Abundance Insider: September 11 Edition

Written by Peter H. Diamandis | Sep 11, 2015

In this week's Abundance Insider: Self-healing plastic, gemstone jewelry made from smog, and artificial intelligence managers.

Cheers,
Peter, Marissa, Cody, Maxx, Kelley and Greg

P.S. Send any tips to data@diamandis.com, and send your friends and family to this link to subscribe to Abundance Insider.

Watch an Astronaut in Orbit Control a Robot on Earth Using Haptic Feedback

What it is: The European Space Agency is testing a haptic interface that enables astronauts to control robotic rovers' arms and legs from hundreds of miles away. This GIF shows Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen controlling the Netherlands-stationed robot from the ISS with a joystick-based UI he'd never used before. Leveraging the force feedback, Mogensen had the robot pick up a metal rod and place it into a hole with just 1/6 of a millimeter of clearance.

Why it's important: This enables safe, efficient space exploration. With drones and these rovers, astronauts won't have to physically travel to distant planets and moons to explore them.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

Your Next United Flight Might Be Powered By Farm Waste

What it is: This fall, United will be the first U.S. carrier to fly regular passenger flights on alternative jet fuel. In a partnership with AltAir, United will buy 15 million gallons of farm waste biofuel and mix it with conventional jet fuel for its Los Angeles to San Francisco flights.

Why it's important: Another illustration of exponentials in action. United and AltAir signed this agreement six years ago, and it's taken this long for AltAir to scale its operations sufficiently to supply regular flights. United anticipated the future capabilities of biofuel, and as a result it'll be the first airline company in the U.S. to bring biofuel mainstream.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

Pioneer is Using LaserDisc Tech to Help Self-Driving Cars See

What it is: Remember LaserDiscs? This now-obsolete tech has a new life, as Pioneer is repurposing the optical pickups from LaserDisc players to enable significantly cheaper light detection and ranging (LiDAR) systems for self-driving cars. Current roof-mounted LiDAR systems cost between $25K and $75K -- Pioneer's prototype will be ready by 2017 and could cost as little as $85 by 2025.

Why it's important: LiDAR helps autonomous vehicles detect everything from potholes to pedestrians. Pioneer's upcycled laser technology will help demonetize and democratize self-driving cars.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

The Largest Air Purifier Ever Built Sucks Up Smog and Turns it Into Gemstones

What it is: Designer Daan Roosegaarde has unveiled the Smog Free Tower, a 23-foot air purifier that captures smog from the outside air and turns these smog particles into gemstones. The tower purifies 30,000 cubic meters of air each hour, and each gemstone is the product of roughly 1,000 cubic meters of air. Roosegaarde is currently raising funds via Kickstarter to cover the travel costs of transporting the air purifier to major cities like Beijing, Mumbai and Paris, with smog gemstone cufflinks and rings as backer prizes.

Why it's important: Yet another example of how creative thinkers are transforming scarcity into abundance. This architectural feat appeals to consumers and environmentalists alike, and the concepts enabling its success (crowdfunding, DIY innovators and materials science) are familiar to readers of Abundance and BOLD.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

DARPA Developing Friendly 'Gremlins' for the Sky

What it is: DARPA has just launched a program to build a swarm of friendly robotic drones that can be launched from a plane, gather intelligence in a coordinated, distributed fashion, and then return to the plane -- all while in-flight. DARPA is especially encouraging non-traditional participants like small businesses, first-time government contractors and research institutions to submit proposals for the Gremlins program (appropriately named after British pilots' imaginary good luck charms during World War II).

Why it's important: These drones enable U.S. military air operations to conduct intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions in a faster, cheaper and better fashion, optimizing existing resources while expanding the military's capabilities.

Spotted by Ian Pitchford

Robots Lay Three Times as Many Bricks as Construction Workers

What it is: SAM, short for semi-automated mason, is a robotic bricklayer that works alongside human masons to lay between 800 and 1,200 bricks a day. Each human-SAM team (one human, one SAM) has the same daily productivity as four or more masons. The human mason sets up the worksite, handles tricky areas like corners, and cleans up excess mortar, while SAM picks up bricks, applies mortar, and accurately places them -- even accounting for wind if it's mounted on a scaffold.

Why it's important: Excellent application of human-technology teamwork. Instead of replacing human jobs, SAM leverages them to take care of the nuanced activities that are currently difficult or impossible for robots to do; symbiotically, SAM handles the backbreaking, repetitive activities.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

Meet the New Boss: The World's First Artificial-Intelligence Manager?

What it is: Hitachi implemented an AI system to manage warehouse workers, adjusting tasks on the fly. It analyzes the outcomes of various processes and revises the tasks to continuously increase efficiency and achieve better results. Hitachi claims an 8% increase in efficiency thus far, and intends to expand the AI to other aspects of its business, from finance to transportation, healthcare and public works.

Why it's important: Hitachi's AI represents a collaboration between AI and humans that enables data-driven decisions. It parses workers' ideas (kaizen activity, or employee ingenuity), demand fluctuation and work conditions to arrive at the best instructions for a particular work order, saving human and company resources.

Spotted by Paul Hullinger

The L.A. Philharmonic Goes Virtual, With Oculus' Help

What it is: The L.A. Philharmonic has partnered with Toronto-based agency Secret Location to bring Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, as conducted by Gustavo Dudamel at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, to life in stunning 3D. The 3-minute VAN Beethoven movie lets you watch and listen from various vantage points, all with 360-degree views: behind Dudamel, right next to a particular musician, above the orchestra, and more. VAN Beethoven will be available via a mobile tour starting September 11 and via download for Gear VR and Oculus Dev Kit headset owners.

Why it's important: Virtual reality democratizes access to a number of fairly exclusive and location-dependent experiences, from music concerts to art museums and live games. As the costs of producing VR content continue to drop, we'll see an explosion of immersive educational and entertainment experiences.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

World's First Compact 300 GHz Receiver for Wireless Communications of Tens of Gigabits per Second

What it is: Fujitsu has developed the world's first 300 GHz band compact receiver with an internal antenna. It's capable of high-speed wireless communications at a rate of several tens of gigabits per second -- over 100 times faster than current mobile technology.

Why it's important: Imagine visiting a download kiosk at an event hall or theme park and being able to instantly download 4K or HD video straight to your smartphone. Fujitsu envisions "split-second data transfers between mobile devices and split-second backup between mobile devices and servers," according to Next Big Future.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

Uber Taps Duolingo to Let Riders Request English-Speaking Drivers, Kicking Off in Colombia

What it is: Uber has teamed up with Duolingo to enable its drivers in Colombia to self-certify their proficiency in the English language -- and for riders to specifically request an English-speaking driver. The Duolingo proficiency test takes $20 and about 20 minutes for drivers to complete remotely; organizations like the Harvard Extension School, the Max-Planck Institute, Carnegie Mellon, LinkedIn and Upwork all accept it. To date, Uber reports that 1,000 of its drivers have been certified.

Why it's important: Last year, Uber launched a similar "Uber English" service in Shanghai, but interviewed and selected English-speaking drivers in person, one by one. By dematerializing this vetting process and using Duolingo, a crowdsourced language service with 100 million users, Uber can scale its English-certified drivers quickly and easily.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

Inspired by Squid Teeth, This Self-Healing Plastic Repairs Itself When You Add Water

What it is: Mother Nature -- and, more specifically, squid teeth -- inspired University of Pennsylvania researchers to create a self-healing plastic that activates upon contact with water and retains its original strength after auto-repairing. Other self-healing materials exist, but none use water as their "secret ingredient."

Why it's important: Melik Demirel, a professor of engineering science and mechanics, sees immediate applications for self-healing plastic in biomedical devices or deep sea cables, explaining, "If one of the fiber-optic cables under the ocean breaks, the only way to fix it is to replace it. With this material, it would be possible to heal the cable and go on with operation, saving time and money."

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

A Look At Open Bionics' 3D-Printed Robotic Hands For Amputees

What it is: Open Bionics has demonetized robotic prosthetics using open-sourced 3D printing software and robotic sensors. TechCrunch reports that hospital-grade myoelectric hands and limbs can cost up to $100K, but Open Bionics' robotics hands cost just a few thousand dollars, and each is completely custom-fitted.

Why it's important: By dematerializing and demonetizing the manufacturing process, Open Bionics is democratizing access to robotic prosthetics that were once only available to the wealthiest in First World nations.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

VR is the Prize at the Bottom of Your Cereal Box

What it is: Kellogg's just launched a promotion in New Zealand in which customers can create their own VR headsets out of Nutri-Grain boxes. The makeshift device is akin to Google Cardboard in that it uses your smartphone as the display. Scanning the box's QR code will take you to the NG Bolt app, which contains three VR videos to watch.

Why it's important: Demonetization in action -- this VR headset is the price of a box of cereal. It's also a creative marketing move for Kellogg's to appeal to younger consumers and their parents.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

AI Authors Crowdsourced Interactive Fiction

What it is: Georgia Institute of Technology researchers have developed an AI system called Scheherazade IF (Interactive Fiction) that creates crowdsourced, choose-your-own-adventure-style fiction. Currently, the AI models for video games are limited to the original dataset experts have programmed into it, and thus have only so many possible choices. This AI system enables virtually limitless crowdsourced plot points.

Why it's important: What can you do with an unending supply of realistic creative content? Imagine conducting virtual employee training or online education with roleplay scenarios created by Scheherazade IF, or online storytelling that incorporates fan fiction into established games.

Spotted by Marissa Brassfield

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