Virgin Oceanic’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Virgin Oceanic hopes to launch a new era of manned deep-sea exploration

13 min read
illustration depicting experimental vehicle.
Illustration: Bryan Christie Design

As the battered little boat slides down a 3-meter ocean swell into the next trough, Chris Welsh grits his teeth and peers out into the storm. Sheets of rain pummel the dark windows of the bridge, and a Micronesian sailor wrestles with the wheel. It’s past midnight on a July night and we’re bobbing over the almost 11 kilometers of water that fill the deepest abyss on Earth, the Mariana Trench. Welsh is leading a small party of engineers, scientists, and adventurers under the banner of Virgin Oceanic; they’ve chugged out here aboard a 20-year-old ferryboat to test some unmanned deep-diving probes. It’s the first step in what they hope will be a glorious high-tech adventure, in which a man—Welsh, specifically—will visit the bottom of the trench before the end of this year.

But right now, most of us would be happy just to make it back to Guam, 130 km (81 miles) to the north. Another wave breaks over the boat and crashes down on the cabin house, dousing the upper deck. I recall a plaque mounted on a table in the main cabin that admonishes, “No passengers more than 20 miles from shore.” This 20-meter-long vessel is what oceanographers call a “ship of opportunity,” which means it was pressed into service for the mission basically because it was available. Welsh turns to the captain, who lives in the Mariana Islands, and asks, “In your experience, what usually happens in a storm like this? Does it get better? Does it get worse?”

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Stretchable Artificial Nerves Help Restore Motion in Mice

New neuroprosthetic approach is more flexible and less power-hungry than other designs

2 min read
illustration of a paralysed mouse and a moving mouse

A paralyzed mouse with a spinal cord injury or motor neuron disease (left) and a mouse that

has recovered voluntary motor function by using stretchable artificial nerves (right).

Stanford University

Conventional neuroprosthetic devices that aim to help patients bypass nerve damage are often rigid and power-hungry. Now scientists have developed stretchable artificial nerves that helped paralyzed mice run on a treadmill and kick a ball while consuming less than one-hundredth of the power of a typical microprocessor. The scientists suggest these artificial nerves may one day find use in the human body.

To help restore movement to patients who have suffered nerve damage from injuries or diseases, scientists are researching neuroprosthetic devices that can help relay signals from the brain to muscles or nerves. However, these systems often face a number of critical limitations, says study co-senior author Tae-Woo Lee, a materials scientist at Seoul National University.

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Xiaomi Builds a Humanoid Robot for Some Reason

CyberOne is a new biped from China, but why does it exist?

3 min read
A black and white humanoid robot lies face down on dirt after appearing to have just fallen

Xiaomi, a large Chinese consumer electronics manufacturer, has introduced a full size bipedal humanoid robot called CyberOne. It’s 177 centimeters in height and weighs 52 kilograms, and it comes with 21 degrees of freedom, with “a curved OLED module to display real-time interactive information.” Nifty! So, uh, its actual purpose is... what exactly?

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A Multiphysics Approach to Designing Fuel Cells for Electric Vehicles

White paper on fuel cell modeling and simulation

1 min read
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Comsol

Fuel cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) often reach higher energy density and exhibit greater efficiency than battery EVs; however, they also have high manufacturing costs, limited service life, and relatively low power density.

Modeling and simulation can improve fuel cell design and optimize EV performance. Learn more in this white paper.