CNET’s got an article on a cool little RC bot, the Scorp, designed to check out dangerous areas or suspicious objects without putting a live human in danger. It’s small, lightweight, throwable, and is (relatively) cheap. Click the link to see pics and read more about it.
The second post on improvements to concrete in a week, this one’s not quite as outlandish as “bacteria that make concrete heal itself,” but it’s still a useful development: probes, intended to measure the health of concrete structures in a coastal environment, which are sturdy enough to survive in the alkaline conditions inside of concrete for a significantly longer time than previous versions. You can hook them up to a computer wirelessly and get a decade or more of reports on the condition of a concrete structure.
Plant breeding is a tricky, laborious process, in most circumstances. You cross two plants with qualities you want, and then you have to wait for the seedlings to grow to the maturity in order to find out whether all your hard work has paid off. Being able to tell, at a very early age, whether the things are what you want them to be would really speed up the process, and that’s what scientists are trying to do – by better understanding the markers in the rice genome, they’re helping to develop strains of salt-resistant rice in areas hit by the Japanese tsunami last year.
Typically, the silicon wafers in solar cells are cut from blocks of refined crystalline silicon with a saw, producing silicon sawdust and thus wasting about half the total block. A solar startup is working on a way to peel off thin sheets of silicon, without as much cutting and waste. Since refined crystalline silicon is one of the larger costs in solar cell manufacture, this could be another avenue to reduce the price of solar energy.
Ars Technica has an interesting summary of an article in Nature on peak oil, touching on the economic impacts that the stagnating supply of oil will have. I’d like to say more about it, but the numbers have varied so much since I became aware of the “debate” over peak oil that I’m just going to tell you to click the link if you want to read more.
Space Adventures, a private space tourism company, is planning on expanding its offerings beyond low Earth orbit, and sending passengers on a trip around the Moon for a measely $150 million.
They’re not going to land on the Moon, unfortunately – getting a capsule out of two gravity wells is still too expensive for the private market, I guess. But it’s good to see the private sector starting to go beyond LEO.