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white pill #20 // surviving a martian frontier outpost, space tourism balloons, curing locked in syndrom with ai, the emerging details of a brand new california metropolis, and much more
Hey Reader, happy to be back in your inbox with the 20th issue of the White Pill, Pirate Wires’ weekly roundup of all the best stuff going on in technology, engineering, science, and space. As usual, this week’s newsletter is a banger. In the section on space, among other items, we break down a recent preprint on the minimum size a Martian outpost would need to be to last for ~30 years. Then as per the usual, the White Pill Investment Index lists some of the most interesting startups and companies that closed on a round this week. After that, the energy and engineering section covers a potential new California city, no-energy drones, and robot pilots; I think you’ll be excited to read that the Toy Box, where we highlight futuristic physical objects that you may or may not be able to buy, is back in this issue as well. We’ve got some truly refreshing news in the medicine section this week, and last but not least, fun stuff at the end.
Oh, almost forgot — the White Pill has a X/Twitter account now, follow it for snackable science, energy, engineering, and space in your feed, and RT if you are so inclined.
Have a great weekend.
But first, some most excellent news
One step closer to never having to wait for a kidney transplant. Researchers at NYU Langone successfully transplanted a kidney from a genetically modified pig in a brain-dead man about a month ago, and it’s still working, making it the longest a pig kidney has ever functioned in a human. It’s “really working like a human organ,” according to the team, providing the life-sustaining functions that a human kidney does (again, though, albeit in an all-but-dead man). On the heels of this news, researchers at the University of Alabama got a pair of pig kidneys to function in a donated body for seven days.
Every year, over 100,000 people join the waiting list for a kidney transplant, and thousands die waiting. Resolving this dire organ shortage would be a huge unlock. The FDA is now “considering whether to allow some small but rigorous studies of pig heart or kidney transplants in volunteer patients.” (MedicalXpress)
Hey — the White Pill just got a X/Twitter account, where we’re sharing all the excellent developments in tech, science, space, and medicine that we come across. Please follow, like, and retweet!
Could you survive an outpost on the Martian frontier? Researchers at George Mason University have a preprint (meaning not yet peer reviewed) up on arXiv that concludes a Mars outpost would only need to be populated by a minimum of 22 people to achieve a stable colony (stable colony meaning that the population stays, more or less, at more than 10 people for 28 years). In its survey of real-world teams isolated at frontiers, such as in submarines or Arctic outposts, the team include some interesting context, when read with a Martian colony in mind:
“Present literature demonstrates that team and individual psychological
success in extreme environments can be broadly attributed to coping capacity,
which we define as the ability…to manage adverse conditions, risk or disasters”
Traits such as strong achievement motivation and interpersonal orientation were associated with superior coping during submarine missions. In another study of submarine service, optimism, humor accompanied by cynicism, and a strong perception of the submarine service were the primary coping mechanisms exhibited by the crew. Additionally, having some semblance of occasional privacy with their own bed was a highly valuable coping mechanism.”
To simulate the Martian outpost, the researchers used Agent-Based Modeling (ABM), a type of computational model that simulates the interactions of autonomous agents, who make decisions based on a set of rules or heuristics. In the Martian model, one of four resilience types — neurotic, reactive, social, and agreeable — were assigned to agents in an equal distribution, and simulation runs included exposing the agents to stressors such as the chance of a Earth shipment disaster, in which e.g. food supplies from Earth are compromised after a Martian landing catastrophe. The agreeable personality type was most resilient, “the neurotic personality type was the most likely to fail, and the reactive and Social personality types alternated in between,” suggesting that, basically, the first Martians should all be highly agreeable. The preprint (linked above) is a really fun read — highly recommend. (Futurism)
The startup Space Perspective is developing a space tourism balloon that “carries eight explorers and a captain on a six-hour, gentle, and astounding journey to space.” When fully inflated, the balloon is large enough to house the Statue of Liberty. (The Debrief)
A Spanish astronomer may have recently discovered an active galactic nucleus within the Sombrero Galaxy (31 million light years away from us), essentially revealing a galaxy within a galaxy. Dubbed the Iris Galaxy, it has two spiral arms, and if it truly is within the larger Sombrero galaxy (it could be a much larger galaxy, quite a bit farther away), is only about 1,000 light years across (the Milky Way is 100,000 light years across). (Jerusalem Post)
A recent study by a team from Planetary Science Institute, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenzhen University, and the University of Aberdeen produced a 1,000-foot (300 meter) deep lunar subsurface map that revealed evidence of volcanic flows under “several layers of material, some broken rock, some dust and some soil.” This provides further support for the theory that the moon was once volcanically active some billions of years ago, due in part to “a large object [that] struck the moon, cracking its surface” and thus allowing magma to rise up from its molten core. 😮 (phys.org)
Researchers at JPL and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Sandia National Laboratory suggest using floating seismometers to study the inner workings of Venus. It’s theoretically possible, and solves the issue of crushing pressure and extreme temperatures on the planet’s surface. (phys.org)
The Indian Space Research Organization landed its lunar craft on the moon on Thursday, here are the images it took immediately before landing, and here’s a video of its rover coming down off its ramp and rolling onto the lunar surface.
JAXA (Japan’s space agency) will attempt a “pinpoint” lunar landing to demonstrate a “landing accuracy of 100m compared to several kilometers to tens of kilometers of conventional lunar landers.” “Favorable locations allowing sustainable water resource exploration in polar regions (such as areas highly exposed to sunlight), are limited to a very narrow area,” so mastering pinpoint landing tech will get us one step closer to mining the moon to make rocket propellant from regolith. (JAXA)
SpaceX performed a long duration test fire of it’s Raptor engine, bask in its raw power and glory.
Mac Rebisz’s space designs are also above, don’t you love them?
And digital artist and filmmaker Erik Wernquist has recently posted his space art (below) and it makes me want to live up there; also check out this great clip from his forthcoming short film that shows the inside of a believable artificial gravity torus, perhaps in a space hotel
The White Pill Investment Index tracks investments in companies developing interesting, exciting, forward-thinking products. For last week’s deals, check out last week’s White Pill. Deals are sourced from Pitchbook.
The first commercial space station — Axiom Space, the company developing a space station that will launch its first module in 2026, raises a $350m Series C led by Boryung Pharmaceutical Company and AlJazira Capital
Robots for aerospace manufacturing — Wilder Systems, a company developing robots for a “lights-out manufacturing future in aerospace factories,” raises a $8.56m Seed from undisclosed investors
Batteries, made in the USA — American Battery Factory, a company developing lithium iron phosphate batteries (they don’t explode or catch fire, so they’re perfect for the defense industry), raises an estimated $11.7m Series A from Lion Energy and other undisclosed investors
Weather forecasts from GPS signals — PlanetiQ, a company operating satellites that measure atmospheric data by detecting atmosphere-induced changes to signals emitted by GPS satellites (this is ingenious actually, read about it here), raises $8.89m in venture funding from Tremendous View Capital, VTC Ventures and other undisclosed investors
All-weather drones — WaveAerospace, a company developing UAVs that can fly in windy and stormy conditions (military and law enforcement needs this), raises a $1m Seed from undisclosed investors
Sludge tank inspector robot — Applied Impact Robotics, a company developing a robot that navigates sludge-filled tanks using pneumatic vibration to inspect tanks without them having to come offline, raises a $1.7m round from undisclosed investors
Powering datacenters with landfills — Nodal Power, a company that aims to use gas emissions from landfills to generate electricity that is used in on-site datacenters (or is sold to the grid), raises a $13m Seed from Spacestation Investments and other undisclosed investors
Energy and Engineering
New Bay Area city? Yesterday the New York Times published a piece detailing the emerging plans of a group of venture capitalists to build a new California city about 60 miles northeast of San Francisco. According to the Times, the group has quietly bought up thousands of acres of farmland in the Montezuma Hills area with the ultimate plan of “transforming tens of thousands of acres into a bustling metropolis that, according to the pitch, could generate thousands of jobs and be as walkable as Paris or the West Village in New York.” Now, the group has begun engaging with local residents and regional officials to (presumably) begin the arduous process of rezoning the land, which would host “tens of thousands of new homes, a large solar energy farm, orchards with over a million new trees, and over 10,000 acres of new parks and open space.” (New York Times)
No-energy drones. Condors have been known to soar for up to five hours without flapping their wings, and they do this by simply riding upward drafts while maintaining position, but slightly descending at perfectly calibrated moments. Dutch researchers recently created a drone that mimics this element of bird flight by operating it with an algorithm that autonomously changes the drone’s position in response to changes in the wind. This enables it use almost no power at all to stay afloat in a wind tunnel. Still a long way to go to scale this — the real world has much more dynamic atmospheric conditions than a wind tunnel. (Futurism)
Robot pilots. South Korean engineers created a robot that uses AI (“PIBOT”) that enables it to fly a variety of planes without modifying the cockpit, as well as talk to air traffic controllers and other pilots. Its natural language abilities allow it to be easily trained to fly other airplane types. With human error a leading cause of plane crashes, robotic pilots represent the potential to make flight even safer. (Freethink)
Rumors have been swirling about Tesla’s Model 3 Project Highland, a long-awaited update to the EV company’s Model 3. Recent leaks about the project suggest that the streamlined design will be stalk-less (gears controlled by touch-sensitive buttons), and “ambient LED lights allows drivers and passengers to set the tone and mood of the cabin,” among other upgrades. (Topspeed)
Haptic suits by a company called Music: Not Impossible seem to be leading-edge haptic feedback systems that can deliver incredibly precise and nuanced vibrations to the wearer. “When the song was getting lower, not only did the different parts of you vibrate; it actually got softer and more in-depth, and when it was louder, my whole body was shaking. Just the level of precision they put into it was astounding,” said sign-language instructor Amanda Landers after wearing it while being played snippets of the Interstellar soundtrack. (New York Times)
Moonwalkers allow you to walk at the speed of a run; get ‘em for $1,400 on their website.
Communicating via avatar. A woman whose stroke 18 years ago paralyzed her and caused her to have Locked In Syndrome — a heartbreaking condition in which she’s fully cognizant but unable to communicate — has recently, for the first time, ‘spoken’. Researchers at UC San Francisco and UC Berkeley are testing a brain-computer interface on her that uses AI to decode neural activity into facial expressions via an avatar that’s shown on a screen, and English language at up to 80 words per minute, which the avatar speaks. Absolutely insane. (UCSF)
An international team of researchers recently scienced the f**k out of stem cells and ended up with ameloblasts, which our bodies use to create dental enamel, but which fully die off after our teeth are fully formed — meaning our bodies can’t repair teeth, but if we had ‘new’ ameloblasts, they could. A fully mature version of this approach will allow us to “fill cavities with ‘living fillings’ that could grow over time and self-repair. (Futurism)
Finally, the fun stuff
Dating back to the 2nd to 3rd century, check out this fascinating Roman mosaic of a Schola Cantorum, or children’s choir, taken from the Temple of Diana Tifatina near Capua which was among the most important pagan sanctuaries at the time. Capua is northwest of Naples, 120 miles / 190 km south of Rome; now you can see the mosaic at the Basilica of Sant'Angelo in Formis, which sits atop the temple ruins. (Imperium Romanum ht @OptimoPrincipi)
Bronze Age wooden whisks, pictured above, can be found at the Museo delle Palafitte di Fiavé, can you believe it? “By rotating the shaft, it’s possible to whip cream until it turns into butter. Larger whisks were presumably used for making cheese.” The whisks date back to 1650-1350 BC, and this type of whisk was commonly used all the way into the 20th century. (@DrNWillburger)
Hope you are planning on touching grass this weekend (and taking some time to listen to the most recent Pirate Wires podcast episode (below), in which we talk to Augustus Doricko — who we profiled in last week’s White Pill — to discuss, among other topics, his cloud seeding company Rainmaker).