Monument Valley Screenshot Wallpaper Feature Image

Monument Valley: All We Have is our Geometry.

My phone is a pretty boring place, filled with productivity applications that are more focused on work than pleasure. It wasn’t always this way, indeed I used to find all sorts of weird and wonderful titles to play on my phone mostly because I had the time to play through them during the hours I’d spend in transit to work every day. However I simply haven’t had that time to myself any more and so the world of mobile games has passed me by, with likely many good titles falling by the wayside. Today I finally make the return back to the platform and if there are many more titles like Monument Valley I believe I’ll need to make an effort to stay.

Monument Valley Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

You are Ida, princess of a realm long forgotten. The world you inhabit is beautiful but barren, bereft of almost any signs of life yet filled with the signs that many have been here before you. Somehow though you can’t help but feel responsible for this and the quest for forgiveness is what keeps pressing you forward. So many questions lay before you, who built this place, where are they now and what led to their apparent downfall?

Monument Valley is a fantastic example of minilmalism, combining solid colours, soft gradients and simple lighting effects to great effect. Every puzzle screen has its own unique style to it which means that the game never gets visually boring or confusing. This is complimented by the use of Escher-esque style drawings with impossible structures and non-Euclidean geometry which, whilst also being amazing samples of this style of work, also function as the game’s main puzzle mechanic. Overall Monument Valley makes a great visual impression, one I’m sure many other games will draw inspiration from.

Monument Valley Screenshot Wallpaper Penrose Triangle

The core game play of Monument Valley is in the style of other non-Euclidean based games like Anitchamber or The Bridge (although it’s much closer to the latter) where you’re required to figure out how the rules of the geometry in your world work. The things start off relatively simple, only requiring you figure out that your perspective is the key, however you’re quickly thrown into the deep end where the world never behaves as you’d initially expect it to. The puzzles are very well laid out however as you’ll often be introduced to the prime mechanic in its most simple form at the start of the puzzle before you’re introduced to a use case that will require some lateral thinking on your part. There’s also a lot of visual red herrings to ensure that the puzzles aren’t too obvious but they’re uncommon enough as to not be overly frustrating.

This all culminates in a game that’s an absolute joy to play. The beautiful visual elements combined with the inherently non-intuitive puzzle elements just gave me this feeling of exuberance that few games have. There were so many times I’d be stuck on a puzzle for a few minutes before figuring out the solution which would give me a grin that wouldn’t go away for a long time. Probably by far my favourite puzzle out of the lot was the box as the way it was designed evoked this child like excitement in me every time I opened it in a different way. It speaks volumes to the developer’s ability to create an experience that is as fun as what they’ve created.

Monument Valley Screenshot Wallpaper THE BOX

Monument Valley does suffer from a few usability issues, at least on my Xperia Z. A lot of the touch controls felt like they were either far too sensitive, making me spin the puzzle pieces wildly with little input, or not sensitive enough, leaving me to think that certain pieces couldn’t be moved. I’m willing to admit that this might be a hardware issue rather than something wrong with the game itself however it did make some sections more frustrating than they needed to be. Since I’m on Android though your mileage may vary as I’m sure some more mainstream handsets will function better than my now aging Sony.

The story elements are pretty light on in Monument Valley, told only in the snippets before each puzzle and when you find the old lady hiding wherever she is, but it’s enough to elevate the game above other pure puzzlers. Given Monument Valley’s rather short length it’d be unfair for the story to develop much more than it did but I definitely feel there’s potential for this world to be expanded upon more, possibly with additional puzzles. Needless to say I’d love to see Monument Valley get the full release treatment as I believe the concept still has a lot of legs in it.

Monument Valley Screenshot Wallpaper The Tragic EndMonument Valley is a testament to what the mobile platform is capable of creating, combining gorgeous minimalistic graphics with great game mechanics to create an experience that’s up there with many high budget titles. Whilst it falls short in a couple categories, namely it’s overall play time and so-so controls, it makes up for it in spades in almost every other regard. It’s not a game I’d recommend for everyone, indeed any minimalist title is exclusionary by nature, however for lovers of good puzzle games you really can’t go past Monument Valley.

Rating: 9.0/10

Monument Valley is available on Android and iOS right now for $4.99 and $4.99 respectively. Game was played on a Sony Xperia Z with about an hour of total play time.

 

Windows 10 Logo

Windows 10 Brings Vastly Improved Security.

Windows has always had a troubled relationship with security. As the most popular desktop operating system it’s frequently the target of all sorts of weird and wonderful attacks which, to Microsoft’s credit, they’ve done their best to combat. However it’s hard to forget the numerous missteps along the way like the abhorrent User Access Control system which, in its default state, did little to improve security and just added another level of frustration for users. However if the features coming from the technical preview of Windows 10 are anything to go by Microsoft might finally be making big boy steps towards improving security on their flagship OS.

Windows 10 Logo

Whilst there’s numerous third party solutions to 2 factor authentication on Windows, like smartcards or tokens, the OS itself has never had that capability natively. This means that for the vast majority of Windows users this heightened security mode has been unavailable. Windows 10 brings with it the Next Generation Credentials service which allows users (both consumer and corporate) the ability to enrol a device to function as a second factor for authentication. The larger mechanics of how this work are still being worked out however the application has a PIN which would prevent unauthorized access to the code, ensuring that losing your device doesn’t mean someone automatically gains access to your Windows login. Considering this kind of technology has been freely available for years (hell my World of Warcraft characters have had it for years) it’s good to see it finally making its way into Windows as native functionality.

There’s also extensive customization abilities available thanks to Microsoft adopting the FIDO Alliance standard rather than developing their own proprietary solution. In addition to the traditional code-generation 2 factor auth you can also use your smartphone as a sort of smartcard with it being automatically recognised when brought next to a bluetooth enabled PC. This opens up the possibility for your phone to be a second factor for a whole range of services and products that currently make use of Microsoft technology, like Active Directory integrated applications. Whilst some might lament that possibility the fact that it’s based on open standards means that such functionality won’t be limited to the Microsoft family of products.

Microsoft has also announced a whole suite of better security features, many of which have been third party products for the better part of a decade. Encryption is now available for the open and save dialogs natively within the Windows APIs, allowing developers to easily integrate encryption functionality into their applications. This comes hand in hand with controls around which applications can access said encrypted data, ensuring that data handling measures can’t be circumvented by using non-standard applications. Device lock down is also now natively supported, eliminating the need for other device access control software like Lumension (which, if you’ve worked with, will likely be thankful for).

It might not be the sexiest thing to be happening in Windows 10 but it’s by far one of the more important. As the defacto platform for many people increases in Windows security are very much welcome and hopefully this will lead to a much more secure computing world for us all. These measures aren’t a silver bullet by any stretch of the imagination but they’ll go a long way to making Windows far more secure than it has been in the past.

Lockheed Martin Compact Fusion Reactor

Lockheed Martin Promises Fusion in 5 Years.

There’s little question in my mind that the future of energy production on earth lies within fusion. There’s simply no other kind of energy source that can produce energy on the same scale, nor over the extended periods of time that it can. Of course the problem is that fusion, especially the net energy positive kind, is an incredibly hard thing to achieve. So much so that in the numerous decades so far no one has yet made a device capable of producing sustained power output and the one project that might, ITER, is decades behind schedule. Thus you can imagine my scepticism when I hear that Lockheed Martin expects to have a device operable in 10 years with it being widely available in 20 (snicker).

Lockheed Martin Compact Fusion Reactor

The Compact Fusion project comes out of Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works labs which have delivered such things as the venerable SR-71 in the past. They’re a highly secretive bunch of people which is why this announcement, along with a rather well designed website, has attracted quite a bit of interest as typically any project of theirs that might not deliver won’t see the light of day. Thus you’d assume that Lockheed Martin has some level of confidence in the project, especially when they’re committing to delivering the first round of these devices to the military in the not too distant future. Indeed if their timelines are to be believed they could even beat ITER to the punch which would be a massive coup if they pulled it off.

Their design has the entire reactor fitting on the back of a truck (although the size of said truck is debatable it looks to be the size of a tanker) which is an order of magnitude smaller than all other commercial fusion reactor designs. This is somewhat perplexing as the style of containment they’re going for, the tokamak style which ITER uses, scales up quickly (in terms of power) with increased plasma volume. There are limits to this of course but it also means that the 100MW figure they’re quoting, which is 20% of what ITER will produce, comes with its own set of problems which I don’t believe have good solutions yet.

Indeed whilst the project will be standing on the shoulders of numerous giants that have come before them there’s still a lot of fundamental challenges standing between them and a working reactor 5 years down the line. However should they be able to achieve that goal it will be the start of a new age of humanity, one where even our wildest energy demands could be met with the use of these clean running fusion reactors. The possibilities that something like this would open up would be immense however the the long running joke that fusion is always 20 years away still rings true with Lockheed Martin’s compact reactor project. I would love for my scepticism to be proven wrong on this as a fusion powered future is something humanity desperately needs but it’s always been just out of our reach and I’m afraid it will continue to be for a least a while longer.

X-37B-returns-to-earth

The X-37B Returns.

It’s been a long time since I wrote about the X-37B, originally NASA’s but now the Department of Defense’s secretive space plane, and that’s mostly because there’s not been a whole lot to report.The secret nature of its mission means that no details about its payload are readily available and unlike the first time it was launched it’s been behaving itself, staying within its own orbit. Still that didn’t stop the Internet from going on a rampage of speculation, the highlight of it being the ludicrous idea that it was spying on China’s efforts in space. However over the weekend it returned from its orbit around the earth after a staggering 2 years on orbit.

X-37B-returns-to-earth

Now 2 years might not sound like a long time, especially when the Voyager satellites are pushing 35+ years, however for a craft of this type such a record is a pretty significant advancement. Most capsules and spacecraft that had downrange capacity (I.E. they can bring stuff back) usually have endurances of a couple weeks. Even the venerable shuttle could only last a couple weeks in orbit before things started to get hairy, even if it was docked to the International Space Station. With the X-37B able to achieve an endurance of 2 years without too much of a struggle is a pretty impressive achievement and raises some interesting questions about what its true purpose might be.

The official stance is that it’s a test platform for a whole host of new space technologies like navigational systems, autonomous flight and so on. Indeed from what we’ve seen of the craft it certainly contains a lot of these features as it was able to land itself without human intervention just last week. It’s small payload bay nods towards some other potential purposes (the favourite speculation is satellite retrieval) but it’s most likely just used to house special equipment that will be tested over the duration of the flight. There’s potential for it to house some observational equipment but the DoD already has multiple in-orbit satellites for that purpose and unlike spy satellites of the past (which used film) there’s no real need for downrange capabilities in them any more.

Unfortunately any technological innovations contained within the X-37B are likely to stay there as NASA hasn’t been involved in the X-37B project since it handed it over. It’s disappointing really considering that the DoD has a budget for space activities that equals NASA’s entire  budget and there’s definitely a lot of tech in there that they could make use of. Thankfully the private space industry is developing a lot of tech along similar lines so hopefully NASA and its compatriots will have access to similar capabilities in the not too distant future.

Maybe one day we’ll find out the true purpose of the X-37B much like we did with Hexagon. Whilst the story might be of the mundane the technology powering things like Hexagon never ceases to amaze me. If the X-37B is truly a test platform for new kinds of space tech then there’s likely things on there that are a generation ahead of where we are today. We may never know, but it’s always interesting to let your mind wonder about these things.

bulletcluster_comp_f2048

Dark Matter in our Back Yard.

The spiral shape of a galaxy is an image that would be familiar to many of us but the story behind that shape is much less understood. We all know that gravity inexplicably pulls all matter together however if we were to weigh everything we could see it wouldn’t fully account for the resulting shapes and distributions we see throughout the universe. The missing mass is what is commonly referred to as Dark Matter, a theorized type of matter which is incredibly hard to detect directly yet must be pervasive throughout the universe due to its gravitational effects. However that might soon change if observations from our own parent star prove to be correct and we’ll be able to detect dark matter in our cosmic backyard.

bulletcluster_comp_f2048

The picture above is what’s known as the Bullet Cluster, the collision of 2 galaxy clusters with each other which is thought to provide some of the best evidence  for dark matter. It’s theorized that in a collision of this nature the dark matter would avoid interaction with all the normal matter and would essentially race ahead. This theory is supported by the gravitational lensing observed between the two galaxies as without some form of dark matter the lensing would follow the matter consistently whereas here it appears to be ahead of its observable matter brethren. There’s still not enough evidence  here to call it a direct detection of it, especially when other modified standard models can accommodate the effect readily enough.

However physicists at the University of Leicester in the UK have detected what could be the decay of dark matter particles coming from our sun which, if proven to be correct, would be the first direct detection of dark matter. The theory goes that axions, particles which were theorized to solve one of the more puzzling problems in quantum chromodynamics and are theorized to be a component of cold dark matter, are created in the sun and make their way to earth. Much like neutrinos they don’t interact with matter very often and thus race from the core at light speed, unimpeded by the sun’s great mass. When they reach our magnetic field however they decay into a x-ray photon which means that the level of background x-rays should be higher within the earth’s magnetic field. This is what the researchers have found and data from other orbital observatories seems to corroborate this.

Of course the theory is not without its problems, notably that the properties of the axion that they’re theorizing would be different to the one that’s predicted by the current model. There’s evidence to suggest this from other observations so in order to prove the theory one way or the other further analysis with that additional data will have to be taken into consideration. It’ll likely be years before we’ll have a definitive answer on this particular theory thanks to the large data sets that they’re working with but either result will provide some insight into where dark matter might be hiding.

A Golden Wake Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

A Golden Wake: Oh Alife, What Have You Done?

I was never much of a fan of adventure style games as a kid which is why I find it oddly surprising that I’ve grown to love them as an adult. Sure the pixelart style brings with it that warm blanket of nostalgia but I really can’t say I enjoyed these types of games back in their original heyday. The renaissance that these types of games are going through has helped me make up for lost time somewhat, especially considering the number of games I churn through in a year. A Golden Wake, developed by Grundislav Games and published by Wadjet Eye Games, is the latest installment in the pixelart adventure genre, sporting craftsmanship that’s well above it’s 1 man studio station.

A Golden Wake Review Screenshot Wallpaper Title Screen

Alife Banks had everything going for him, a great job in the best city in the world and the respect and admiration of his peers. At least that’s what he thought as his namesake bred jealousy among his peers and one fateful day he was framed for something he didn’t commit. Undeterred however Alfie set out for the wild lands of Miami where a new real estate development, called Coral Gables, was underway. It was here that he’d restore the family name to the glory that it once had, all while making him rich and famous in the process.

I’ve come to notice that there’s 2 distinct kinds of pixelart games: those that use the medium for it’s minimalistic nature (often imbuing their own artistic style into it) and those who seek to recreate the style that was present during the golden age of gaming. A Golden Wake is very much the latter, lovingly recreating the arts style that was made popular by the numerous titles released under the LucasArts brand. It’s not exactly what you’d call a pretty game but the style is most certainly deliberate, an attempt at capturing the essence of what the 1920s would have been like.

A Golden Wake Review Screenshot Wallpaper Coral Gables

A Golden Wake plays like your traditional adventure game although, like many of its modern brethren, it manages to avoid many of the pitfalls that plagued such titles of decades past. You’ve got a small inventory which holds all the items you’ll find on your adventures (of which you’ll ever only have a handful of) and a number of puzzles that you’ll have to solve before you can move the story forward. Some of these puzzles are pretty rudimentary, like having to speak to certain people, whilst others will force you to look around the environment searching for that clue which will allow you to progress forward. If you’re a long time fan of the adventure genre you’ll definitely feel at home in A Golden Wake but even newcomers to the genre should find it easy enough to pick up.

For the most part the game plays pretty well as the puzzles are logical, sequential and can often be solved within the space you’ll find them in. There are a few puzzles which had me stumped for a good while however, mostly because I was following a line of thinking that didn’t match up with the creator’s. It’s hard for me to fault the game for this as once I found the answers it was obvious that I was overthinking the solution. The game also tries to prod you in the right direction by leaving areas open that you still need to visit in order to do something which can be a huge help when you think you were done with a particular area.

A Golden Wake Review Screenshot Wallpaper Stick Em Up

There seem to be a few teething issues with the initial release however, seemingly around the Steam overlay and ALT-TABing the game. If I ever answered a chat message from one of my friends within the game it seemed to think one of the keys was stuck down and any dialogue would rapidly flit by. This would be fine if I could, say, reload from a checkpoint to hear it again but unfortunately that relies on you saving constantly. Whilst I don’t think I missed any super critical dialogue because of it (when it happened I’d immediately save and restart the game) it happened often enough to cause me a non-trivial amount of frustration.

Like I’ve said numerous times before I can often forgive even some of the gravest mistakes a game makes if the story is good however for A Golden Wake there’s not much I can overlook, unfortunately. Whilst I can appreciate the effort put into building Alfie’s character up the eventual turn happens far too suddenly and, if you choose certain dialogue choices, makes absolutely 0 sense. The last half is definitely far more engaging than the first which you could potentially attribute to all the setup that happens however it honestly feels like the story just goes no where for a while before finally making up its mind on where it needs to be. Credit is to be given for creating what feels like a realistic depiction of the 1920s however, and not just the romanticised version that many writers would have otherwise created.

A Golden Wake Review Screenshot Wallpaper Sellers Intuition

A Golden Wake might not seem like an ambitious project on the surface, being yet another pixelart adventure game, however I can’t think of any other game that I could directly compare it to. Sure the adventure game mechanics are familiar and the art style is straight out of the LucasArt playbook but none have tried to create an experience like that found in A Golden Wake. Whilst it’s far from a perfect execution, including a story that goes no where for half the play time and a client that still harbors a few bugs, I do admire the ambition behind it. Still it’s hard for me to recommend it for anyone but die hard fans of the genre as they’re probably the only ones who’ll appreciate the craftsmanship and ambition behind A Golden Wake.

Rating: 7.0/10

A Golden Wake is available on PC right now for $14.99. Total play time was 4 hours with 22% of the achievements unlocked. A copy of this game was provided to The Refined Geek by Wadjet Eye Games for the purposes of reviewing.

Nexus 6

Nexus 6 Announced, Confirms 6 Inches is What Everyone Wants.

For the last 6 months I’ve been on the lookout for the next phone that will replace my Xperia Z. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still quite a capable phone, however not a year has gone by in the past decade that there hasn’t been one phone that triggered my geeky lust, forcing me to part ways with several hundred dollars. However the improvements made since I acquired my last handset have just been evolutionary steps forward, none of which have been compelling enough to make me get my wallet out. I had hoped that the Nexus 6 would be the solution to my woes and, whilst it’s not exactly the technological marvel I was hoping for, Google might just be fortunate enough to get my money this time around.

Nexus 6

The Nexus 6 jumps on the huge screen bandwagon bringing us an (almost) 6″ display boasting a 2560 x 1440 resolution on an AMOLED panel. The specs under the hood are pretty impressive with it sporting a quad core 2.7 GHz SOC with 3GB RAM and a 3220mAh battery. The rest of it is a rather standard affair including things such as the standard array of sensors that everyone has come to expect, a decent camera (that can do usable 4K video) and a choice between 32GB and 64GB worth of storage. If you were upgrading every 2 years or so the Nexus 6 would be an impressive step up however compared to what’s been available in the market for a while now it’s not much more than a giant screen.

You can’t help but compare this phone to the recently released iPhone 6+ which also sports a giant screen and similar specifications. In terms of who comes out ahead it’s not exactly clear as they both seem to win out in various categories (the Nexus 6 has the better screen, the iPhone 6+ is lighter) but then again the main driver of which one of these you’d go for would be more heavily driven by which ecosystem you’d already bought into. I’d be interested to see how these devices compare side by side however as there’s only so much you can tell by looking at spec sheets.

As someone who’s grown accustom to his 5″ screen I was hoping there’d be a diminutive sister of the Nexus 6, much like the iPhone 6. You can still get the Nexus 5, which now sports Android L, however the specs are the same as they ever were which means there’s far less incentive for people like me to upgrade. Talking to friends who’ve made the switch to giant phones like this (and seeing my wife, with her tiny hands, deftly use her Galaxy Note) it seems like the upgrade wouldn’t be too much of a stretch. Had there been a smaller screen I would probably be a little bit more excited about acquiring one as I don’t really have a use case for a much bigger screen than what I have now. That could change once I get some time with the device, though.

So whilst I might not be frothing at the mouth to get Google’s latest handset they might just end up getting my money anyway as there just enough new features for me to justify upgrading my near 2 year old handset. There’s no mistaking that the Nexus 6 is the iPhone 6+ for those on the Android ecosystem and I’m sure there will be many a water cooler conversation over which one of them is the better overall device. For me though the main draw is the stock Android interface with updates that are unimpeded by manufacturers and carriers, something which has been the bane of my Android existence for far too long. Indeed that’s probably the only compelling reason I can see to upgrade to the Nexus 6 at the moment, which is likely enough for some.

RNGesus

Uncertainty is More Rewarding Than Certainty.

If you’ve ever spent a decent amount of time playing a MMORPG chances are you’ve come up against the terror that is the Random Number Generator (RNG). No matter how many times you run a dungeon to get that one item to complete your set or kill that particular mob to get that item you need to complete that quest it just never seems to happen. However, sometimes, everything seems to go your way and all your Christmases seem to come at once and the game has you in its grasp again. Whilst RNGesus might be a cruel god to many he’s the reason that many of us keep coming back and now there’s solid science to prove it.

RNGesus

It’s long been known that random rewards are seen as more rewarding than those that are given consistently. Many online games, notably those on social networks, have tapped into that mechanic in order to keep users engaged far longer than they would have otherwise. Interestingly though this seems to run contrary to what many players will tell you, often saying that they’d prefer a guaranteed reward after a certain amount effort or time committed. As someone who’s played through a rather large number of games that utilize both mechanics I can tell you that both types of systems will keep me returning however nothing beats the rush of finding a really good item from the hands of RNGesus.

Indeed my experience seems to line up with the recent study published by the University of Chicago which shows that people are more motivated by random rewards than they are by consistent ones. It sounds quite counter-intuitive when you think about it, I mean who would take a random reward over a guaranteed one, but the effect remains consistent across the multiple experiments that they conducted. Whilst the mechanism of what triggers this isn’t exactly known it’s speculated that randomness leads to excitement, much like the the infinitesimally small odds of winning the lottery are irrelevant to the enjoyment some people derive from playing it.

However the will of RNGesus needs to be given a guiding hand sometimes to ensure that he’s not an entirely cruel god. Destiny’s original loot system was a pretty good example of this as you could be bless with a great drop only to have the reveal turn it into something much less than what you’d expect it to be. Things like this can easily turn people off games (and indeed I think this is partly responsible for the middling reviews it received at launch) so there needs to be a balance struck so players don’t feel hard done by.

I’d be very interested to see the effect of random rewards that eventually become guaranteed (I.E. pseudo-random rewards). World of Warcraft implemented a system like this for quest drops a couple years ago and it was received quite well. This went hand in hand with their guaranteed reward systems (tokens/valor/etc.) which have also been met with praise. Indeed I believe the mix of these two systems, random rewards with guaranteed systems on the side, seems to be the best mix in order to keep players coming back. I definitely know I feel more motivated to play when I’m closer to a guaranteed reward which can, in turn, lead to more random ones.

It’s always interesting to investigate these non-intuitive behaviours as it can give us insight into why we humans act in seemingly irrational ways when it comes to certain things. We all know we’re not strict rational actors, nor are we perfect logic machines, but counter-intuitive behaviour is still quite a perplexing field of study. At least we’ve got definitive proof now that random rewards are both more rewarding and more motivating than their consistent brethren although how that knowledge will help the world is an exercise I’ll leave up to the reader.

MIT Biosuit

The Spacesuit of the Future.

The spacesuit of today is much the same as the one of the last few decades. It’s an incredibly complicated device, combining all the systems necessary to keep an astronaut alive in the vacuum of space into a wearable package. However it’s not the easiest thing to use, often requiring extensive training not only to get familiar with it but also to train your muscles in how to use it. This is mostly because the design, which makes even the slimmest astronaut look something like the Michelin Man, is centred on ensuring that the pressure on the astronaut’s body is kept constant. This is currently done using an inflated lining which is quite restrictive however future designs, like the one from MIT, could provide the same protection whilst giving astronauts far more freedom.

MIT BiosuitOur bodies are accustomed to 1 atmosphere of pressure which, on the grand scheme of things, really isn’t that much. Indeed the difference between what we’d consider normal pressure and a complete vacuum is about the same as going 10m under water, something SCUBA divers do on a regular basis. However the trick is ensuring that that pressure stays consistent and constant over your entire body which is what led to the spacesuits today. Interestingly though it doesn’t matter how that pressure is generated so the traditional method can easily be replaced with something that’s mechanical in nature, which is what the new BioSuit from MIT seeks to do.

Instead of covering the astronaut’s body in what amounts to dozens of inflated pillows the BioSuit instead looks to use Shape Memory Alloys (think nitinol wire, if you’ve ever played with it) to provide the pressure. Essentially they’d have a full body tourniquet that would be embedded with this wire and, upon heating, it would contract around the astronaut’s body, providing the required pressure. How that pressure would be maintained is still a problem they’re working out (as keeping the astronaut heating constantly isn’t exactly ideal) but seem to be making good progress with various clip designs that would keep the suit tight over the duration of a spacewalk. They’d still have to have the traditional fish bowl on the head however as employing a system like this on the head wouldn’t really be feasible.

Whilst a suit like this wouldn’t provide complete freedom of movement (think a wetsuit that feels like it’s a size too small) it would be a vast improvement over the current design. Right now every time an astronaut wants to move a part of their body they essentially have to compress the protective bubble of gas in their suit, something which ends up being extremely tiring over the course of a long duration spacewalk. A design like this would likely require far less energy to manipulate whilst also allowing them to move a lot more freely, significantly reducing the time they’d need to spend outside.

For me though it’s just yet another piece of sci-fi making its way into reality as we’ve long dreamed of spacesuits that would be like a second skin to its wearers. Better still it’s being made with technology that we have available to us today and so no exotic material sciences is required to bring it to fruition. We likely won’t see any astronauts wearing them any time soon (the cycles for these things are on the order of decades) but as time goes on I think it’ll be inevitable that we’ll move to suits like this, just because of the vast number of advantages they offer.

 

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Tesla Gives us the D: Dual Motors and Autopilot.

The Tesla Model S as we know it today is quite an impressive car. Whilst it’s not exactly within the everyman’s price range yet (getting one landed in Australia likely won’t see much change from $100K) it’s gone a long way to making a high performing electric vehicle available to the masses, especially considering Tesla stance on their patents. Before that electric cars were more of a niche product for the ultra environmentally conscious, combining tiny engines with small frames that would have just enough power to get you to work and back. Now they’re far more easily compared to high end luxury cars and with the new things that Elon announced last week electric cars are heading into a class all of their own.

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Elon teased last week that he was going to unveil the D soon (and seemingly forgot how much of a dirty mind the entire Internet has) and “something else”. The D was for their new drive train system that incorporates 2 motors, making the Tesla Model S one of the few fully electric all wheel drive cars. The something else turned out to be the debut of their autopilot system, a sort of cut down version of the Google self-driving car. Whilst the D version of the Model S won’t be available for another couple months (although you can order one today) all Model S cars built within the last couple weeks shipped with the autopilot hardware. Suffice to say both these announcements are pretty exciting although the latter probably more so.

The dual motors is an interesting upgrade for the Model S as it’s a pretty common feature among higher end luxury cars, something which it has been lacking. Of particular note is how the dual motor upgrade affects the various aspects of the car, like slashing 0.8 seconds off the 0-100 time (3.2 seconds) and increasing range by about 3.5%, all whilst granting the benefits that all wheel drive provides. Typically you’d be taking a decent hit to range and efficiency due to the increased weight and power requirements but the Model S has managed to come out on top in all respects. Should those figures hold up in real world testing then it’ll speak volumes to the engineering team that Tesla has managed to cultivate.

However the most interesting part for me was the debut of Tesla’s autopilot system. Elon Musk had always been of the mind that a self driving car didn’t need to be an all encompassing thing, instead they should aim to do the majority of tasks first before looking to take the next leap into full automation. Tesla’s autopilot system is the embodiment of that philosophy, taking some of the technology that’s currently available (emergency braking, lane keeping, collision avoidance) and combining it into one seamless package. It won’t get you from point A to point B without human intervention but it’ll happy take over on the highway, park itself in the garage and even meet you at a certain location. It might not be as comprehensive at what Google is looking to create but it’s available today and does almost everything you’d need it to.

I really shouldn’t be surprised that a Musk created company is managing to innovate so quickly in an industry that has long been one of the slowest movers but honestly these two announcements blew me away. The dual motors might not exactly be a revolutionary piece of technology but the way Telsa has done it speaks volumes to the calibre of people that they have working there. The introduction of autopilot in just over a year since they first talked about it really is quite amazing and whilst it might not be the all encompassing system that Google is seeking it will likely be the standard for many years to come. I can’t wait to see what Tesla has in store for us next as they don’t seem to have any intentions of stopping their brisk innovating pace any time soon.