IoT weekly round-up: Thursday 12th October 2017

Welcome to the weekly IoT round-up! This week, we get a sneak peek at the new Star Wars VR experience (coming soon to Disney Parks), and there’s good news for autonomous vehicles as California DMV rules to allow testing of driverless vehicles. Read on for the latest.

Science and Star Wars: real-world droids

IBM’s thought leadership program ‘Science and Star Wars’ explores how close real world science has come to Star Wars tech. Last week, it was time for droids to have a moment in the spotlight. In Episode 2: Droids, we met R2 Builders Club members Mike Senna and Michael McMaster, who introduced us to their very own R3-A3 droid, built with a Raspberry Pi and imbued with a personality courtesy of IBM Watson. Their R3-A3 can understand and respond to spoken language, recognize images and obey commands like ‘wave’, ‘open the door’ or even ‘take a photo’. It’s pretty well-versed in the Star Wars oeuvre too, as you might expect. This R3-A3 recognizes characters, understands its own place in the George Lucas cosmos and knows exactly how to take down an AT-TE with a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher. The episode also features Olli – the self-driving Watson-empowered shuttle bus that can interact with its passengers and manage its own routes.

California DMV will allow autonomous vehicle testing

More news for autonomous driving this week as the California Department of Motor Vehicles changes its rules to allow testing and public use of self-driving vehicles. The revised rules take into account feedback from automakers, local governments, insurance companies and consumers, and will permit companies to test autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel. The changes will be subject to regulations to cover testing, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration still has the final say

MIT researchers develop digestible sensor

Last week, we wrote about the edible sensor designed to monitor the temperature of food in transit. This week, researchers from MIT’s Koch Institute have taken things a step further – with a digestible sensor that can monitor your stomach’s contents and digestive activity. The sensor itself is delivered by means of a dissolvable pill, and once swallowed adheres to the stomach lining to spot potential disorders and monitor drug intake. Don’t worry, it only hangs around in the gut for about two days, so you won’t be stuck with it forever.

Star Wars VR comes to Disney Parks

Star Wars fans will be delighted to learn that they’ll soon be able to suit up in a VR backpack and headset kit, and enter a huge, virtual reality experience in the guise of undercover Stormtroopers. Lucasfilm and VR startup The Void have released a trailer for the experience, which maps VR onto a physical space, or rather, two physical spaces – in Downtown Disney (Anaheim) and Disney Springs (Orlando.) The VR backpack means no messy wires to trip over, so explorers can roam free over the (considerable) space.

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SpaceX launches 12th resupply mission to International Space Station

SpaceX CRS-12 resupply mission

At 12:31 EDT on August 14th, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission, CRS-12, is the twelfth resupply run that SpaceX has mounted to the International Space Station (ISS).

Although the launch marks an even dozen ISS resupply missions for Elon Musk’s SpaceX, it’s arguably the most significant to date. CRS-12 promises to have a huge scientific impact in the years to come, which is fitting for a project that’s transformed the conception of space travel through the innovative recycling of rockets and capsules.

If everything goes according to plan, it’s also the last new Dragon capsule that SpaceX will add to its reusable fleet for resupply missions.

Read more: NASA looks to bring IoT to space with wireless comms test

SpaceX’s scientific cargo

The scale of this scientific promise lies in the cargo of the Dragon capsule. Of the 6,400 pounds of supplies destined for the International Space Station, 75 percent has been dedicated to materials for research and experiments.

Over the past 16 years, researchers have lived and worked aboard the International Space Station. One of the key milestones they have achieved is the microgravity laboratory, which provides the setting for research breakthroughs not possible on Earth. It’s hosted more than 1,900 separate investigations to date.

The majority of cargo sent to the International Space Station usually consists of supplies for astronauts – everything from toilet paper to Mexican food. However, this particular mission is set to deliver equipment that will provide the foundations for a broad range of scientific research and experiments in the near future.

Included in the cargo is an AR system designed to help astronauts improve their working efficiency. But much of the equipment being sent is aimed at tackling bigger challenges, from climate change and hereditary diseases, to improving our understanding of the basic structure of the universe.

Included are materials capable of growing crystals of leucine-rich repeat kinase 2, a protein thought to be a major genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease that can’t be grown effectively on Earth because of gravity. There’s also gear for the Kestrel Eye project, which aims to lower the cost of Earth imagery in emergency situations. It’s hoped that the technology can help to track severe weather and detect natural disasters.

Another part of the cargo is dedicated to measuring cosmic rays, which will be attached to the Japanese Experiment Module Exposed Facility, collecting data over the next three years that could provide the answers to fundamental questions on the history of the universe.

Read more: Nano-satellites launch a success for Sky and Space Global

Drop-offs and returns

Part of the excitement over SpaceX’s NASA contract has been an end to the wastefulness associated with deliveries in space. Used supply capsules have traditionally been allowed to burn up on re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere. The Dragon is one of the only spacecraft in operation designed to be recovered at the end of its mission to the Space Station. This means it can bring back cargo, not just drop it off.

Indeed, the Dragon launched earlier this week is expected to depart the Space Station next month and return with over 3,300 pounds of hardware and crew supplies.

This particular launch is also an important marker for SpaceX. It’s the last time a new Dragon capsule will be used for a resupply mission. Cargo runs in future will rely only on recovered parts and refurbished spacecraft.

SpaceX is currently developing its next generation Dragon V2, which is expected to carry crews and cargo into low Earth orbit for NASA from the end of 2018.

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