Category Archives: Science and Technology

Technologies of interest – Oct.16.2019

A sampling of recent items about new robotic and aviation technologies (previous tech posts):

[ Update Oct.17: Vertical Aerospace in the UK debuts the Seraph eVTOL aircraftWorld first: Vertical Aerospace flies electric air taxi capable of carrying 250kg – Vertical Aerospace

The Seraph was built to test new technologies and systems for integration into our upcoming passenger model, due to be unveiled next year. With the Seraph we became the first company in the world to release flight footage of an eVTOL aircraft capable of carrying 250kg.

The aircraft is capable of carrying loads of up to 250kg and can reach speeds of up to 80kmph. It features a unique passive cooling system, and a customisable design, meaning the aircraft can be made larger or smaller, fitted with wheels or floats to facilitate water landings.


** Recent Agile Robotics videos:

** Latest Boston Dynamics videos:

** Lilium is now flying its first prototype electric air taxi: Lilium’s 36-Motor Flying Taxi Takes Off for the First Time – WIRED.

** Purdue team builds robotic hummingbird:

What can fly like a bird and hover like an insect? Your friendly neighborhood hummingbird. If drones had this capability, they would be able to fly steadily through windy conditions, and get into tight spaces other drones couldn’t go. Assistant professor Xinyan Deng and her team have created a bio-inspired hummingbird robot: trained by artificial intelligence, weighing only 12 grams, and utilizing unsteady aerodynamics to hover, just like the real thing.

** The Space Show – Tue, 04/30/2019Bruno Mombrinie talked about “the Metro Hop concept and plan for a fixed wing eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) passenger and cargo commercial plane service”.

**  The Space Show – Tue, 06/25/2019Dr. Anita Sengupta talked about VTOL urban aerial mobility technology market 7 craft development, technical VTOL issues, VTOL business case and much more”. See also ASX_MobiOne_Specs2019.pdf

** Urban Aero‘s large VTOL Cormorant can do crop dusting:

** Gravity Industries organizing Jet Pack racing  – Real-Life Flying Suit Inventor Richard Browning to Launch Jetpack Racing League in 2019 – The Drive – Sept.10.2018

** Using a wing with the jet pack:



Sci-Tech videos: 3 Boston Dynamics robots, MIT Mini Cheetah, & Agility Robotics Cassie

A selection of items about robotics:

** The SpotMini looks to be Boston Dynamics‘s first major commercial robot. Here is a video released this week:

It only takes 10 Spotpower (SP) to haul a truck across the Boston Dynamics parking lot (~1 degree uphill, truck in neutral). These Spot robots are coming off the production line now and will be available for a range of applications soon.

** Boston Dynamics robots for warehouse work include Handle and Pick:

Handle is a mobile manipulation robot designed for logistics. Handle autonomously performs mixed SKU pallet building and depalletizing after initialization and localizing against the pallets. The on-board vision system on Handle tracks the marked pallets for navigation and finds individual boxes for grasping and placing. When Handle places a boxes onto a pallet, it uses force control to nestle each box up against its neighbors. The boxes used in the video weigh about 5 Kg (11 lbs), but the robot is designed to handle boxes up to (15 Kg) (33 lb). This version of Handle works with pallets that are 1.2 m deep and 1.7 m tall (48 inches deep and 68 inches tall).

Using a combination of vision sensors and deep learning software, Pick works with commercial robotic arms to palletize and depalletize boxes. Pick enables logistics, retail, and manufacturing companies to achieve high rates of box moving with minimal set up or training for both multi-SKU and single-SKU pallets.

** “Evolution of Boston Dynamics Robots“:

** Backflipping MIT Mini CheetahMini cheetah is the first four-legged robot to do a backflip | MIT News

MIT’S new mini cheetah robot is the first four-legged robot to do a backflip. At only 20 pounds the limber quadruped can bend and swing its legs wide, enabling it to walk either right side up or upside down. The robot can also trot over uneven terrain about twice as fast as an average person’s walking speed.

** Cassie: Dynamic Planning on Stairs from Agility Robotics

This video shows the progression of increasingly complex gait strategies from ATRIAS through recent results with Cassie. Specifically, Cassie’s controller now includes planned footstep placements in addition to dynamic balancing, allowing access to substantially more complicated terrains.


Einstein’s Monsters: The Life and Times of Black Holes

Videos: TMRO Orbit 12.04 – “A possible goodby to the Opportunity Rover”

The latest episode of the space show is now available: A possible goodbye to the Opportunity Rover – Orbit 12.04

While the Opportunity rover isn’t officially dead yet, at this point engineers seem to be struggling to get communications restored. It’s possible there could be a eureka moment, but for now Oppy remains silent. We chat about our favorite Opportunity Science, Moments and even enjoy the launch itself.

This week we also chat about Stratolaunch history and Future (by way of community vote), Blue Origin Test Flights and Onboard Science and the recent higher-resolution picture of Ultima Thule from New Horizons.

Space news is now presented by TMRO in a separate video:

This is your space news update for January 30th, 2019. Our Space Mike hologram is back, in non hologram form this week to deliver Launch Minute as well as an update on the SpaceX DM-1 mission. We also chat about the recent Blue Origin Test Flight and the ground breaking for their new engine production facility. OneWeb may have access to a lower cost ground based system for their upcoming satellite constellation. And finally, a quick update on NASA’s Opportunity Rover.

A TMRO Science program was also webcast: Breaking down ocean waste with bioremediation – Discovery 02.01

Dr. Rose Jones of Bigelow Lab for Ocean Sciences joins us on TMRO.Science to talk about Deep-sea microbial communities, extremophiles and bioremediation of acid mine drainage sites. How these systems all interact and can be used to help break down ocean waste.


Galaxy Girls: 50 Amazing Stories of Women in Space.

Videos: Greenhouse lettuce for Antarctica + Greenhouse citrus for Nebraska

The TMRO Science program recently had an interesting long-distance conversation with Paul Zaber, a scientist working with the EDEN-ISS project in Antarctica. The project involves operating a greenhouse in Antarctica to learn how foods can be grown more effectively in a closed-loop environment. This has applications for space habitation as well as for food production on Earth.

The goal of the EDEN ISS project is to advance controlled environment agriculture technologies beyond the state-of-the-art. It focuses on ground demonstration of plant cultivation technologies and their application in space. EDEN ISS develops safe food production for on-board the International Space Station (ISS) and for future human space exploration vehicles and planetary outposts.


Operating a greenhouse in Nebraska may seem to be a far less interesting challenge than doing so in Antarctica but growing tropical fruits and other warm climate plants in a region that often reaches -20°F (about -30°C) in winter is not a trivial accomplishment.

Retiree Russ Finch has developed a clever low-cost approach to keeping the inside of a northern latitude greenhouse temperate year round using underground warmth, i.e. geothermal heat. Rather than a complex and expensive system involving an anti-freeze fluid controlled with pumps and valves, he designed a simple low-cost system with fans blowing air through plastic tubes buried about 2 meters below the surface. The ground at that depth stays constant at about 50°F (10°C)  year round. He grows oranges, lemons, and many other tropical fruits and vegetables in his greenhouse.

From the caption to the video:

… retired mailman Russ Finch grows oranges in his backyard greenhouse without paying for heat. Instead, he draws on the earth’s stable temperature (around 52 degrees in his region) to grow warm weather produce- citrus, figs, pomegranates – in the snow.

Finch first discovered geothermal heating in 1979 when he and his wife built it into their 4400-square-foot dream home to cut energy costs. Eighteen years later they decided to add a 16’x80′ greenhouse in the backyard. The greenhouse resembles a pit greenhouse (walipini) in that the floor is dug down 4 feet below the surface and the roof is slanted to catch the southern sun.

To avoid using heaters for the cold Nebraska winter nights, Finch relies on the warm underground air fed into the greenhouse via plastic tubing under the yard and one fan.

For more about Finch’s greenhouse designs, see Citrus In The Snow- Geothermal Greenhouse

Over 40 installations have now been built following Finch’s designs as outlined in his Citrus In The Snow Report.


The High Frontier: An Easier Way

Sci-Tech: Plimp hybrid airship, Drone with ion drive propulsion, Audi’s 2-part flying car, UrbanAero Cormorant

The VTOL Plimp Hybrid Airship avoids two problems with airplanes and helicopters. If an airplane’s speed drops below a critical value in horizontal flight it will stall and fall quickly to earth.  A helicopter plummets as well when there is a breakdown in its complex rotor system. The Plimp will take off vertically with the simplicity of an airship and fall slowly back to earth if the engine stops working or there is a leak in its balloon. So far. the design has been tested by Egan Airships with a scaled drone version:

Find more videos here.


An MIT group has demonstrated an ionic drive that is powerful enough to propel a drone: MIT engineers fly first-ever plane with no moving parts | MIT News

Now MIT engineers have built and flown the first-ever plane with no moving parts. Instead of propellers or turbines, the light aircraft is powered by an “ionic wind” — a silent but mighty flow of ions that is produced aboard the plane, and that generates enough thrust to propel the plane over a sustained, steady flight.

Unlike turbine-powered planes, the aircraft does not depend on fossil fuels to fly. And unlike propeller-driven drones, the new design is completely silent.

“This is the first-ever sustained flight of a plane with no moving parts in the propulsion system,” says Steven Barrett, associate professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. “This has potentially opened new and unexplored possibilities for aircraft which are quieter, mechanically simpler, and do not emit combustion emissions.”

More at


Audi is developing a new approach to the age-old pursuit of a flying car. Here the electric car does not have built-in wings or rotors but instead docks to a drone-like flight module that carries the car to its destination. So far Audi engineers are testing the concept with 1:4 scale models: Audi is starting to test its ‘all-electric flying and self-driving car’ – Electrek


Urban Aero has posted a video of a flight of the Cormorant from last spring. Looks similar to previous videos (i.e. it flies around a field) but the full scale vehicle does seem more stable:


Some interesting speculation on the impact that technologies such as electric VTOL vehicles, autopiloted cars, hyperloop, etc could have on rural life: Flying cars, robocars and more will rewrite the rural landscape, for good and ill | Brad Ideas

Just as these factors make rural life less of a compromise, they and other forces will make urban life better. Flying vehicles, robocars and many other factors here also make urban commuters shorter, and give even greater and faster access to things for urban dwellers. For those who value many urban things the city will not lose its advantage, though the balance shifts. The ability to have easily accessible vacation property may encourage people who crave both urban and rural living to have both, and to switch between them not just for the weekend.


Telescopes and Binoculars at Amazon