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Dutch Trains Prove Everything Is Better With Lasers

The combination of trains and lasers seems like it belongs in a really, really bad network TV adventure series straight out of the late 1970s or something. But no, it’s not Supertrain, because not even lasers could have helped Supertrain. What lasers can help are real trains, traveling on real tracks, that are covered with leaves. Leaves cause way more problems for trains than you’d think, but powerful train-mounted lasers can make everything better.

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Ralph Baer, Father of Video Games Is Dead

Ralph Baer, the engineer considered the father of the video game died on 6 December at age 92. He invented the “Brown Box” in 1966,  a hardware-based prototype game system that plugged in to your television.

Baer received the IEEE Edison Medal this year, the U.S. National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2006, was inducted into the U.S. National Inventors Halls of Fame in 2010 among other awards. Oddly enough, he was only elevated to the rank of IEEE Fellow in 2013.

For the whole story of Baer’s fascinating life and inventions see an obituary in our sister publication The Institute.

NASA's Orion Exploration Spacecraft Test Complete

Update 5 Dec 2015: 16:35 GMT The Orion spacecraft has successfully splashed down four hours and 24 minutes after launch at 16:29 GMT. NASA looks to offload flight data from the spacecraft’s many sensors before trucking it back to Florida, so that the space agency can begin analyzing the results in preparation for future test flights.

Update 5 Dec 2015: 16:11 GMT Orion launched on its first test flight at 12:05 GMT after being delayed from a planned launch on Thursday. The spacecraft successfully reached its planned peak altitude of 5,800 kilometers above Earth—about 15 times higher than the space station’s orbit—and is currently less than 10 minutes away from reentry.

Update 4 Dec 2014: 15:40 GMT NASA has aborted Thursday’s launch attempt after several delays involving windy conditions and valve problems on the Delta IV rocket. The next launch window is within 24 hours.

NASA’s next step toward sending astronauts to Mars is fast approaching with the first scheduled test flight of the Orion crew capsule on Thursday. The unmanned test flight aims to assess the spacecraft’s systems in the deep space radiation environment beyond low-Earth orbit and during reentry.

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Rocket Fuel from Human Waste

Getting rid of human waste has been a problem for NASA since the earliest days of space exploration. That’s why the U.S. space agency is funding researchers to figure out how to transform such waste into rocket fuel for future space missions.

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Electronic Jell-O

The future of medical diagnostics may come in the form of 3-D printed electronic Jell-O, according to an Australian chemist who’s working on developing edible sensors made out of materials like gelatin.

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Feel Invisible 3D Shapes With Blasts of Ultrasound

Virtual and augmented reality displays are getting very, very good at allowing us to see things that aren’t really there. When paired with a sensing system (like Kinect), we can even interact with these virtual objects. The missing piece here is touch: the ability to feel things that don’t actually exist. Using an array of focused ultrasound that can create patterns of turbulence in the air, computer scientists from the University of Bristol have been able to generate 3D shapes in midair that you can’t see, but that you can touch.

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Fujitsu Forges Li-Fi-like QR Code Replacement

Forget about QR codes (if you haven’t already). Fujitsu Laboratories, in Kawasaki, near Tokyo, has come up with a much brighter idea: Its researchers have developed a way to embed identification data in LED lighting that can be projected on any object. Like with a QR code, you’d point your smartphone camera to the object to get more information about it. But in the case of the Fujitsu system, it doesn’t require anything to be physically printed or attached to the object being queried, which can be distracting, costly, or otherwise mar something’s appearance.

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Maglev Elevators Will Take You Up, Down, and Sideways by 2016

In a relentless drive to render walking completely obsolete, elevators are about to get a major upgrade: the ability to go sideways, thanks to magnetic levitation technology. German industrial behemoth ThyssenKrupp is promising that two-axis travel (“the holy grail of the elevator industry”) will revolutionize intra-building travel, and that they’ll have it operational in 2016.

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Passive Radiator Cools by Sending Heat Straight to Outer Space

Conventional cooling is all about moving heat from a place where you don’t want it to a place that you care about slightly less. Your refrigerator, for example, cools itself by pumping heat into your house. Your house cools itself by pumping heat into the outdoors. It takes a significant amount of energy to keep this up—15 percent of the energy consumption of most buildings is spent just on air conditioning—meaning that the work put into transferring the heat generates even more heat. And then it’s not like the heat just vanishes when it gets outside: in urban areas, all of this waste heat builds up to increase local temperatures as part of the urban heat island effect.

In Nature this week, Stanford researchers describe a passive radiator system that can lower the temperature of anything that it’s placed on by up to five degrees Celsius by absorbing heat and sending it directly into outer space, and it even works in direct sunlight.

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