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From orbiting lasers to metal rods that strike from the heavens, the potential to wage war from space raises startling possibilities and serious problems

26 min read
Illustration of space-based lasers destroying targets
Light Saber: Space-based lasers would destroy targets by heating them with a powerful beam generated by a chemical reaction between hydrogen and fluorine. However, many such lasers would be required for global coverage; clouds and smoke block the beam; and keeping the beam on target long enough to cause damage is difficult.
Illustration: John MacNeill

12 June 2018—The world awakens to an international crisis: officials at the Tokyo airport have detained a foreign airliner suspected of carrying illegal arms. The aggressive and threatening response from the plane’s country of origin, a “rogue” state believed to possess both nuclear and biological weapons, adds credibility to the suspicion. Hamstrung by its rogue status, the country’s economy has been in free fall for decades, and with this latest incident, it’s widely feared that the country will launch a nuclear attack against Japan. U.S. satellites report escalating activity at the country’s rocket-launch facility; other U.S. intelligence indicates that three intermediate-range missiles are being fueled and are within a 15-minute launch window. No air-, sea-, or land-based military system is available to respond in time. The U.S. president demands that the country cease and desist immediately but receives no response. Five minutes later, the U.S. Strategic Command activates a heretofore undisclosed space-based laser; within minutes, it incinerates the launch facility’s command and control center, thus narrowly averting a catastrophe.

Today, such a scenario is science fiction, but it—or something like it—could become reality within the next decade or two. The irony is that the economic and political price the United States would have to pay to bring about such a system, even if it could be done, might well outweigh its military benefit.

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For Better or Worse, Tesla Bot Is Exactly What We Expected

Tesla fails to show anything uniquely impressive with its new humanoid robot prototype

15 min read
A humanoid robot with metal and wires exposed stands on stage.

Elon Musk unveiled the Optimus humanoid robot at Tesla's AI Day 2022.

Tesla

At the end of Tesla’s 2021 AI Day last August, Elon Musk introduced a concept for “Tesla Bot,” an electromechanically-actuated, autonomous bipedal “general purpose” humanoid robot. Musk suggested that a prototype of Tesla Bot (also called “Optimus”) would be complete within the next year. After a lot of hype, a prototype of Tesla Bot was indeed unveiled last night at Tesla’s 2022 AI Day. And as it turns out, the hype was just that—hype.

While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the humanoid robot that Musk very briefly demonstrated on stage, there’s nothing uniquely right, either. We were hoping for (if not necessarily expecting) more from Tesla. And while the robot isn’t exactly a disappointment, there’s very little to suggest that it disrupts robotics the way that SpaceX did for rockets or Tesla did for electric cars.

You can watch the entire 3+ hour livestream archived on YouTube here (which also includes car stuff and whatnot), but we’re just going to focus on the most interesting bits about Tesla Bot/Optimus.

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"Nothing About Us Without Us"

Assistive technologies are often designed without involving the people these technologies are supposed to help. That needs to change.

3 min read
A photo of two people holding signs outside.  One is in a wheelchair.
Erik McGregor/LightRocket/Getty Images

Before we redesigned our website a couple of years ago, we took pains to have some users show us how they navigate our content or complete specific tasks like leaving a comment or listening to a podcast. We queried them about what they liked or didn’t like about how our content is presented. And we took onboard their experiences and designed a site and a magazine based on that feedback.

So when I read this month’s cover story by Britt Young about using a variety of high- and low-tech prosthetic hands, I was surprised to learn that much bionic-hand development is conducted without taking the lived experience of people who use artificial hands into account.

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Exploring the Value of Power Modules

Learn how power modules can reduce power supply size, EMI, design time, and solution cost

1 min read
Texas Instruments

In this training series, we will discuss the high level of integration of DC/DC power modules and the significant implications that this has on power supply design.

Watch this free webinar now!

In addition to high power density and small solution size, modules can also simplify EMI mitigation and reduce power supply design time. And thanks to improved process and packaging technology, a power module may even provide all of these benefits with a lower overall solution cost as well.

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