November 6, 2020 Newlsetter: TTI/Vanguard: Drink to your (and the planet's) health

[next] begins on Tuesday. Please see our agenda and registration. The first session (topics and speakers below) kicks off on November 10th:

Techno-Political Responses to the Pandemic
Milana Trounce, MD, Faculty Mentor, Stanford Global Catastrophic Risk Initiative, Stanford

Future of Urban Transportation: A Fireside Chat
Tony Fadell, Member of original iPhone Team, Inventor of the iPod and Co-Founder of Nest
John Markoff, former New York Times technology reporter and author Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots

Future of Urban Transportation and Personal Flight
Sebastian Thrun, Founder of Google X, Research Professor – Stanford University, a Google Fellow, and Co-founder of Udacity

The New Urbanism and Future of the City
Peter Calthorpe, Calthorpe Associates and pioneer in "new urbanism" movement

Next-Gen Transportation
Gill Pratt, Director, Toyota Research

Plenty of United States voters from both sides of the aisle coalesced around one issue this week: the need for a drink. And thanks to one Brooklyn startup, those who choose to indulge can increase their consumption while decreasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air. Air Company distills liquified carbon dioxide into ethanol (in a process that begins by electrolyzing water into hydrogen and oxygen gases), and eventually produces vodka. Former TTI/V Director and current Advisory Board member Steven Cherry has the eye-opener.

Perhaps Air Company could gain efficiency by using microwaves in its water-splitting step if it were to follow the lead of Spanish researchers who are achieving new efficiencies in the generation of carbon-free hydrogen fuel production by carrying out the electrochemical reduction of water with (sustainably generated) microwave radiation, rather than contact with electrodes. (Don Sadoway, Charlotte, Dec 2010)

Continuing this wet discussion for two more items, communities that lack reliable access to clean water often also struggle to meet electricity needs. Texas A&M researchers have engineered a system to provide both resources in a sustainable way in the form of a standalone water–energy nanogrid. (Dean Kamen, Jersey City, Oct 2009)

Finally, in contrast to the upbeat report by David Timmons (virtual conference, Sep 2020) on pumped hydro as an essential medium for energy storage, the shine seems to be rubbing off a collection of Australian government-backed hydro projects collectively dubbed the Battery of the Nation. Actual batteries, it seems, are more cost-efficient.

Longtime TTI/V member NGA is turning noise to signal: offering cash prizes to researchers who can use ambient noise to identify location.

You gotta love math: One of the coolest things about this discipline is that if there’s one way to exactly solve a problem, there may well be several ways to do it. A second fun aspect is that if you can find a coordinate system that naturally represents a problem, the solution becomes way easier. Caltech researchers are simultaneously applying both of these truisms to the approximate solution of partial differential equations by approaching the Navier-Stokes equation in the Fourier domain (as opposed to Euclidean space) while also using the tactic of deep neural nets. This joint application achieves major gains in both efficiency and accuracy. As a bonus, various flow systems can be modeled from a single set of training data. (Bo Zhu, Brooklyn, Jun 2018; Russ Tedrake, Boston, Apr 2014)

Google is still flying high—or at least its cell-service-providing Project Loon balloons are, with one staying aloft in the stratosphere for a record-breaking 312 consecutive days, thanks to technological advances in the design of the balloons and their support systems. (Mike Cassidy, San Francisco, Dec 2016)

The latest offering from Raspberry Pi hearkens back to founder Eben Upton’s (Detroit, May 2015; Vienna, Jul 2013) roots: the BBC Micro that he scrimped and saved to acquire as a ten-year-old. In contrast to the first several generations of Pi—but like the BBC Micro—the 400 is a computer embedded in a keyboard (as opposed to just the circuit board), with ports to connect to a mouse, power cord, and separately acquired display/monitor. Like all Raspberry Pis, Upton has the same hope for the 400: “The dream always with Raspberry Pi is to lure people into buying a PC and then trick them into becoming computer programmers.”

The end has arrived for the partnership between Walmart and Bossa Nova Robotics, which had deployed mobile robots using machine vision to scan shelves for restocking purposes. With Walmart employees increasingly walking the aisles to fulfill online orders in the age of COVID, human labor has proven more cost-effective than automation. (Kroger, regional meeting, Monroe, Ohio, Apr 2019; Jeff Legault, Brooklyn, Jul 2016)

From the you-already-knew-this dossier: It’s worth the extra step beyond simply deleting files on a USB drive before selling or disposing of it, whether that means using software to fully wipe the data or smashing it with a hammer. A Scottish researcher found it a simple task to unveil deleted files—often containing sensitive content—from two-thirds of the 100 used thumb drives  she purchased online, despite 98 of them ostensibly being empty. (Serge Leef, Washington, D.C., Sep 2017)

“A prediction I had a long time ago is the Internet should be invisible, just the way electricity is invisible. The Internet is anything but … it’s wonderful, but it’s clumsy.”—Len Kleinrock