3 things direct from the future

Edition 88

Once every 2 weeks I will deliver “3 things direct from the future”. A 2 minute read that will always give you:

  • one thing that can help,
  • one thing to be wary of, and
  • one thing to amaze.

If this sounds interesting to you then please subscribe.


1. One thing that helps

Photosynthesis Driven Cars

Those clever boffins at the University of Cambridge will have us driving sunlight powered cars before too long. They have nothing to do with solar panels though – inspired by photosynthesis they have created an artificial leaf.

The leaf is made of multiple layers of materials like copper, glass, silver, and graphite. It uses copper and palladium as a catalyst which plays the part of chlorophyll in this photosynthesis version. Though this artificial leaf doesn’t look like the real thing, it functions in a similar way. In the presence of sunlight, it converts water and carbon dioxide into clean ethanol and propanol. These can then be directly used as fuel for combustion engines.

Artificial leaf solar 1536x1152 1

This artificial leaf has several advantages over other approaches. It doesn’t create by-products like syngas (a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) as it produces ethanol and propanol directly. It also doesn’t need electricity to initiate the conversion of water and carbon dioxide into fuel. Researchers are working on optimising both the light absorber and the catalyst to increase production.

In the quest for a world not reliant on fossil fuels, this looks like a promising development.


2. One to be wary of

Snail Yoyo

This cracks me up. People logging into Discord are having to prove they are human by identifying an object that does not exist. Please click each image containing a “Yoko” 🙂 🙂 .


Have you ever seen a Yoko in the wild? It’s apparently a YoYo and a snail combined. But why may you ask?

The company behind Discord’s captchas, hCaptcha has explained. Sort of.  “This particular question was a brief test seen by a small number of people, but the sheer scale of hCaptcha (hundreds of millions of users) means that when even a few folks are surprised by a challenge this often produces some tweets.”

So why the weird AI-generated captchas? Well, in case you don’t know, every time you are being asked to identify objects as part of proving you are human, you are also helping to train machine learning models. In this case it is likely that the algorithm has trained on data that it itself has created – giving less than ideal results like asking for a Yoko.

Nothing to worry about with AI here team. It’s fine just feeding itself and inventing new hybrid creatures.



3. One to amaze


Soon, you can take your robot as carry-on and still stay under the bag-size limits. Mori3, the new polygon-based modular robot, packs up small and is designed for space travel. It’s the astronaut’s trusty origamibot – flat, triangular and able to transform itself into many shapes like origami. See for yourself:

Mori3 is primarily designed to accompany astronauts in their space missions. Its ability to pack itself flat helps conserve space when astronauts go on their missions. It’s also an all-purpose robot that can morph itself to adapt to whatever task it needs to get done.

Each triangular robot, called a module, can move on its own. However, it is when they combine like Lego pieces that their abilities increase. They can transform from a 2D flat robot into a 3D shape. It’s made possible by electrically powered ball joints and hinges that allows the modules to perform a wide range of actions. It can take on a cylindrical form to roll over and change directions like a wheel. And, if needed, it can transform into a mechanical arm or a quadrupedal robot that walks (albeit slowly)!

It is hoped that the Mori3 will be able to cater to most functions that astronauts will need when performing repairs or exploring planets. But I’m pretty keen to keep one down here on earth.  It can carry my suitcase when I land at the airport and then carry me around on a sightseeing tour.

Have a great week.

Daniel J McKinnon

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