So we all know the problem with the science fiction of the 50s through about the 70s or so: overly optimistic. If we can make it to the moon then surely Mars isn’t that much farther, right? Jetpacks and hovercraft for everybody!
Well, they may have gotten that stuff wrong but here’s some tech that sounds like it belongs in science fiction, but which we’re a lot closer to than you might think.
1) Commercial spaceflight:
Last month, company SpaceX made history when their Dragon spacecraft became the first commercial vehicle to dock with the International Space Station. When it was also able to navigate a successful return with a pressurized load of cargo intact, it opened the door for further commercial space flights. NASA, having retired their last space shuttle, are looking to commercial space flight and the good old fashioned spirit of capitalist competition to provide cheaper ways of getting astronauts into space in the future. In fact NASA and the Federal Aeronomics Association are already laying out the ground rules (no pun intended) for companies looking to provide this very service.
At any rate, while the focus of commercial space flight is still on getting trained astronauts up to the ISS for now, the cheaper it becomes to send things into space, and the greater our capacity for sending people to space becomes, the sooner we might see legitimate “space tourism,” become a thing for a remotely affordable price. Of course, technology will have to improve quite a lot before going into space without extensive training would even be a remote possibility, but it’s getting closer.
Recently, a pair of stroke victims who were rendered paralyzed by the strokes they suffered, but whose brain function was otherwise unimpaired were able, with the help of small transmitters implanted in their brains, manipulate robotic arms with their thoughts. The process involved having the two volunteers imagine moving their arms in various ways and recording those thought patterns, then teaching a computer to associate those thoughts with the correct arm movements. At a test involving picking up various kinds of rubber balls, both subjects were successful 50% or more of the time.
This, simply put, is freaking remarkable. Obviously we’re not at the “working robotic prosthetics” stage of things yet, but if there were ever any doubt that it was a possibility this is proof of concept right here, and a huge step in the right direction.
And if hands are too much of a hassle to get right, there’s always the possibility of robotic grippers based on granular jamming. I suspect you couldn’t use the existing thought patterns to operate them, which is kind of the point, but hey, it’s another cool piece of robotics.
It just goes to show that human ingenuity is limitless. There’s nothing we can’t accomplish when we set our minds to it. Except maybe jetpacks. Though to be fair, jetpacks were always kind of a dumb idea. I mean, the quintessential design has rocket exhaust coming out about three inches from your ass. And steering? I’m sure that’d be a good time. I’ll take the chance to go into space and granting mobility to those who’ve lost it over the ability to kill myself by crashing headfirst into a tree any day.
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