TWIE 101: Beaming Solar Power to Earth

This Week in Engineering - Beaming solar power to earth; robot biped works out; cardless ATM machine; world’s fastest random number generator; Air Force One on order; and penguin census from space.

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Beaming solar power to earth
Artemis Innovation Management Solutions is investigating launching a flower-shaped satellite to harvest solar power. Sunlight would reflect off mirrors on the surface and into a collection of photovoltaic panels, to be converted into microwaves which are beamed down to a power plant on Earth, where they are converted to electricity and added to the grid. NASA¦s Innovative Advanced Concepts project is funding a one-year proof-of-concept study. A satellite beaming microwaves down to earth? Glad I¦m not in charge--I¦d be way too tempted to aim the beam at Professor Hathaway¦s house. It¦s filled with popcorn!

Robot biped works out
Boston Robotics has released video of a new, creepy robot, again. The PETMAN is a bipedal robot, which reportedly will be used as a platform for the $2 million DARPA Robotics Challenge in October. The video shows the PETMAN robot taking the stairs, walking on a treadmill, and doing push-ups. I love it when robots do my mundane tasks, like vacuuming, pool-cleaning or lawn-mowing. This robot does a workout! I can¦t wait to get one! It¦ll be a great time-saver before swimsuit season!

Cardless ATM machine
Japan¦s Ogaki Kyoritsu Bank has announced that it will be installing automated teller machines that, instead of using a card, will read a customer¦s palm print for identification. Customers must first register their biometrics at the bank, and then the ATM will still require them to type in their birthdate and four-digit pin. Demand for a cardless ATM in Japan increased after last year¦s earthquake and tsunami disaster left many survivors without a wallet or access to cash. I say, ATM cards are old hat, and my second-biggest ATM annoyance. Now, can someone innovate a way to use an ATM without that ginormous fee?

World¦s fastest random number generator
Researchers from the Australian National University have created the world¦s fastest truly random number generator. By using very sensitive light detectors on a vacuum, the researchers were able to detect noise caused by virtual sub-atomic particles spontaneously appearing and disappearing. Most random numbers used in computing are actually from seeded pseudo-random number generators, which are somewhat predictable. See? All those old numbers weren¦t really random! I am so going to tell my dungeon master. Dude totally cheats.

Air Force One on order
The Pentagon is reportedly planning to buy a new airplane to serve as Air Force One, replacing the two Boeing 747 VC-25¦s that currently share the designation. The old planes have been in service since 1990 and 1991, and the communications upgrades in the aftermath of 9/11 have strained their power demands. The replacement is likely to be the more powerful 747-8, the world¦s longest passenger aircraft, built, of course, by Boeing, as it is politically expedient to have Air Force One built by an American company. But, as far as making an impression, I¦m worried that American airplanes could remind foreign nations how much debt we have.

Penguin census from space
Satellites have provided the first-ever population count of an entire species, when they counted 595,000 emperor penguins -- almost double the previous estimates. Antarctica¦s harsh conditions have always made population counting difficult. Using satellite multispectral images and an algorithm called pansharpening, computers were able to differentiate penguins from guano and get an accurate count. It¦s great to see penguins doing well, and I¦m glad that only one of them walked with an umbrella and vowed to kill Batman.