Can you imagine the home of the future?
It now appears that crews will be able to "print" out your home… in a single day… and hey, on Mars, no less, if that's where you want to go.
See, NASA is now funding a project in the fast-growing field of 3D printers.
These are devices that take blueprints and turn them into real objects. The "printer" has a nozzle that spits out special polymers. Once you add a binding agent, you can create everything from replica car parts to human jaws.
Back in March I wrote about these "desktop factories" in Money Morning. I predicted that, by the end of this decade, everyone from consumers to big businesses to solo inventors will be able to make their own unique products in just a couple of hours. (You can read that article right here.)
Now, with funding from NASA, USC engineering professor Behrokh Khoshnevis has devised a process he calls "contour crafting." The prof says the printed home of the future will have it all – wiring, plumbing, and air conditioning. He says this field has the "potential to build safe, reliable, and affordable lunar and Martian structures, habitats, laboratories, and other facilities before the arrival of human beings."
Like I keep telling you, this is the Era of Radical Change. Soon, we will be traveling to other planets as a matter of course, as part of the New Space Race. So I wanted to keep you abreast of the latest breakthrough in this field.
And that was far from the only fascinating piece of cutting-edge tech I came across this month.
Take a look…
Soon You Can Get a "Fill Up" for $1.25
A car company in India hopes to make tiny urban vehicles that run on compressed air and emit zero pollution.
These "AIRPods" hold 175 liters of air, which drivers can get at a special fueling station or by using an onboard electric motor. The cars go up to 43 mph, and a tank of air – costing only about $1.25 per fill – will last 125 miles.
Now, this three-wheeled vehicle is very small and looks somewhat like an insect. The driver doesn't use a steering wheel, but a joystick. And don't expect a lot of creature comforts. The "mid-sized" model fits up to three passengers, but two of them have to face backwards.
The brain child of Motor Development International, this vehicle has been under development since 2000. But now it is under tests by Tata Motors. Tata has announced it expects to release the AIRPod commercially in the near future… for about $10,000.
It's hard to know just how much of an inroad these AIRPods will make in the market. But vehicles that run on alternative fuel are only likely to become more important in the years to come.
Next up are high-tech, sensor-laden vehicles equipped with the kind of gear that will help us avoid traffic and crashes. A team from the University of Michigan plans to install the needed wireless tech on 3,000 test cars, vans, and trucks.
The team wants the vehicles to be able talk to each other. But they also want them to connect to traffic lights and other road signals. The idea is to use high tech to reduce traffic deaths.
These "connected" autos will almost certainly come to market in the next few years.
New Robots are Self-Aware (and Inflatable)
Nico is a robot who thinks he's human – well, almost.
For years, experts have predicted that bots would become self-aware like humans. Now, a team at Yale University has programmed one (Nico) to recognize itself in a mirror.
That's a big deal, because it moves bots closer to human-style reasoning. If robots can't "think" like us, then they can't act like us. For example, if an unthinking robot saw an object being reflected in a mirror and wanted it, it would simply smash through the looking glass to try to grab it.
If they are to become true personal assistants, team members say, robots will need to learn about themselves and how they affect the world around them – especially people.
Meantime, iRobot Corp. (NasdaqGS:IRBT) has just released a video of a robot that has a giant inflatable arm. The air-powered arm remains stowed inside the tracked vehicle until it's needed. Made mostly of fabric and string, the so-called AIRarm can pick up objects that weigh several pounds.
This shows that future bots could become highly flexible, adding or taking away arms and legs as needed for certain jobs.
And then there's Swimanoid. It's a robot swimmer being built at Japan's Tokyo Institute of Tech. Made to 1/2 scale, it contains waterproof motors and is designed to help with sports research, training, and rescue.
"The Rain in Spain" Explained by Your Brain
Scientists have found the precise neurons, cells inside the brain, that determine how people pronounce the sounds we call vowels. They actually can chart a graph of each sound and which region of the brain is used to make it.
This is hardly academic. One of the "biggest" brains on the planet – Stephen Hawking – is almost completely paralyzed due to ALS and relies on a computer to talk for him.
A team at UCLA and the Technion in Israel made the discovery. They say this breakthrough could lead to new technology that verbalizes the unspoken words of thousands of folks paralyzed by injury or disease.
In a separate study, another research group found a new nanoparticle that may help people with brain injuries, including those from a stroke. A team at Rice University says the compound works by restoring normal blood flow.
(By the way, if you missed my recent report on five new brain secrets you need to know about, you can read it here.)
A Supercomputer for Your Smart Phone
You've probably heard of Watson. It's the famous computer from International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM) that made headlines last year by competing against trivia champions on the famous game show Jeopardy!… and winning.
See, Watson has a massive array of processors, four terabytes of disk storage, and is equipped with artificial intelligence. That allows "him" to answer questions posed by humans in our natural language, faster than humans possibly can. He sometimes gets confused, particularly by categories with shorter, less wordy clues. But he also learns from his mistakes.
As IBM sees it, a phone-based Watson would greatly aid productivity in many industries.
Think of a farmer standing in a corn field. He asks his phone when and where to plant. In just a few seconds, an answer comes back based on data about location, historical trends, and scientific studies.
I hope you enjoyed August's Fascinations of the Month. Don't forget to share what's fascinating you this month by leaving a comment below or writing to me at email@example.com.
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About the Author
Michael A. Robinson is one of the top financial analysts working today. His book "Overdrawn: The Bailout of American Savings" was a prescient look at the anatomy of the nation's S&L crisis, long before the word "bailout" became part of our daily lexicon. He's a Pulitzer Prize-nominated writer and reporter, lauded by the Columbia Journalism Review for his aggressive style. His 30-year track record as a leading tech analyst has garnered him rave reviews, too. Today he is the editor of the monthly tech investing newsletter Nova-X Report as well as Radical Technology Profits, where he covers truly radical technologies – ones that have the power to sweep across the globe and change the very fabric of our lives – and profit opportunities they give rise to. He also explores "what's next" in the tech investing world at Strategic Tech Investor.