechnology platform that can change the way the immune system sees solid tumor cells, making them more receptive to immunotherapy. The preclinical findings suggest this adaptable immune conversion approach has the potential for broad application across many cancer types.

The study, published today in Nature Nanotechnology, details the use of this platform to artificially attach an activation molecule to the surface of tumor cells, triggering an immune response in both in vivo and in vitro models. Wen Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of Radiation Oncology, and Betty Kim, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Neurosurgery, co-led the study.

With this new platform, we now have a strategy to convert a solid tumor, at least immunologically, to resemble a hematological tumor, which often has a much higher response rate to immunotherapy treatments. If we are able to translate and validate this approach in the clinic, it may enable us to get closer to the maximum level of activity from immunotherapy drugs with cancers that have not traditionally responded well.”

Wen Jiang, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology

Immunotherapy has high response rates in blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma, but success has been variable across solid tumors. Scientists have been working to further understand the mechanisms prohibiting a better response. One explanation is that varied expression of immune regulatory molecules on blood cancer versus solid tumor cells impact how they interact with immune cells.

The signaling lymphocytic activation molecule family member 7 (SLAMF7) receptor is critical in activating the body’s immune cells against cancer cells, acting as an “eat me” signal. However, it is found almost exclusively on the surface of blood cancer cells and not in solid tumor cells, making it an attractive target for the researchers’ immune conversion approach.

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Researchers hope AI can alleviate interstate traffic jams

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Researchers at Vanderbilt University and other schools around the country are conducting an experiment in Nashville next week to try to decrease the number of stop-and-go traffic jams on a local interstate. 

The new experiment will deploy up to 100 cars equipped with adaptive cruise control technology along a 4-mile stretch of Interstate 24 during morning rush hour, according to a news release from Vanderbilt. That stretch is outfitted with hundreds of ultra-high definition cameras that will give researchers a digital model of how every vehicle behaves. 

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New 4D Flow MRI Cuts Heart Scan Time in Half

Research out of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, has developed a new magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technology that can produce 4D flow images of a heart in less than half the time of a traditional 4D MRI scan, which takes up to 20 minutes. The new scan technology takes only eight minutes and looks to revolutionize the way potential heart failure is diagnosed.

“The best method to diagnose heart failure is by invasive assessment, which is not preferred as it has risks,” says Dr. Pankaj Garg, lead researcher on the study, which was funded by the Wellcome Trust. He adds, while echocardiography is often used to measure peak velocity of blood flow with precision and accuracy, the method is unreliable. “In the 4D flow MRI, we can look at the flow in three directions over time.”

However, the time needed to carry out a 4D flow MRI traditionally takes up to 20 minutes, so, given patients aversions to MRI scans, the research team identified the need to shorten scan times. Working with General Electrics Healthcare in Germany, they investigated the reliability of Kat-ARC, a new fast-scan method. The results provide a precise image of heart valves and blood flow within the heart, which will help doctors better diagnose and decide a course of treatment for patients.

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FCC Proposes New “Space Bureau” to Meet the Challenges of Commercial Space

By Daniel Pereira

On November 3, 2022, at the National Press Club in Washington D.C., Federal Communications Commission Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced a plan to reorganize the agency to better support the needs of the growing satellite industry, promote long-term technical capacity at the FCC, and navigate 21st-century global communications policy.

Under this plan, Chairwoman Rosenworcel will work to reorganize the FCC’s International Bureau into a new Space Bureau and a standalone Office of International Affairs. These changes will help ensure that the FCC’s resources are better aligned so that the agency can continue to fulfill its statutory obligations and keep pace with the rapidly changing realities of the satellite industry and global communications policy.

“The satellite industry is growing at a record pace, but here on the ground, our regulatory frameworks for licensing them have not kept up. Over the past two years, the agency has received applications for 64,000 new satellites. In addition, we are seeing new commercial models, new players, and new technologies coming together to pioneer a wide range of new satellite services and space-based activities that need access to wireless airwaves,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel.

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Practical use of Augmented Reality and AI in the Manufacturing Industry

By Edmund Gair

Augmented reality (AR) is an extension of the environment in which the user is, enriched in real time with texts, graphics and multimedia contents. Its goal is to enhance the physical world with meaningful and relevant information. Since the development of AR, it has mostly been used for entertainment like in the popular mobile game, Pokemon GO, or for marketing like in the IKEA Studio App. But gradually, we have witnessed the integration of AR across various industries, including manufacturing. 

Manufacturing floors and warehouses can be dangerous and often confusing places to be in. The increasingly complex, AI-powered machinery requires on-site experts with more and more specialization to train warehouse staff and/or repair the machines, if necessary — something which isn’t readily available, and quite expensive. This is where augmented reality comes into play, supporting remote technology, maintenance, and collaboration. 

While implementing AI and AR technology can get expensive for businesses, the return-on-investment on their practical uses cannot be ignored. The ROI presents itself in the form of operational efficiency, where machines use artificial intelligence to self-diagnose for any operational issues which can be easily presented to the ground staff through augmented reality. AI and AR also help reduce or even altogether prevent machine downtime by seamlessly scheduling the workflow. They can prevent machine overuse through self-diagnostic alerts, instantly show machine records and stats, and help maintain the overall well-being of the machine. 

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