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As the world anxiously awaits the completion of the first Hyperloop track and the dawn of a new era of transportation, China is moving forward with plans for something even bigger and better than a high speed vacuum tube: a flying train!

That’s right.  China is planning to build a bullet train/Hyperloop/supersonic jet hybrid, known as the T-Train, that would be capable of traveling over 3x faster than a Hyperloop.

According to CNET,

“China Aerospace Science and Industry Corp. (CASIC) is working on a transit system that neither really flies nor looks like a conventional train, but could travel at up to 2,485 miles per hour (4,000 kilometers per hour)…By comparison, Hyperloop promises just barely sub-supersonic speeds closer to 760 mph (1,200 kph).”

Such a flying train would be capable of making its way from L.A. to San Francisco in less than ten minutes.  Overall, traveling on a flying train would be about five times faster than traveling via a conventional commercial plane.  It would, in essence, be supersonic ground transportation and it would absolutely, positively blow the Hyperloop out of the water.

It’s an audacious plan to be sure but would it work? Is it even physically possible?  Only time will tell.  But if anyone is poised to find out, its China.  A massively expansive country that has long been determined to revolutionize transportation, whether that means pushing the envelope on mass speed for a bullet train or inventing clever ways to beat traffic congestion, as their elevated bus concept last year attested to.

Hopefully, they’ll be able to figure out how to make a train fly.  If for no other reason than the mere fact that a flying train is just about the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.

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Is T-Flight the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Last night I read an inspirational story in The Originals about an entrepreneur who just wouldn’t take no for an answer.  Empowered by the belief that she had a revolutionary idea about wireless power, this entrepreneur refused to quit, even when every expert and scientist that she spoke to said what she hoped to accomplish was theoretically impossible.   Undeterred Meredith Perry decided to stop communicating what it was she was trying to do.  Instead she just hired people to build the tech that she needed in smaller increments, without telling them what it was for.  Eventually, she had created the product that she wanted all along, a way to wirelessly charge devices using ultrasound.   A breakthrough with far-reaching implications.

As Scientific American puts it:

“Sooner or later everything goes wireless. Over the decades we’ve figured out how to eliminate the cables that bring us sound, video, text, phone calls and data. Today there’s only one major cable left to eliminate: the power cord.

Imagine if we could tap into power wirelessly! We’d all quit bellyaching about our phones being dead by dinnertime. Battery life would become a meaningless spec. A new era of gadgets could be thinner, sleeker, lighter and more flexible—because they wouldn’t have to devote such a huge chunk of their volume to batteries.”

And now thanks to Meredith Perry and her startup uBeam we may be on the verge of that new era.  I bring this up to point out the key to making this revolutionary new technology possible: ultrasound.  Because as it turns out, wirelessly charging devices and viewing babies isn’t all it’s good for.  Soon, it may be also be possible to use ultrasound to wake up coma patients.

According to Futurism:

“The treatment, called low-intensity focused ultrasound pulsation, was led by Martin Monti, a UCLA associate professor of psychology and neurosurgery.  As its name suggests, the treatment made use of sonic stimulation to stir up the neurons in the thalamus—the brain’s focal center for processing information. This was done because, as previous assertions likely made clear, doctors hoped that this would help “jump-start” his brain back to functionality. And notably, according to the UCLA Newsroom’s release, the patient has regained full consciousness and full language comprehension just after three days.”

Between uBeam and this coma treatment it’s clear that ultrasound is going to play a big part in our future.  The question now becomes, just how big of a part? What else can ultrasound be used for?!?

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Is uBeam the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I’ve longer held an appreciation for auditory forms of entertainment from listening to baseball games on the radio to hosting a podcast.  Back in the day I even worked for ESPN radio and had a bright future ahead of me as a station producer.  But ultimately I decided to pull away from the radio business.  Mostly out of fear that I was working on a dying medium in a digital age.  In an era dominated by YouTube clips and streaming video it just didn’t make sense to be tying my fate to the airwaves.

Fortunately, there are a few new ventures that are hoping to change that.  First up is Audioburst, an Israeli company that is hoping to create a new search engine for sound.

According to TechCrunch:

“The idea is that much of the information arising from daily news programs or topical podcasts – or even TV news – is not available in an organized, searchable fashion. It’s broadcast over the radio, and then it largely disappears; or it’s only heard by those who subscribe and then listen to a particular episode of a podcast series, for example.

The larger goal is to make this sort of audio content available across platforms – including from Audioburst’s own search engine; major search engines like Google and Bing; from smart assistant apps, like Google Assistant; and from voice platforms like the Alexa-powered Echo speakers and Google Home.”

Personally, I think this is a great idea.  Just imagine the potential that a YouTube of sound would have.  Imagine if you could ask a search engine for news or gossip about Game of Thrones and then find a listing of every podcast and every TV show soundbite about the latest episode.  Imagine if you could search recordings of baseball games and instantly hear every home run call from the night before.  Instead of one and done broadcasting, audio would suddenly have staying power.

But what good is staying power if nobody knows you’re out there in the first place? If accessibility is audio’s #1 drawback then discoverability is #2 on the list.  What’s needed is a better way for the people creating audio content to promote themselves.  But how do you do that?  How do you stand out with sound in a visual world?  It’s simple: your turn your audio into video.  Anchor aims to do just that.

As Engadget puts it, “Podcasts might be enjoying a resurgence, but they’re not exactly designed for social networks. Are your friends really going to notice the link to your latest episode when there’s a cute cat video beckoning? Anchor might have a way to capture their attention. It’s updating its Android and iOS podcasting apps with an option that turns your recordings into easily shared videos. The software automatically transcribes your dialog (you can fix any hiccups, of course) and exports it a slick-looking clip that fits the format of your choice. If you want to get the word out through Instagram, you can have a square-shaped video ready within moments.”

All in all, it’s encouraging to see companies like Audioburst and Anchor tackling some of the problems associated with audio entertainment content.  Hopefully, they will continue to innovate and make it even easier to enjoy the latest sounds from around the world.

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Is Audioburst the Greatest Idea Ever?  Is Anchor?

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A few years ago I wrote about my desire to bring back the Worlds Fair on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1964 New York Fair.  My goal was simple: to permanently recreate the magic and wonder that visitors to the great fair would have experienced by starting a traveling circus of sorts, a mobile worlds fair known as IdeaCon that would tour the country showcasing all the latest ideas and innovations to every barn and broken down building in middle America.  I even started a crowd-funding campaign to raise funding to turn this dream into a reality.  Over the course of three months I raised zero dollars.  Zero cents too.  Apparently, I was the only one who thought that reviving the Worlds Fair was a good idea.

I had a hard time believing this.  There’s no way I could be the only person who thought this was a good idea.  The Worlds Fair was beloved at the time.  So much so that every fair, conference, and convention from the Consumer Electronics Show and ComicCon to the Maker Faire and Apple’s World Wide Developers Conference aims to recapture that magic.  No matter who you are, no matter where you are, everyone wants to feel like they’re standing on the precipice of the future.  Everyone wants to feel like they’re the first one to glimpse the Next Big Thing.  To hold it in their hands.  To feel its power tugging at their heart strings.  When it comes down to it, we really are all futurists.  Every single one of us.

Thankfully, I’m no longer the only one who think so.  Thankfully, someone else is finally determined to bring back the Worlds Fair, to do what I could not.  To succeed where I failed.  And it’s all thanks to the Worlds Fair Nano, an upcoming two day festival in New York in mid-September that not only hopes to pique people’s interest in the future but also whet their appetite for a larger fair to return.

As Futurism opines:

“The 1964 New York City Worlds Fair was an epic, year-long event that took over Flushing Meadows Park in Queens with over 140 different pavilions and was attended by over 80 different countries — 37 of which were hosts. For many attendees, the fair was their first opportunity to interact with the first computer technologies.

Fast forward to the 2017 nano fair, and attendees will have an opportunity to pilot drones, experience virtual reality, race electric skateboards, check out the world’s first flying cars, and demo hundreds of futuristic innovations.

Ultimately, the nano fair is an effort to bring attention and excitement back to the Worlds Fair. The creators of the nano fair hope to use the two-day Brooklyn-based festival to spark the enthusiasm needed to get the support to grow into a proper six-month-long event, eventually bringing it back to New York City for the first time since 1964.”

Personally, I would like to extend my kudos to the Worlds Fair Nano organizers for getting this event off the ground.  Making it the third Nano Fair they’ve hosted in the last two years following one in San Francisco back in January and the initial one in New York last year.  Hopefully, they can continue to host annual events on both coasts, and who knows, maybe there will be enough interest to expand into a proper full scale fair.  Maybe even one day we could get to the point where we have a mobile Worlds Fair.

Is the Worlds Fair Nano the Greatest Idea Ever?

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A quick look at everything that caught my eye this past week:

Personalized Exo-Skeletons: In the future we may all have robotic exo-skeletons that help us out, making it easier for us to get around and haul heavy loads of equipment along the way.  Perfect for hikers, campers, little old ladies, or anyone who wants to go grocery shopping.  And now those exo-skeletons will be matched to our specific gaits.

According to Science Alert, “Scientists have developed special algorithms that enable body scaffolds called exoskeletons to adjust to the walk of the person wearing them, making these robotic aids more efficient and personalized.  The enhanced mechanics are able to tweak their behavior based on feedback from the wearer’s metabolism and other measurements, and the team behind the system is calling it human-in-the-loop optimization.”

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The Frame: Don’t like the fact that your television set is a giant eye sore in your living room?  Samsung has got you covered.

As Wired puts it, “The Frame, a clever mashup of a television and digital art display. One click on the remote toggles between the TV and “art mode,” a high-res display for digital paintings, drawings, and photographs. You can import your own images, order them from Samsung at $20 a pop, or subscribe to unlimited art for $4.99 a month.  The Frame mounts flush against the wall, like a painting in a gallery. That clever design trick, coupled with the wood or metal bezel and translucent cable linking it to the Samsung One Connect, disguise the fact the Frame also streams all your favorite shows.”

Personally, I’m a big fan of this concept.  It’s great for hosting company as you not only get to hide your TV, you also get to add in a conversation piece as you either discuss the art itself or the fact that your TV is hidden.  As a fan of great design it’s also worth appreciating for its great utilization of otherwise dead space.  And, who knows, if you like you might even find yourself spending more time staring at your TV than actually watching it.  If know I would if I could get to display my epic Instagram pictures.

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Concrete breakthrough: Scientists have finally figured out the key to why Roman concrete has survived for thousands of years while more modern day advanced concrete crumbles much more quickly than that.

As Pionic puts it, “Around A.D. 79, Roman author Pliny the Elder wrote in his Naturalis Historia that concrete structures in harbors, exposed to the constant assault of the saltwater waves, become ‘a single stone mass, impregnable to the waves and every day stronger.’

He wasn’t exaggerating. While modern marine concrete structures crumble within decades, 2,000-year-old Roman piers and breakwaters endure to this day, and are stronger now than when they were first constructed. University of Utah geologist Marie Jackson studies the minerals and microscale structures of Roman concrete as she would a volcanic rock. She and her colleagues have found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion.”

Further understanding of how the sea affects concrete could lead to improving the performance of modern day concrete.  Something that will definitely come in handy as the polar ice caps melt and sea levels rise around the world.

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Sprites successfully launched: Breakthrough Starshot, a joint effort by some of the world’s leading minds to launch tiny gram sized spacecraft capable of making their way to our nearest stellar neighbor, Alpha Centauri, has successfully completed its first launch of tiny craft called “sprites”.

As The Guardian puts it:

“The smallest spacecraft ever launched are successfully travelling in low Earth orbit and communicating with systems on Earth, scientists have announced.  Known as ‘Sprites’, the miniature satellites are just 3.5cm x 3.5cm and carry radios, sensors and computers, with each device powered by sunlight and weighing just four grams…Scientists say the latest development is an important precursor to an ambitious attempt to send space probes to planets beyond our solar system…”

Hopefully the sprites will continue to be operational and the next phase of the plan can begin in earnest.

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Are any of these the Greatest Idea Ever?

 

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I wouldn’t want to play chess against Elon Musk.  Every time he makes a move (starts a new company, publicly discusses an idea) it’s all part of an elaborate plan that he has set into motion.  Nothing he does is in isolation.  Each move has been carefully thought out well in advance.  The destinies of Solar City and Tesla speak to that, so intertwined are their future prospects that it’s inevitable that the two companies will merge.  And now it seems as though the fates of the Hyperloop and the Boring Company are intertwined as well as Musk has announced that he has received a verbal commitment from government officials approving an Eastern seaboard Hyperloop that that would make it possible to travel from Washington to New York City in under half an hour.

As the Verge puts it, “The Boring Company started as a joke, but became increasingly serious as Musk began tunneling in a parking lot outside of SpaceX in an effort to demonstrate his ability to dig faster and more efficiently than traditional tunneling projects. Musk says he’s working on tunnel-boring machines than can simultaneously dig up and reinforce tunnels, which could go a long way toward solving a big engineering challenge. He recently announced the completion of the first section of tunnel under Los Angeles.”

But now it seems as though the Boring Company has a much larger end game in sight: digging the tunnels that will accommodate the Hyperloop network.  Including, if his tweets are to be believed, one on the East Coast that would allow for unprecedented travel between two of the country’s most influential cities.

According to the New York Times, “Mr. Musk’s planned 29-minute trip is considerably shorter than the current options. A drive from Washington to New York can take about five hours. Amtrak’s Acela, its high-speed counterpart to regional train service, cuts the time down to about two hours and 45 minutes. A nonstop flight from Kennedy Airport in New York to Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington is currently the fastest option, at one hour and 15 minutes.”

It’s going to be a while before the dream of convenient travel between New York and Washington D.C. becomes a reality.  The Hyperloop still has to be built, the tunnels still have to be dug, and that’s all assuming that this verbal government approval even holds up.  But at the same time I also wouldn’t bet against Musk.  If he’s set his mind to accomplishing something it’s probably too late for us to object anyway.  The plan was probably already set in motion long ago.

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Is an East Coast Hyperloop the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Google isn’t the only tech company to launch a new feed based service.  Amazon just did too, creating Amazon Spark and it’s designed to turn product reviewers into “enthusiasts” and in turn its site into Instagram.  Essentially, Spark is a hybrid social media site and product store, a shoppable feed of images that could really put a damper into Pinterest’s plans as users shop items recommended by people who share their interests.

As TechCrunch puts it, “Amazon today is launching Amazon Spark, a new feature aimed at improving product discovery, which is seemingly inspired by Instagram and its use of shoppable photos. Similarly, Amazon Spark users are encouraged to post stories, ideas and images of products they love, which others can react to with comments and ‘smiles’ – Amazon’s own version of the Like or Favorite button.”

Ars Technica adds that, “Spark appears to be Amazon’s way of not only encouraging more young people to discover new products on the platform in a way that feels natural to them, but also boosting the social  aspect of Amazon as a whole. But products will always be the main focus of any Amazon feature, and Spark certainly integrates ‘shoppable’ tags more efficiently than Instagram. Amazon has the upper hand as it can link directly to products it sells and directly bring customers to that product page when they tap on the link.”

But Spark isn’t the only new innovation that Amazon recently unveiled.  They’ve also been working on a portable robot that would live inside of airports or other public spaces, and bring cellphone charging capabilities to those who hail it.  Consider it an Uber for cell phones.

As Geek Wire reports, “The idea may seem wacky, but the inventors contend that such robots would fill a need that’s currently unmet. They note that mobile devices have become ubiquitous in public and semi-public spaces:

“It can be quite inconvenient to a user when one of these devices runs out of battery power. This is especially true if the user does not have an available charging adapter for the device. Users may find themselves asking friends, or even strangers, to borrow a charging adapter. In some cases, there may not be any charging ports, or power outlets in the immediate vicinity, making charging the device even more cumbersome. Even in cases where charging stations, ports, or outlets are available, a user may have to remain close to the device. For example, charging a phone in a public place may require the user to remain in the general area of the phone to avoid theft.”

Would a charging robot solve all of those issues?  That depends on whether or one is available in your area or how long it would take to get to you.  Plus it’s highly likely that other technologies such as wireless charging devices or longer lasting batteries or phones that work without batteries will make it so that we don’t even need to recharge our batteries.  But in any event that doesn’t really matter.  The only thing that really matters is that if there’s an issue in need of solving, whether that’s cell phone charging of finding a way to make shopping more social, you can rest assured that Amazon is working on a way to solve that problem.

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Is Amazon Spark the Greatest Idea Ever?

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