Monthly Archives: May 2017

How we’ll nap our way to Mars

Imagine a road trip that lasts six months—no pit stops, black night the whole way. That’s how long it would take you, and how monotonous it would be, to fly to Mars. To avoid the boredom (and its cousins depression and anxiety), you could spend part of your trip in artificial hibernation, or torpor, as it’s medically known. NASA is funding research into this method for future planet hoppers, and not just to reduce the games of I Spy. Because metabolism slows during slumber, you would require less food and water, reducing a mission’s cargo weight, fuel needs, and price tag. Also, you wouldn’t want to kill your crew mates. Here’s how you might go nighty-night and save your sanity on your 34-million-mile flight.

Step 1: Pod People

You enter the torpor pod. Using an IV placed in a central vein in your chest, a crew mate injects a sedative similar to propofol to prevent shivering, then tapes sensors to your skin. These will monitor heart rhythm, blood pressure, oxygen levels, and other stats.

Step 2: Straight Chillin’

Once the sedative knocks you out, the pod begins cooling the air around your body. This lowers your core temperature a few degrees per hour, from a healthy 98.6°F to below the point of hypothermia. Crew members may also cool you with gel pads or icy nasal spray.

Step 3: Low Maintenance

The crew pushes anticoagulants through the central line to prevent blood clots from forming—if they break free, they can block blood vessels. IV antibiotics help stave off infection. And robotic systems periodically stimulate your muscles to prevent atrophy.

In torpor, the average body needs only about 1,000 calories of daily nutrient slurry. You “eat” via a feeding tube down your throat or a PEG tube implanted on the inside of your stomach. Urine- and fecal-collection systems keep you, and the pod, clean.

China’s looking to one-up Elon Musk’s hyperloop

Hyperloops, the developing mode of transit that promises to zip people frictionlessly in pods and tubes, have long been associated with the innovations and dreams of billionaire Elon Musk. More recently, however, it’s captivated the imaginations of others, including, now, a Chinese aerospace giant. The China Aerospace Science and Industrial Corporation (CASIC), a well-heeled newcomer to the mass transit industry, is betting big on its supersonic T Flight ‘flying train.’

The company announced on August 30 its plans for an intercontinental hyperloop train with a top speed of over 2,300 miles per hour, or Mach 3.  For comparison, Elon Musk’s initial proposal called for a 745 miles per hour hyperloop to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. And the current fastest bullet trains, in Germany and China, have top speeds in the range of 180-215 miles per hour.

What makes CASIC think this is possible? For one, its got 150,000 employees. Last year it made $30 billion, with a profit of $1.5 billion. It’s got the resources.


Let’s talk about the structure of T Flight. Keep in mind this is all theoretical. The transport capsule would be a light-and-easy 20 tons and measure nearly 7 feet wide, more than 7 feet tall, and about 117 feet long. Each capsule would seat 16 people in twin rows of 8, plus luggage in a compartment at the back

The load would be propelled and lifted less than an inch off the surface by superconducting magnetic levitation (maglev) modules, which means there’s no friction between the car and the line. The network would consist of two tubes per line—each tube is strictly one-way only—with built in maglev systems, and would be powered in large part by the solar panels on top of the tubes. Given the high speeds and high-traffic density of T Flight capsules at any time, operations would be highly automated, and possibly AI-aided.


Each T Flight station would have a turntable to rapidly launch capsules. Unlike traditional trains, which have multiple attached cars journeying together, hyperloop systems generally intend to send multiple unattached capsules departing every few minutes. The high speeds mean even capsules launched within a few minutes of each other will have miles of distance between. For a three-destination network with an annual capacity of 8 million passengers, each leg of the network would need to launch and recover a 16-passenger capsule every 3.15 minutes.


How close is this to becoming a reality? CASIC has already made some preparations. It’s researched and registered 200 patents for the T Flight, aiming to finish research in 2020. Liu Shiquan, CASIC’s Deputy CEO, said that CASIC is aiming to partner with 20 domestic and international companies to realize the first stage of the “flying train” plan. That plan: a regional network of capsules that zip some 8 million people a year around Wuhan, China. Speeds would range between 370 and 620 miles per hour.

Metal-detecting essentials for your next treasure hunt

The lure of treasure hunting is not that of striking proverbial gold (although some still do search for it), but that you never know what historical holdovers the ground will produce. At the right local spot—an old battlefield or remote beach—these tools will allow you to burrow back in time.

1. Search the area

First, you need a metal detector. The Teknetics Patriot can spot booty up to a foot underground, and its display will estimate the object’s depth and material. Audible beeps let you know when metal distorts the electromagnetic field generated by the ­11-inch head. $399

2. Dig a tidy hole

A hand trowel is great for small digs, but if you need to bust through roots or tough dirt, the serrated edges of the 3-foot-long Ground Hawg Shovel will help you cut. Four jabs with the 7.5-inch blade will create a cube-shaped plug of earth that’s easy to replace. $70

3. Be more aggressive

Rocky terrain requires more hardcore tools like the Garrett Retriever II Pick. At 19 inches long, the steel pickaxe features a flat blade for moving earth and a point for cutting. A rare-earth magnet in the center of the head will grab metal objects underwater. $59

4. Get accuracy

Once you start digging, use the 9.3-inch Minelab Pro-Find 35 detector to search the hole. The probe creates a 360-degree electromagnetic field with adjustable power that can sense when it’s within inches of loot. Haptic and audio alerts intensify as you get closer to your treasure. $149

It’s new iPhone eve

School is starting, apples (the ones made of fruit) are ripening, and it’s almost time for a new iPhone to come springing out of Cupertino at tomorrow’s Apple event. It must be fall. There has already been a lot of talk online about what we’re going to see from Tim Cook and his crew tomorrow, but check back here tomorrow if you want to follow along with us as we watch the announcement. Until then, here’s a look at what was happening last week in the world of tech.

Headphone jack of all trades

The next iPhone won’t have a headphone jack unless something crazy happens. An ex-Google engineer, however, managed to add a headphone jack to his iPhone 7. It took months of work and cost thousands of dollars, but there’s nothing quite like the reward of seeing a project through to the end.

Extra range rovers

Some Tesla owners looking to flee Florida before the destructive force of Hurricane Irma came through found that they had some extra battery juice to power their evacuation. Tesla’s cars have built-in 75 KHW batteries, but they’re limited to 60 KHW or 70 KHW unless you pay to upgrade.

I’m your density 2

Last week saw the release of one of the year’s most anticipated video games, Destiny 2. If you played the first, you probably notice a distinct difference in how the overall game works, with less emphasis on grinding for good gear. Not everyone is thrilled with the changes, though.

Server farmer

John Deere purchased Blue River Technology, a company that specializes in identifying (and murdering) weeds using AI, for $305 million. Tractors are already remarkably self-sustainable, but this is part of a bigger trend in which farm processes are becoming more automated by the day. Take that, ragweed.

On the case

If you worry about losing those pricy Apple AirPods, this Kickstarter might interest you. The PodCase has built-in sockets to snugly hold the AirPods when they’re not crammed in your ears. It comes from the creator of Pebble and will start shipping in February 2018 if you pony up the $89 preorder price.


Mattel is now making a version of its classic card game Uno that’s suitable for people with color blindness. The cards were designed in collaboration with ColorADD, the global organization for colorblind accessibility and education, and use symbols in addition to colors in order to indicate card type.

Campus media

If you’re an undergrad student looking to stay entertained between study sessions, you can now get Spotify and Hulu subscriptions for a grand total of $5 per month. Better yet, make your roommate pay for it and then totally mooch off of their entertainment bounty.

Rollin’ and scrollin’

If you’re not old enough to have watched the Friends finale live, then it’s possible you’ve never used a trackball mouse. The concept is simple: Instead of moving the mouse around, you roll around a ball while the mouse stays stationary. Logitech’s new MX Ergo uses this tech to entice a new generation of ball rollers and make some old school input device enthusiasts very happy.