In this week's Abundance Insider: Record-breaking CRISPR engineering, apple-harvesting robots, and an advanced prosthetics hand.
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What it is: Japanese automaker Toyota and JAXA, the Japanese space agency, recently announced a collaboration to further develop lunar mobility technology. The partnership commits more resources to accelerate and develop a pressurized lunar rover powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. Using Toyota’s fuel cell technology, the vehicle will have an anticipated cruising range of 6,214 miles, nearly equivalent to the entire circumference of the Moon and more than double the width of the United States. Using the ‘live off the land’ principle of in-situ resource utilization, the hydrogen fuel cells allow the rover to readily refuel from rich hydrogen and water deposits on the Moon, without the need to bring added fuel for the rocket launch.
Why it's important: This partnership demonstrates the massive terrestrial impact of space exploration. From the invention of CMOS imaging sensors to freeze-dried food, space continues to catalyze hyper-impactful innovation for use on Earth and beyond. By developing its fuel cell technology for the demanding environment of space, Toyota will also inevitably demonetize and democratize these innovations for its global consumer base. Share on Facebook
Spotted by Max Goldberg / Written by Max Goldberg
What it is: For the first time ever, doctors in Sweden have successfully wired a sentient prosthetic hand directly into a patient’s nerves. With an osseo-neuromuscular implant, the recipient can now control the prosthetic’s fingers with her mind and even perceive tactile sensations. To achieve this extraordinary feat, surgeons placed titanium implants in the patient’s forearm bones and connected an array of sixteen electrodes to her nerves and muscles. This enables both extraction of signals to control the prosthetic hand and a corresponding sense of touch. Researchers at Chalmers University of Technology and biotech firm Integrum AB additionally built the prosthetic hand with unparalleled dexterity, now pictured tying shoelaces and even typing on a computer.
Why it's important: Coordinated by European prosthetics research program DeTOP, this breakthrough has remarkable implications. Up until now, prosthetic hands have been stifled by limited dexterity and sensory feedback, requiring users to rely on vision for everyday use. By implanting electrodes directly into a user’s nerves, however, researchers can now electrically stimulate them similar to the way in which a biological hand conveys information. Such technology not only dramatically enhances dexterity but could also drive development of robotic devices that seamlessly interface with our bodies. No longer partially connected tools, prosthetic limbs are now integrating directly into our biological architecture, revolutionizing the way we communicate with technology. Share on Facebook
Spotted by Gaz Alazraki / Written by Claire Adair
Photos From NASA's Opportunity And Curiosity Rovers Reveal 15 Martian Objects That Resemble Mushrooms
What it is: As published in the Journal of Astrobiology and Space Science, images from NASA’s rovers Curiosity and Opportunity reveal evidence of life, specifically algae, lichens and mushrooms growing and emerging from Martian soil. According to the authors, the mushroomlike structures such as stems and stalks -- spotted by the hundreds -- aren’t something created by known geologic forces on Earth. While evidence isn’t confirmation, when coupled with additional of evidence of seasonal fluctuations in methane on Mars, this suggests there may be existing life on Mars.
Why it's important: Better data, enabled by increasingly powerful sensing technology, is giving us an unparalleled glimpse into environmental conditions around the universe. This new knowledge recalibrates researchers' understanding of the fundamentals for life, and will no doubt spur additional exploration and data-gathering activities. What long-held assumptions about the universe will we confirm or challenge in the decades ahead? Share on Facebook
Spotted by Claire Adair / Written by Jason Goodwin
What it is: This week, Abundant Robotics announced its first customer, and the first commercial use case of its apple-harvesting robots. To commercialize its technology, Abundant overcame a handful of complex technical challenges simultaneously, including image recognition of harvestable apples, picking the fruit without damaging it, and real-time autonomous navigation of different orchards. Over the three years since Abundant Robotics’ launch, partnering with orchards around the world to acquire real-world data during product development and testing was critical to accelerating the robots’ commercial viability.
Why it's important: From lab-grown meat to genetically engineered crops, digital agriculture is transforming the global food supply chain. This news from Abundant Robotics further validates the wide-ranging applications of converging exponential technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence and big data to help feed the planet. Share on Facebook
Spotted by Max Goldberg / Written by Max Goldberg
What it is: Setting a groundbreaking record for large-scale genome editing, researchers at Harvard have just published a method that enables genetic alterations at thousands of loci per cell. Having developed a set of dead-Cas9 base editor (dBEs) variants, the researchers can now circumvent cutting open the DNA double helix at multiple locations, a traditional cause of cell death when too many edits are made at one. By instead using base editors to replace individual genetic letters, the scientists have successfully made 13,200 genetic alterations to a single cell without destroying it in the process.
Why it's important: Given that many genetic elements are repetitive and capable of copying themselves, large-scale, one-stop genome editing could one day eliminate all copies of a retrovirus for safe and universal organ transplants. Gene technologist George Church has even envisioned the creation of human organ and tissue supplies with revised genomes that are immune to all viruses. According to the Harvard team, this ‘recoding’ process would involve about 9,811 precise genetic modifications. With the newfound ability to target all copies of a given genetic element, imagine ‘recoding’ supplies of your own cells, now rendered universal and safe for future transplantation. Share on Facebook
Spotted by Marissa Brassfield / Written by Claire Adair
What is Abundance Insider?
This email is a briefing of the week's most compelling, abundance-enabling tech developments, curated by Marissa Brassfield in preparation for Abundance 360. Read more about A360 below.
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