TWIE 128: Tickets to the Moon. Yours for $750M.

This Week in Engineering - Detecting nuclear tests with GPS; moon tourism; recycling plastic into pavement; hydrogel from DNA; trampoline sidewalk; and parrot car.
 
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Detecting nuclear tests with GPS
The International Monitoring System can often detect illegal nuclear tests with existing seismic, hydroacoustic and radionuclide sensor networks, but some underground nuclear explosions could still go undetected. Now, Jihye Park and colleagues from the Ohio State University have developed a way to detect the traveling ionospheric disturbance, or TID, resulting from underground nuclear explosions with existing GPS satellite networks. The challenge was to differentiate nuclear TIDs caused by nuclear detonation from others, such as those caused by earthquakes and storms. The technique was discovered while trying to find a way to filter out ionospheric distortions from GPS data. The team successfully used old GPS data to determine North KoreaÆs 2009 detonation to within about four kilometers.

Moon tourism
Start-up company Golden Spike has begun offering tickets to the moon, with two seats per flight, for about seven hundred and fifty million dollars a seat. The company plans to commission a lunar lander and space suits for moonwalking, but the rockets and capsules, like those from SpaceX, are either available or are already being developed. Golden SpikeÆs board is chaired by the former director of NASAÆs Johnson Space Center Gerry Griffin, and also includes former US Presidential candidate and space colony enthusiast Newt Gingrich. The first paid lunar excursion could come as early as 2020. Seven hundred fifty mil? Okay. Deal. But I want my 477,800 frequent flyer miles.

Recycling plastic into pavement
The city of Vancouver in Canada, as part of their goal of being the worldÆs greenest city by 2020, have incorporated recycled plastic into asphalt for paving streets. With the recycled plastic binder, the asphalt looks the same, but it will flow at much lower temperatures, resulting in an estimated 20 percent improvement in the energy required to spread it -- equivalent to about three hundred tons of greenhouse gases saved per year. Also, laying the new material releases less vapors than traditional asphalt would. I dunno. This sounds an awful lot like roads paved with good intentions. And you know where that leads.

Hydrogel from DNA
Scientists from Cornell University and the University of Seoul in South Korea have created a strange new metamaterial that they call a meta-hydrogel, which acts like a liquid when taken out of water, and like a solid in water. Additionally, when the hydrogel is deformed and water is added, the resulting solid regains its former shape. While most metamaterials to date are made from inorganics like silicon and copper, the meta-hydrogel was made from artificial DNA strands, elongated with a polymerase enzyme. The meta-hydrogel could potentially be used in flexible electronic circuits, or in medical implants to help release medicines slowly.

Trampoline sidewalk
Estonian architecture firm Salto Architects has installed a 170-foot-long trampoline trail through RussiaÆs Nikola-Lenivets forest. The trail is designed to create intelligent, emotional infrastructure and a new, imaginative way to get around. The company has held performances on the trampoline, and also allowed visitors to try it out, and imagine possibly using it as a daily commute. But, do I want my work commute to feel like IÆm at an over-privileged 8 year oldÆs birthday party? No. ThatÆs what staff meetings are for.

Parrot car
University of Florida electrical and computer engineering student Andrew Gray has developed a small car driven by Pepper, his pet African gray parrot. The car is equipped with a perch for the parrot to sit on, a joystick that controls the four maneuvers, and infrared sensors that prevent birdie traffic accidents. The car is the most recent of several toys Gray developed in an effort to keep the bird amused when the humans werenÆt home. I hope in the future there will be so many parrot cars, weÆll actually see parrot road rage. Outta my way, Polly! Oh, you want a cracker? I got your flockinÆ cracker right here.


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