Sunday, 31 December 2017


The astronauts and cosmonauts on the International Space Station take pictures of Earth out their windows nearly every day, and over a year that adds up to thousands of photos. This video by the people at the Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston shows their choice for the top 17 photos of Earth for 2017.

Saturday, 30 December 2017


2017's best sustainable, innovative and interesting houses
By Adam Williams,
New Atlas, 28 December 2017.

The use of green building standards, the proliferation of off-grid technology and advances in 3D-printing all make this an exciting time for residential architecture and this is reflected in the homes we've covered during the past 12 months. A floating off-grid luxury pad, a 3D-printed house, and a sustainable home that can be built in a few days all feature in our pick of the best houses of 2017.

We've tried to be selective with our choice here and not just focus on enviable luxury houses (though to be fair there's at least one of those, too). Each home has something to appreciate - whether particularly affordable, groundbreaking, sustainable or just interesting.

Without further ado, have a look through our selection below before heading to the gallery for more photos and info.

1. 3D-printed house - Apis Cor

Credit: Apis Cor

This small and relatively simple home is not the first example of 3D-printed architecture we've reported on by any means, but it does point convincingly toward 3D-printed residential construction being affordable and widespread soon.

Developed by 3D-printing firm Apis Cor, in collaboration with PIK, the unnamed dwelling measures just 38 sq m (409 sq ft) and was made using a portable 3D-printer - to be clear, by portable we mean weighing 2 tons (1,814 kg) and transported on the back of a truck, not pocket-sized.

The actual printing process took place over 24 hours in Russia and involved extruding cement out of a nozzle, layer by layer, to create a structure. Human builders then finished the roof, insulation, windows, and other components. The total cost for the project came in at just US$10,134, not including furniture or appliances.

2. Kiss House - Adrian James, et al.

Credit: Kiss House

British Passivhaus expert Mike Jacob and architect Adrian James joined forces to create the Kiss House: a prefabricated home that takes less than a week to install and meets the exacting Passivhaus green building standard.

Each Kiss House has excellent insulation, as well as an almost airtight envelope and a design that takes passive solar heat gain into consideration. This results in a seriously efficient house that its owners will find very inexpensive to heat and cool year-round, whatever the local climate.

The Kiss House is available in multiple sizes but each model consists of an open-plan living area on the ground floor, with a large modern kitchen, wooden flooring and floor-to-ceiling glass windows. Bedrooms and bathrooms are located upstairs and exterior finishes like masonry, metal, and timber are available.

The cost for the Kiss House depends on size and options, but you're looking at around £2,000 (around US$2,550) per sq m (10 sq ft).

3. Binh House - Vo Trong Nghia

Credit: Hiroyuki Oki

The Binh House, by Vietnam-based Vo Trong Nghia Architects, is an oasis in tropical Ho Chi Minh City that doesn't need air-conditioning to keep its occupants cool. Its carefully-planned interior layout, comprising 233 sq m (2,507 sq ft) spread over three floors, allows three generations of the same family to live together in comfort.

Vo Trong Nghia positioned service areas like the kitchen, bathrooms, and so on in the west of the home. These act as buffer zones to keep more important areas further into the house cool, such as the living room, dining room and bedrooms. Binh House is also shaded by greenery and its layout creates a natural stack effect, causing air to be drawn in and improving ventilation. Multiple sliding glass doors aid ventilation, too.

Vegetation covers most of the exterior and helps soften the look of the textured concrete used. There are multiple gardens, such as a rooftop fruit tree garden, terraced vegetable garden, and another terrace next to the home's library, each of which opens to the outside with voids in the concrete façade. Planters offer privacy for an outdoor jacuzzi spa and there's an internal garden in the living room, plus yet another garden in a small courtyard area.

4. M.A.Di - Renato Vida

Credit: M.A.Di

The M.A.Di, by Italian architect Renato Vida, is a flat-packed dwelling designed to withstand earthquakes that can be constructed in just a few hours. Made from CLT (cross-laminated timber), it comes in several sizes, from 27 sq m (290 sq ft), up to 84 sq m (904 sq ft). Each home is laid out over two levels and equipped with kitchen, dining area and bathroom on the ground floor, while bedrooms are located upstairs.

The M.A.Di Home's A-frame structure allows it to be prefabricated off-site, then flat-packed and transported via truck or container to its designated build site. Installation is relatively simple and the entire process should take three workers around seven hours to complete.

The M.A.Di starts at €21,600 (US$25,195) for the smallest model and €67,200 (US$73,385) for the largest. Rooftop solar panels, LED lighting and a greywater system are all available at additional cost.

5. Tikku - Marco Casagrande


Demand for urban housing is only going to increase as populations continue to grow. Appropriately-named architect Marco Casagrande reckons he has a potential answer to this with the Tikku (which is Finnish for Stick). It has a footprint of just 2.5 x 5 m (8.2 x 16.4 ft), making it roughly the size of a standard car parking space.

The Tikku has a total floor space of 37.5 sq m (403 sq ft), split over three floors. The prototype model shown is divided into a work area on the first floor, a bedroom upstairs, and a small greenhouse/living space on the top floor, but this is flexible.

Inside, it includes a dry toilet and electricity comes from solar power, but there's no running water or kitchen. The idea is that thanks to its location in a city, the occupant should be able to access water and food, as well as whatever else they need.

In addition to a house, Casagrande envisions the Tikku serving as an office, shop, workshop, hotel, and more, swapping out the interior and amenities to suit. Pricing for a basic model comes in at €35,000 (US$41,500), not including transportation costs.

6. Villa Ypsilon - LASSA Architects


LASSA Architects did a splendid job blending Villa Ypsilon seamlessly into the hilltop it sits upon in a rural plot in Greece's southern Peloponnese.

Named after its green roof being shaped like the Greek letter Ypsilon - a Y-shape when capitalized - Villa Ypsilon comprises a total floor space of 150 sq m (1,614 sq ft) spread over an entrance, master bedroom, two additional bedrooms, kitchen, breakfast area, living room, and a couple of bathrooms.

Inside, private areas, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, face the east, while common areas, like living room and kitchen, face the south and provide excellent views of the undulating landscape. Each of Villa Ypsilon's three courtyards offers shade at different times of the day.

Despite the high summer temperatures in that part of the world, the use of concrete, the green roof, and carefully-placed windows ensure the interior remains sufficiently cool without requiring air conditioning.

7. Casa Kwantes - MVRDV

Credit: MVRDV

High-profile Dutch firm MVRDV recently unveiled the enviable Casa Kwantes. A contemporary take on 1930s modernist design, the Rotterdam-based home boasts a curved glazed façade and energy-efficient tech.

The 480 sq m (5,166 sq ft) family house is spread over two main floors, plus a small basement. A two-car garage, kitchen, living room, dining room, and library are all on the first floor, while the second floor has two bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms. Naturally, the unusual shape of the glazed façade means the interior of the home is pretty unconventional. The curved shape also offers a visual link between different areas of the house and, in a nice touch, wraps around an olive tree.

Casa Kwantes' roof sports a large solar panel array. A ground-source heat pump transfers heat to and from the ground and, in conjunction with a heat exchanger, provides energy-efficient heating and cooling.

8. Gapahuk - Snøhetta

Credit: Snøhetta

Living in a home designed by a leading architecture firm is usually out of reach for all but the wealthiest, but a recent collaboration between Snøhetta and Norwegian purveyor of leisure homes Rindalshytter means it's more affordable than you might expect.

The Gapahuk takes its name from a basic Norwegian shelter sometimes built by hikers to ride out rough weather. Inside, there's a total floor space of 90 sq m (968 sq ft) available, all laid out on one floor. It includes three bedrooms, a bathroom with toilet, sink and shower, an additional WC, and a large common area with kitchen, lounge, and dining table. There's also a covered porch and plenty of storage space.

The Gapahuk is both flexible enough to be placed practically anywhere and tough enough to stand up to Norway's brutal weather. Its sloping roof provides protection from high winds and sun, and is also ideal for mounting solar panels for those who wish to go off-the-grid.

The Gapahuk is available to purchase now in kit form, starting at NOK 1,350,000 (roughly US$156,600), not including construction.

9. SkinnyScar - Gwendolyn Huisman and Marijn Boterman

Credit: SkinnyScar

All towns and cities feature vacant plots usually considered unsuitable to build houses on, but the SkinnyScar house proves that some could be put to better use by squeezing a home in a space of just 3.7 m (12 ft)-wide.

Designed by architects Gwendolyn Huisman and Marijn Boterman, SkinnyScar's interior comprises a total floor space of 140 sq m (1,506 sq ft) spread over three floors. Visitors are greeted with an entry space with bicycle storage, while the kitchen and dining area are located toward the rear and offer access to a shared garden. Climbing the stairs to the second floor reveals a small library facing the street and a lounge with a net hammock that overlooks the garden.

The third floor includes two small bedrooms and a clever bathroom unit squeezed in between that has a shower, bath and toilet. Access to the rooftop is gained via the third floor and there's a small garden space up there, as well as a solar panel array.

10. Off-grid floating home concept - Arkup

Credit: Arkup

Imagine waking up to a different view every day. That's the dream Florida-based company Arkup promises with its off-grid luxury floating house. The cutting-edge home, which is still just a concept, would get all its electricity from solar power and have hydraulic legs capable of stabilizing it and lifting it out of the water.

A built-in communications suite would include 4G, Satellite TV, Wi-Fi and VHF radio, while a twin 136-horsepower electric azimuth thrusters could rotate 360 degrees to maneuver the house/vessel at a sedate 7 knots. Arkup reports that it could withstand a category 4 hurricane, too.

We've no word on expected price but it's a safe bet that only the ultra-rich will be able to afford it. It'll be interesting to see if this one makes it to market.

Top image: Arkup liveable yacht concept home. Credit: Arkup.

[Source: New Atlas. Top image and some links added.]


6 Strange Sites Spotted on Google Earth in 2017
By Rafi Letzter,
Live Science, 29 December 2017.

Google Earth is the largest publicly searchable visual catalog of our planet ever assembled, both from the perspective of satellites and the view from the street. And every year, intrepid people digging through that catalog make discoveries (scientific, funny or simply strange) that would never have been possible in an era when all the world's surface and streets couldn't be seen at a click. In addition, Google has worked to expand its catalog to include close-ups of places otherwise far off the beaten path. Here are the most amazing Google Earth discoveries of 2017.

1. 400 mysterious stone structures in Saudi Arabia

Photo credit: Google Earth via Live Science

The most amazing archaeological discovery of 2017 in Google Earth was, without question, a series of giant stone "gates" in Saudi Arabia dating back thousands of years. The low walls, which archaeologists termed "gates" because they resemble field gates from above, run through "bleak, inhospitable" lava fields on the sides of long-dormant volcanoes in a region called Harrat Khaybar. So far, researchers have primarily studied the gates through satellite images and are not sure of the structures' purpose.

2. A giant "A Hole"

Photo credit: Google via Reddit

A more recent construction in Sequim, Washington, was also discovered with the aid of Google Earth satellite imagery - in this case, by a Reddit user. A screenshot posted to Reddit in April revealed that carved into the grass outside one home in the town were the words "A Hole," next to a giant arrow pointing toward the neighboring home. SF Gate, reporting on the incident, discovered that the neighboring home in question had previously "agitated some members of the community with a purple garage."

3. Molten lava

Photo credit: Google Street View

Not every amazing find in Google's explorable, virtual world showed up there by accident. In 2017, the mapping team made some dramatic efforts to expand its coverage area into some of the more astonishing corners of the world. One such spot was an active, bubbling lava lake in Marum Crater in the Ambrym, a volcano on the Pacific island nation of Vanuatu.. Google sent two explorers armed with 360-degree cameras into the crater, and they captured the trek right up to the edge of the molten rock.

4. The Millennium Falcon

Photo credit: Google via

Sometimes a big company spends a lot of money to reveal something to the world, and sometimes a big company tries to hide something from the world. In this case, Longcross Film Studios in Chertsey, England, tried to hide its movie model of the Millennium Falcon from view with the aid of a tarp and some shipping containers. Unfortunately for the team there, Google's satellites have an unusual perspective, and saw right through the attempts to hide the giant prop.

5. The International Space Station

Photo credit: Google Street View

One spacecraft Google revealed with permission in 2017 was the International Space Station. Google couldn't send up one of its usual 360-degree Street View cameras, but European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet used existing, standard cameras on the station to create a panoramic visual tour, which Google's earthbound team stitched together to add the orbiter to its explorable collection.

6. A woman who died 18 months earlier

Photo credit: Google via The Sun

Google has sent cars all over the world to capture ground-level views of the streets covered by the company's global mapping project. And, like the satellite images, those Street View captures form a unique archive of what nearly every street-facing place on Earth looked like at a particular, recent moment in time. For one woman in Florida, that meant a shock when she went to look at the Street View of her childhood home in England, according to The Sun. Denise Underhill saw on her screen her mother standing outside it, watering the garden, even though her mother had died 18 months earlier.

Top image: Mysterious ancient stone structures discovered in Saudi Arabia. Credit: Google Earth via Live Science/YouTube.

[Source: Live Science. Top image added.]


Silicon Valley's Dumbest 'Inventions' of 2017
By Rhett Jones,
Gizmodo, 19 December 2017.

If 2016 was the year of “Uber for X,” 2017 was the year of Silicon Valley “inventing” things.

The tech industry officially ran out of ideas this year. Rather than tacking on some tech element to things that already exist, it edged closer to just renaming the things that already exist. To be fair to Silicon Valley, it rarely claims to have “invented” anything. “Disrupting shit” is the preferred vernacular. But so many new ideas this year weren’t really innovating or improving much of anything. If there’s anything that the top “inventions” accomplished in 2017, it’s finding a way to make rich people feel good about paying too much money for something that previous innovations made affordable for most.

As more and more of these dumb contraptions from startups hit the news, it became a common refrain on the internet to lol at X company for having “invented” something. Only one tiny group needed any of these things: startups and venture capitalists. As TechCrunch put it back in October, 2017 marked “the end of the startup era.” Rather than a few guys cooking up something in a garage that blows the world away, we have startups latching on to a few categories of hot development hoping to sell out as soon as possible to one of the big five tech giants.

The big boys weren’t immune to dumping stale ideas on the public either. When they weren’t copying each other, or adding tiny tweaks to their current products, the tech juggernauts were mostly focused on taking over existing industries while adding little of value.

From the bowels of Amazon’s research & domination department to the kitchen tables of deluded startup bros, here are 2017's most unoriginal and infuriating ideas:

10. The helicopter

Image: Uber

Every year it becomes more clear that we’re never going to get flying cars. But every year, a handful of companies claim that they’ll be putting you behind the wheel of one in the very near future. Uber, the world’s most valuable startup, announced that it will be launching a flying taxi service in Los Angeles by the year 2020. Ya know, it’s Uber for flying cars. Concept designs were like every other “flying car,” it’s just a helicopter/drone thing that requires a pilot and that only rich people will ever be able to afford. On top of that, NYC already has an Uber for helicopters. To Uber’s credit, this was one of the smartest things it did this year.

9. The mailbox

Photo: Amazon

This one barely skirts the line of falling into the specific category we’re talking about here. A lot of people actually want their apartment building to have a mailbox that’s just for Amazon packages. It would be convenient, and help prevent package theft. But Amazon’s “Hub” service is still just a mailbox. And as Amazon gobbles up every piece of every industry, it doesn’t sound like such a great idea to let them build out dedicated infrastructure that keeps us all inside its walled garden.

8. The low-rise building


You could also just call this a building. Maybe you want to call it a corporate campus, that’s cool too. Google prefers to call it a “landscraper” or a “horizontal skyscraper.” Granted, the new headquarters that Google is building in London is a really big building - 1,082 feet long, holding 7,000 workers - but it’s just a building. What’s more, the landscraper is the opposite of what we need right now. Densely populated metropolitan areas need big tall buildings to make the best use of space, keep rents low, make public transportation more efficient, and countless other reasons. Google’s landscraper is 11 stories tall. It will include an innovative elevator that goes sideways as well as up and down, though. Of course, if it were a regular skyscraper, the elevator would only need to move vertically. Two useless inventions in one!

7. The bus

Photo: Lyft

Imagine this: an automobile travels along a set route at all times, it stops along that route, and you can get in and ride along that route as a way to get within walking distance to your destination. Because other people are doing this along with you, the cost of the ride is reduced. It’s called Lyft Shuttle. But before that, it was called a city bus. And when it was the bus, it cost less per ride, was subsidized by the public, accommodated more people, and was financially viable for low-income passengers. Proceeds from the bus went back into the system that keeps the bus running, not into the coffers of a VC fund. Great job, Lyft.

6. Roommates

Photo: via Fast Company

Of all of the mega-funded startups out there, WeWork probably baffles me the most. With an US$18 billion valuation, it’s worth more than SpaceX. But unlike Elon Musk’s rocket startup, WeWork has no moonshot ideas. It just rents real estate and brands properties. WeLive is its communal housing offshoot. A bunch of people live in a place and share common areas. This is called “co-living” in the world of WeWork. In the real world, it’s called having roommates. If you elect to have a roommate rather “co-living” with someone, it tends to be cheaper, and you get to choose your own décor.

5. The teapot

Photo: Teforia/Facebook

I don’t drink tea, so there might be a difference between a teapot and a tea infuser, but it’s all a teapot to me. Teforia’s line of internet-connected teapots wasn’t supposed to be Uber for tea, it was supposed to be Keurig for tea. Like Keurig, Teforia made a product that’s more wasteful than doing it the old-fashioned way, and it used a closed ecosystem of buying tea from Teforia. Gizmodo’s former resident Brit Libby Watson does drink tea. She found that the US$400 Teforia Leaf made a tea that was inferior to what she made with her handy US$7 infuser and none of its internet of things features were useful. After raising US$17 million in funding, Teforia shut down. And now a handful of people have a US$400 teapot.

4. The storage locker

Photo: Mike Mozart/Flickr

MakeSpace has raised US$57 million for its “cloud storage for physical stuff.” If that sounds like a storage locker, that’s because it is. MakeSpace has been going since 2013, and this year it had a “completely amicable” executive reshuffle. It didn’t invent “cloud storage for physical stuff,” and it didn’t invent a new way to quietly whisper “things aren’t okay.”

3. The tent

Photo: Pause Pod/Facebook

Long days at the office, terrible sleep habits, caffeinated delirium, and open office space has us all wanting to crawl into a hole and die. Or at least, take a nap. That’s where Odd Company’s Pause Pod came in. It’s a portable “private pop-up space free from stressful moments.” It’s a tent - a tent that you open in the middle of the office, and all your co-workers wonder if you’re jerking off inside.

2. The vending machine

Photo: via Fast Company

Bodega set a record time for a startup to experience public backlash. It’s an app-enabled vending machine with bougie products that aims to put your beloved, locally owned corner store out of business. “The vision here is much bigger than the box itself,” Bodega’s co-founder Paul McDonald told Fast Company. That interview ran on September 13th. On September 14th, Bodega apologized to “to anyone we’ve offended.” The apology focused on the name, which the company assured us it had market tested in “Latin American communities,” and 97 percent of respondents didn’t think it was offensive. What Bodega missed is that the entire concept is offensive.

1. Hands

Ah Juicero, the top spot was always going to be reserved for you. You were a hilarious ray of sunshine in the middle of a gloomy year, and we all owe you a debt of gratitude. Regarding this list, the only decision to be made was figuring out what Juicero invented that had already been invented. As a US$400, internet of things juicer, the logical answer would be that it “invented” the juicer. But no, Juicero didn’t really juice fruit or vegetables. It squeezed out bags of prepared fruit or vegetable product. You had to buy these bags from Juicero, and some top-notch investigators at Bloomberg found that you could squeeze out the bag with your bare hands just as well as you could with the machine. Juicero CEO Jeff Dunn defended his invention, saying, “hacking consumer products is nothing new.” It’s not a hack to do the thing a product does with your bare hands. So, Juicero invented hands. Five months and US$118.5 million of investment later, Juicero was dead. Dunn was last seen emerging from Burning Man, drinking an expensive snake oil from a company that calls it “raw water.” Take comfort in knowing that Dunn doesn’t just take you for a sucker, he happens to be one himself.

Top image: Light Bulb. Credit: David McEachan/Pexels.

[Source: Gizmodo.]

Friday, 29 December 2017


2017's Most Mind-Boggling Futuristic Tech
By Eric Griffith,
PCMag, 28 December 2017.

Since 1983, we have looked back at what the preceding 12 months brought about in the area of technical excellence. This was a weird year, but it didn't lack for innovations in computing and beyond.

Of course, it takes more than some extra RAM in a PC to get the editors of PCMag (and sister sites like ExtremeTech) excited. The materials used to make these products - and the outright genius applied when making them - makes for an eclectic list of breakthroughs that would have seemed like speculative fiction 34 years ago.

Keep in mind, the technologies below aren't all available yet; some may never make it to market. Last year we picked quite a few that have yet to debut, such as nanotech patch monitors, and some that have already been killed off, like Intel's Project Alloy (virtual reality) and Google's Tango (augmented reality). But that doesn't mean they weren't/aren't breakthrough tech that will continue to inform our unseen future.

Below is a look at what the staff picked as tech most likely to have a major impact in the years and decades ahead. Some may be so inside-baseball you'll never even know if you're using it, but chances are it will touch your life in some way, as long as you're in touch with technology.

1. FACE DETECTION: TrueDepth Camera and Face ID


The iPhone X ditches the home button and comes with a hefty price tag, but its most notable feature is the facial recognition used to unlock the phone. Apple calls it Face ID and for the most part, it works very well.

Face ID uses a TrueDepth camera on the front of the phone, found in that notorious notch at the top. It's more than a camera - it's a projector that displays 30,000 infrared dots on your face, so the front camera can unlock the iPhone X even in the dark.

We've seen similar things tried before, like Intel's RealSense, but Apple is kicking off what promises to be facial recognition mania. It's already being used (sans the cool infrared dots) in airports, and Qualcomm has a similar camera in development that's likely to hit Android phones in 2018. Eventually, it'll migrate to the rear cameras and be used for much more than recognizing faces. We could be doing full 3D scans on handsets before we know it.

2. TECH FOR MOM: Willow Wearable Breast Pump

Breastfeeding is not easy, especially needing to be available to the baby whenever the kid is hungry. That's why breast pumps exist, so parents can build up a supply for feeding as needed. While pumps have come a long, long way, they're still noisy machines that attach to breasts and stick out while filling collection bottles - not exactly subtle.

The Willow breast pumps revealed at CES 2017 are trying to change that. They're battery-powered inserts that go inside a shirt or bra and collect precious breast milk in proprietary, leak-proof bags. There is, of course, an app that helps you run the Willow pump(s), even tracking the amount pumped. It's not cheap (pushing US$500), and probably not covered by your insurance (yet), and is in fact still very much in beta. But new moms may want to try it now and help perfect it for the future, so those air-horn-shaped pumps become a thing of the past.

3. CLIMATE CHANGER: Climeworks' CarbFix2 Direct Air Capture Plant

Just as it feels like Earth may be on its final legs thanks to mankind's stupidity, one faction of humanity renews your faith a bit. Climeworks AG opened a pilot plant in Zurich for industrial-scale capture of CO2 - the chemical culprit of climate change - right out of the air.

The planet is only pulling 900 tons per year - the equivalent of 200 cars' emissions, which is not a lot. We'd need 250,000 more Climeworks plants to even get 1 percent of the global emissions. But maybe it'll happen since Climeworks is taking CO2 and selling it to businesses, like food and beverage makers. Money talks, after all. For now, it's a step in the right direction.

4. SPACE TRAVEL: SpaceX Reusable Rockets

Reusing the same craft to go to the stars has long been the sci-fi dream, and certainly came true with the space shuttle program. But the one thing that wasn't reusable were the rockets that propelled that craft into the air. Until now. SpaceX - one of the many companies headed by Elon Musk - has managed it, after already proving it could land a rocket.

In December, SpaceX reused the Dragon capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket, which were both used previously in separate flights. It saved millions of dollars, which SpaceX probably needs since it lost a lot of rockets in the past. But even if it didn't, recycling such super-expensive engines and equipment is a must.

Reusing Falcon 9 is just the start. Next year, SpaceX will try a new rocket called Falcon Heavy. Also reusable, this is a 2-stager with 27 first stage liquid-oxygen engines, and a single second stage - that's like three Falcon 9s strapped together. With 5.1 million pounds of thrust at lift-off, it's meant to be enough to take 37,000 pounds to Mars, and almost four times that into low-Earth orbit.

5. TERRESTRIAL TRAVEL: The Boring Company's Skate Tunnels

Elon Musk again? His companies certainly embrace the futuristic, even if that means being...Boring. We will never get sick of using the pun in the name of the Boring Company, a firm Musk established to build underground tunnels in a bid to improve transportation, starting (probably) with Los Angeles.

These tunnels would be smaller than usual (14 feet in diameter instead of the usual 28 feet), so tunnel boring machines (TBMs) could cut through things faster and cheaper. They'd also be entirely electric rather than using diesel.

Cars access the tunnels via elevators, which lower vehicles onto a "sled" that skates along metal tracks at speed up to 125mph. Ideally, this would rocket you from LAX to Culver City (the first proposed route) in five minutes instead of 45. The Boring Company is also in the running to build something similar from O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago.

The concept is equal parts magnificent and madness. A tunnel is already being bored at the SpaceX HQ in Hawthorne, not far from LAX, because that doesn't require approval from the city. Many think it's just a trial run for Musk's real goal: colonizing under the surface of Mars. Maybe best of all: the Boring Company is financing some of this by selling hats.

6. VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS: Voice Recognition


Having a voice assistant - a conversational AI - you can chat with is about as commonplace as seeing a screen today. In fact, we singled out Siri for kudos way back in 2011, after Apple bought it and incorporated the disembodied voice into iOS 5. But one thing Siri couldn't do at the time was tell different voices apart.

That's now changing. Siri can tell your voice apart enough to ignore other people saying "Hey, Siri." Google's Assistant can differentiate up to six voices using Voice Match, as can Amazon's Alexa.

What does that mean exactly? A unique response to the user. Asking "Alexa, play my favorite music," or "Hey Google, what meetings are on my calendar?" should produce different results depending on who's asking.

To make recognition work, users have to build a voice profile. On Alexa, you read aloud 10 phrases that display in the Alexa app, for example - it's that simple. The personalization options have hardly begun, but expect to see the voice assistant devices differentiating you and your housemates even more in the future. Apple's already got a patent, for example, to use Siri as a voice biometric, much like you'd use a fingerprint or your face today.

7. COMPUTING: IBM 50-qubit Quantum Computer

Not long after IBM announced it would make its 5 quantum bits (qubits) universal quantum computer available to developers - with a simulator that could model 20 qubits - Big Blue upped the ante in November to become the first company with a quantum computer that handles 50 qubits.

Both systems can hold a quantum state for about 90 microseconds. That doesn't sound like a lot, but it's a veritable eternity in quantum computing. Even Google says it could put quantum computers ahead of today's supercomputers. IBM, meanwhile, is already thinking about some mathematics that would help it simulate more than 50.


There are millions of legally blind or low-vision (20/200 or less vision in their better eye) individuals who cannot navigate the world, let alone a PC or phone, as easily as the sighted. The eSight 3 may be a solution for many, if they can afford the US$10,000 price tag.

ESight's third-generation device sits like a visor on the user's forehead, over the eyes, and takes in video of the surroundings. It shows that same video back to the wearer using algorithms that increase the contrast and magnification, enough so eSight says the (legally) blind can actually see. It even supports Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and HDMI for content streaming from digital devices.

9. GAMING: Nintendo Switch

Think of the Nintendo Switch as the console game system you can truly take anywhere. With sales already topping 10 million units, the Switch is certainly a hit with gamers, and there's a reason for that: it's a perfect hybrid of mobile gaming and traditional consoles - sometimes seamlessly going between the two in the same game. The Joy-Con wireless controllers alone are a great mix of what made it fun to use the controls on the old Nintendo Wii. They work perfectly in the Switch's tablet mode with its 6-inch, 720p capacitive touch screen. It's a PCMag Editors' Choice, and one of our Best Products of 2017 because it's disrupting gaming in a way the competition hasn't in a long time.

10. SCREENS: Self-Healing Glass


University of Tokyo grad student Yu Yanagisawa was trying to make a glue. But the glass-like polymer he created - called "polyether-thioureas" - was instead found to have self-healing properties when cut or cracked. Just holding them together for around 30 seconds would let the cracks heal, all from the heat of his hand.

According to The Guardian, the Japanese researchers are not alone, as others at the University of California formulated a polymer that will stretch and heal breaks. So maybe in 10 years your friend’s smashed-up smartphone screen could be repaired by the heat in the room.

11. BUSINESS: Oracle Autonomous Database 18c

Oracle is a bit behind in the whole "owning the cloud" thing, but stepped up its game by providing a database that takes care of itself. Without human intervention, Database 18c should be self-repairing when corruption problems occur (providing a supposed 99.995 percent up-time, meaning only a half hour of downtime per year), potentially the biggest change to databases since the cloud.

12. PHOTOGRAPHY: Sony A9 Camera Sensor

There's no doubt the Sony A9 mirrorless camera is a magnificent photography tool. And most of that boils down to the full-frame 24.2-megapixel stacked CMOS sensor design it has inside. PCMag's camera analyst, Jim Fisher, says it lets the camera do things that others just can't: The burst mode, the full view of action while shooting, and the silent operation - they're all unique to the A9 because of the sensor.

It's not the biggest sensor out there (Sony also has one that's 42MP), but this one has the speed and performance photographers will really crave, letting them push images to an ISO of 204,800. Nothing else has a sensor that shoots this quickly. But if more adopt it, it bodes well for the future of photography.

13. MACHINE LEARNING: Google AlphaZero


In the years since Google (now Alphabet) acquired DeepMind Technologies Unlimited, the neural network company has created AI that plays the hardest games with the same skill as a human.

AlphaGo beat a few human Go champions, and now the follow-up, AlphaGo Zero (aka AlphaZero) has won at Go, chess, and Japanese chess (shogi) - without any programming. It used reinforcement learning by playing the game by itself, and figured out how to improve. Most notably: AlphaZero learned everything it needed to beat its opponent in only a few hours.

One of those digital opponents it beat: AlphaGo. (It also beat 18-time Go champion of the world Lee Sedol over the course of 100 matches). Imagine that learning process put to work on more than just pawns and you can see the implications.



It's officially here! 5G NR (for New Radio) has its first official specification from the 3GPP, the consortium that binds all the organizations that want a hand in the (hopefully fully interoperable) wireless future. This is the first step to the launch of 5G networks.

5G isn't necessarily aimed at mobile phone users - it will play a big part in the continued explosion of the Internet of Things (IoT), for example, and won't be defined by one single technology or one single stretch of spectrum. That's what makes it so important for the coming decade. Still, that doesn't mean it won't hit some phones early on for testing; a few are already out in the wild.

15. ENERGY: Hot Solar Cells

Image: MIT News

You know what's super inefficient? Solar collection. Traditional, single-layer photovoltaic panels for taking in the energy of the sun have been traditionally limited by what's called the Shockley-Queisser Limit - which is about 32 percent. But researchers at MIT think that converting the solar to heat before it turns to electricity, using thermophotovoltaics, will crack through that limit. It would require adding extra layers to a cell that could handle it, but the theoretical limit could potentially double.

Top image credit: PressReleaseFinder/Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

[Source: PCMag.]