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Scientists at the University of Sheffield are studying the way bees adapt to their environment in order to develop a software that could lead to drones being powered by artificial intelligence software. Is that cool or what? The idea is to reverse engineer bee brains to create the drone prototype by attaching a tiny radar to their back and analyzing their flightpaths.

Bees are incredible visual navigators and they can navigate complex 3D environments with minimal learning, as opposed to typical AI and machine learning systems designed by human engineers which can’t compute what they see as efficiently as a bee.

There is also research being done for inserting a small electrode into a tethered bee’s brain while it moves around a virtual reality environment in the lab. After it navigates the VR environments and recording its brain, scientists will then correlate the neural signs with the bee’s movements. Only around 25% of a bee’s brain has been modelled, but that has already been enough for scientists to have bee-like robots flying around their labs, learning information from their surroundings.

This development can be both beneficial or bring serious consequences to the way we live. If this technology ends up in the wrong hands, our physical and digital privacy could be compromised. Also, regulators will have to be confident that having drones flying around the city will be safe, and they don’t fall from the sky injuring people.

Sounds like science fiction, right? Let’s buzz off and let scientists do their job and continue being amazed at what the 21st century brings our way!

Drone Bees

Nasa researchers are working on creating bricks from yard waste, wood chips and a fungi colony called mycelium to build lunar bases and Mars outposts in the future! This mass of nutrient-absorbing, widely branching underground threads that make up much of a fungus’s bulk might be key to grow habitats without having to carry expensive and heavy building materials on our backs.

Scientists plan to ship dormant fungus to a Moon base and there provide it with the right conditions to trigger growth. Once these mycelium colonies grow into the shape of a structure, it could be heat-treated to kill it and turn it into a compact brick.

Moon and Martian habitats will consist of three layers: the top will consist of water ice that can be sourced locally, that would shield human residents from harmful radiation. The middle layer will contain tiny photosynthesizing microbes called cyanobacteria that produce oxygen for humans and nutrients for the fungal mycelia.

The third layer will provide the main structure of the habitat and is made out of the mycelium bricks that would also be used to filter water and extract minerals from their sewage. Moreover, these bricks have a higher bend strength than reinforced concrete and a higher compression strength than lumber.

At the same time, researchers around the world are also investigating the potential of 3D printing to construct habitats in our future space colonies! Only time will tell if our generation will be able to have dinner inside a Martian crater.

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Mushrooms

Elon Musk and his company SpaceX are currently constructing a satellite constellation to provide satellite internet access named ‘Starlink’. The constellation will be comprised of thousands of small satellites that work in combination with ground transceivers.

To meet the booming, rapidly evolving broadband demand from around the world, SpaceX is planning to change the terrestrial fiber and cable platforms with mobile broadband networks and space-based systems like Starlink. In the US, more than 39% of Americans living in rural areas are lacking access to advanced telecommunications capabilities, and around 57% of the world’s population are offline for a wide range of reasons. This project is looking to provide more and more people the tools to compete in the 21st century economy.

This news has come with different responses from the scientific community. While most agree that global internet service is a worthy initiative, some astronomers worry that the orbiting link will affect the view of the galaxy and even threaten stargazing as a whole. Besides the satellites being too bright as they reflect sunlight back to earth, they could now triple the number of satellites currently in orbit, with the number growing larger if other companies like Amazon or Telesat get to space.

Scientists agree that the risks of having too many satellites in the sky is too big for one company to be making all the decisions around it. What’s your scientific take on it??

For the first time in their history, Boeing sent out a tripulated rocket called ‘Starliner’ on Dec 20, 2019 as part of a big test to be the first American company to take astronauts into space for more than 10 years. The spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral at Kennedy Space Center headed for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Starliner launched unmanned, and inside was an anthropometric test device - a dummy with more than a dozen sensors to measure the astronaut’s full face. The mission was set out to dock the rocket with the space station on Dec 21, but it didn’t achieve its intended orbit after launching, making it impossible to complete its mission.

NASA gave Boeing nearly $5 billion to develop Starliner, which was built to carry as many as five astronauts. This was intended to be one of the final tests before the spacecraft flied actual people, but the company still expects it will still be able to test many of the Starliner’s system while the capsule is in space, and being able to bring it back to Earth.

The failure of this mission is the second setback that Boeing has suffered in 2019, after two fatal crashes of its 737 Max commercial airplanes killed 346 people - resulting in millions of dollars in losses and the suspension of production of its bestselling aircraft for the next months. This also means a blow for NASA’s intensions to send back astronauts to the space stations.

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Boeing Spacecraft Starliner