‘Killer’ cells raise hope of universal flu vaccine

Scientists said Monday they had discovered immune cells that can fight all known flu viruses in what was hailed as an “extraordinary breakthrough” that could lead to… Read more “‘Killer’ cells raise hope of universal flu vaccine”


The killer drones are now delivering coral babies in the Great Barrier Reef

No longer just underwater assassins, the drones now disperse hundreds of thousands of coral babies throughout the reef.


Great Barrier Reef Foundation/Gary Cranitch Queensland Museum

The Great Barrier Reef has a new robotic ally.

In September, the RangerBot, developed by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), began patrolling the Great Barrier Reef, hunting down a deadly starfish that wreaks havoc on coral, in addition to mapping and monitoring the Reef’s health. Now, that deadly drone has been engineered to not just take life, but deliver it, too.

Enter the LarvalBot, the Barrier Reef’s robotic coral midwife.

A collaboration between researchers at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Southern Cross University (SCU), the LarvalBot is able to deliver baby coral through the Great Barrier Reef like an “underwater crop duster.

“It’s like spreading fertiliser on your lawn,” says Matthew Dunbabin, professor at QUT and developer of the drone technology. “As [the drone] glides along we target where the larvae need to be distributed so new colonies can form and new coral communities can develop.”

From October to December, parts of the Great Barrier Reef undergo a massive coral spawning event, where many of the coral species release bundles of eggs and sperm from their gut cavity into the water. The bundles float toward the surface and fertilize, creating a coral larvae before settling on the ocean floor and, eventually, developing into a colony.

During the spawning event, researchers at SCU collected the bundles and cared for them, readying them for dispersal via drone. This process was perfected by a team led by Professor Peter Harrison and involving researchers at James Cook University and the University of Technology Sydney.

Loading 100,000 larvae into the LarvalBot, the researchers were then able to use the drone’s smarts to locate specific sections of the reef that would benefit from coral redistribution. Operating the drone via iPad, a researcher was then able to tell it to drop its payload — hundreds of thousands of coral babies — into the reef.

It’s kind of like a Great Barrier Reef version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Storks.

Importantly, this was just the first trial that the killer drone technology could be reengineered and deployed for a different purpose and so far it seems to have worked as intended. But it’s not the end — in 2019, the team will look to catch and care for even more coral larvae, using the LarvalBot to resettle coral on damaged parts of the reef.

“With further research and refinement, this technique has enormous potential to operate across large areas of reef and multiple sites in a way that hasn’t previously been possible,” stated Professor Harrison. 

The Great Barrier Reef, a World Heritage Site, has undergone numerous coral bleaching events and suffered at the hands of climate change and pollution for decades. The drone technology is part of wider efforts using technology such as artificial reefs, simulations and updated mapping techniques to attempt to restore and protect the site.

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Bendable Glass Could Be Use On Foldable Phones In The Future

The makers of Gorilla Glass gave us an exclusive look at the ultrathin bendable glass that could help protect the next wave of foldable phones.

Corning’s glass was shielding gadgets long before the idea of a foldable phone germinated in anyone’s imagination. The company started out in the middle of the 19th century developing heat-resistant glass for lanterns and lightbulbs, moved on to TV tubes in the 20th century and now covers many of the phone screens we use on a daily basis.  

But to fit each mold, Corning’s glass has had to evolve almost as much as the technology it covers. It’s become heat-resistant, scratch-resistant and increasingly tough to shatter. And it may soon shape the next generation of foldable displays by pushing the limits on how much glass can bend. We took a trip to Corning’s headquarters in its eponymous hometown — Corning, New York — to find out what the makers of Gorilla Glass are cooking up next and what clues it can tell us about future devices.

Finding the perfect recipe

o make glass, you need two basic ingredients: sand (silica) and a whole lot of heat. But adding different elements to the mix will result in a completely different type of glass. In fact even changing the heating temperature or the cooling time can drastically alter its properties.

This is how Corning comes up with different types of glass that can serve different purposes. Some glass, like the Gorilla Glass found on our phones, is made to be tough against falls and resistant to scratches. Glass on windshields is designed to shatter into tiny pieces (rather than sharp shards), while the glass used in laboratory beakers needs to be stable enough not to interact with the chemicals being mixed inside it.

“If you think about all the dimensions of glass, its optics, its chemical composition, its physical properties, its electromagnetic properties … we’re learning how to control all of those in incredibly precise ways,” says Jeff Evenson, senior vice president at Corning.

The first stop in our tour, and the first stage in the innovation process: Corning’s test kitchen, where these new glass recipes are tested. But instead of ovens they have rows of giant furnaces that can reach temperatures of over 1,800 degrees F, hotter than the inside of a volcano.


Corning’s ovens, where new glass recipes get baked at temperatures of over 1,800 degrees F.Sarah Tew/CNET

The mix gets put into a cauldron-like container called a crucible and placed inside of the furnace like a pizza, with long metal prongs to protect workers from the heat. Anyone in the vicinity of the furnaces wears a silver fire suit and mask, while spectators (like me and the rest of the CNET team) used dark glasses to protect our eyes. The light inside the furnace seemed as bright as the sun.


Glowing glass pouring down like syrup onto the metal sheet. Sarah Tew/CNET

Gorilla Glass needs to cook at even higher temperatures than regular glass and when that crucible comes out of the oven, it’s glowing so bright it almost looks white. The mix inside has turned into a thick liquid that pours unto the metal table like syrup in front of us. It starts out white like the container, then fades into a neon orange as it cools, and eventually becomes clearer. The cooler it is, the less malleable it becomes and if it cools too fast it can shatter. Once it becomes transparent, it’s transferred into a special oven that can control how fast it cools. But these days Corning is testing a different type of glass recipe.

Bendable glass

With Samsung announcing its new foldable Galaxy phone and Chinese company Royole unveiling the foldable FlexPai, it’s clear that foldable phones will be a real thing in 2019. And while OLED screens have long been flexible, the product category won’t work unless those screens are covered with similarly twisty glass — which is exactly why Corning continues to push the envelope on how much glass can bend.

“To go to a tight bend radius, you have to go to a glass that’s much, much thinner than what you have today and some of the glass we have in our laboratory is thinner than a human hair,” says Polly Chu, technology director at Corning.

We got an early look at Corning’s ultrathin bendable glass, which is about 0.1mm thin and can bend almost in half like a piece of paper to a 5mm radius. It’s not its first bendable glass, but it’s a lot thinner and a lot more flexible than the Willow glass they introduced a few years back. 

I was able to hold the glass in my hands, and I had a hard time believing it was a sheet of glass and not a piece of thin plastic.

Plastic is also being considered as a potential cover material for foldable phone displays. But unlike plastic, which is prone to scratching, creasing and changing color over time, Corning says its glass will retain its integrity and color.


Corning’s ultrathin bendable glass is still in development, but it can fold almost in half. Corning

“If you look at what people demand on their smartphones today, scratch resistance, drop resistance, good optical properties, great tactile feel … I think glass will probably overtake plastic as the material of choice for cover material,” says John Bayne, vice president at Corning Gorilla Glass.  

But Corning’s glass is still in development, which means you won’t find it on any foldable devices yet and it may still be a slow roll to see it out in the market. The FlexpPai, which is due to start shipping in December, uses a plastic material to cover its screen while Samsung is rumored to be using a transparent polyimide alternative for its phone.

“The foldable opportunity is a little bit of a moving target now, because the use case isn’t quite and the form factor isn’t quite clear,” says Bayne. “Until these things start to manifest themselves and become more clear we’ll have to innovate in different material options in the glass space to see what the right product is … and time our development accordingly.”

Glass takes the driver’s seat

As screens continue to stretch beyond TV’s and mobile devices into other industries, manufacturers are looking at glass to cover their displays. And Corning’s glass may soon be taking the driver’s seat when it comes to automotive design. With cars become more and more autonomous, screens are popping up inside the cars for both the driver and the passenger to use as a control and entertainment center.

“Inside the car … almost all the surfaces [in the car] have shape except for this display, and so what designers are looking to do is bend those displays around the driver and around the passenger,” says Mike Kunigonis, vice president of Corning Automotive Glass Solutions.


The curved glass in the interior of the car transforms the entire surface into a usable display. Sarah Tew/CNET

Corning has been working on curved dashboard displays for car interiors that wrap around the cockpit and textured glass that can mimic wood and other car surfaces.

Using a technology called dead front, Corning can hide controls underneath this textured glass that only appear when the glass is backlit. This allows the controls to seamlessly blend into the console and merge into dashboard. Even the car windows have the potential to become backlit touch screens essentially turning any glass surface within the car into a usable display.

And with more glass in the driver’s seat, good visibility is crucial to keep up with safety standards, which is why Corning has also developed antireflective coatings for its glass that might be able to reduce the appearance of fingerprints and drastically improve glare. The company is also making the glass on the exterior of the car more durable. Corning has partnerships with automakers to develop windshield glass that’s more resilient to rock chips and hail.

FordBMW and Porsche are just some of the car manufacturers that have started to use Corning’s glass in newer cars, with over 50 more expected to roll out in the next 18 months.


This textured glass looks and feels like wood and can hide the icons when the light is turned off. Sarah Tew/CNET

The future of glass

Beyond phones and cars, Corning believes glass will continue to be play an important part in the development of new technologies that will help unlock the potential of this material.

“So far, scientists have incorporated about 50 elements from the periodic table into silica, but essentially the entire periodic table is available and I really think we’re just getting started. Think about holding the Oxford English Dictionary and the amount of words you can make with just 26 letters,” says Evenson. 

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SpaceX Successfully Sent Dragon to ISS But Falcon 9 Rocket Misses Landing Pad

A Falcon 9 rocket didn’t come down quite where it was supposed to after propelling a Dragon spacecraft toward the International Space Station.

SpaceX on Wednesday had trouble sticking the landing with one of its reusable rockets. It’s the first time that’s happened since the groundbreaking launch of the company’s Falcon Heavy spacecraft in February.

Elon Musk’s company succeeded in its primary mission of sending a Dragon spacecraft on its way to the International Space Station to deliver supplies, but the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle appeared to lose control as it approached Landing Zone 1 at Cape Canaveral.

The live feed from the rocket cutaway on the SpaceX webcast, but video from people in the media area at the cape showed the Falcon 9 appearing to regain control before making an unplanned landing in the water rather than ashore at the landing area.

Musk tweeted shortly afterward that cutting the live feed “was a mistake” and shared the full clip of the water landing from the rocket’s perspective:

Twitch user DasValdez from Kerbal Space Academy did manage to catch the entire landing from the ground:

A SpaceX Falcon 9 makes a splashdown after having problems approaching its planned landing zone.
Video by DasValdez/Twitch / capture by Alexandra Able 

The rocket took off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:16 p.m. local time, a little more than 48 hours after SpaceX sent another Falcon 9 to space from the West Coast on Monday. Dragon’s flight to low-Earth orbit was supposed to happen Tuesday, but the mission was pushed back a day to replace some food being sent to the space station for experimental mice living there.

SpaceX had planned to land the first stage of the brand-new Block 5 Falcon 9 rocket at a landing zone ashore at Cape Canaveral, but as the rocket descended toward the cape, the live feed from the booster’s onboard cameras appeared to show the craft going into some sort of uncontrolled spin.

A Falcon 9 begins to spin wildly on its landing approach.
SpaceX video capture by Alexandra Able 

The feed was then cut from the webcast, but groans and cheers could be heard from the crowd at SpaceX headquarters in California as SpaceX engineer Tom Praderio, who was co-hosting the webcast, conveyed the information about the rocket’s water landing.

Meanwhile, Musk tweeted that the problem was that a “grid fin hydraulic pump stalled, so Falcon landed just out to sea.”

The Falcon 9 is equipped with four fins that rise perpendicular to the body of the rocket as the craft descends, to help slow and control its approach for landing. The video seems to show that one of the fins didn’t initially extend all the way, causing the rocket to spin.

It seems that once the stalled fin extended fully, the rocket nearly regained control and came in for a landing almost like normal, but off target, in the water. Remarkably, it seems SpaceX may still be able to recover the rocket.

“Appears to be undamaged & is transmitting data. Recovery ship dispatched,” Musk wrote, latter adding: “We may use it for an internal SpaceX mission.”

Musk also tweeted that the pump that failed didn’t have a backup because “landing is considered ground safety critical, but not mission critical. Given this event, we will likely add a backup pump & lines.”

When SpaceX launched Falcon Heavy, which is essentially powered by three Falcon 9 rockets strapped together, the center booster didn’t land as planned on a drone-ship in the Atlantic, though the two other rockets returned to the ground safely. The last time a regular Falcon 9 launch ended with a failed landing was June of 2016.

Meanwhile, the Dragon spacecraft continues on its way to the space station, carrying fresh mouse food; new science and engineering experiments; and plenty of other goodies. It’s scheduled to arrive Saturday morning.

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Video Of A Russian Rocket That Failed While NASA Astronaut On Board

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, has released footage from a camera on board the Soyuz rocket that failed last month, forcing a dramatic emergency landing of the two astronauts on board.

The Oct.11 launch was meant to carry NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Aleksey Ovchinin to the International Space Station, but a short time after blast-off an “anomaly” occurred as the first-stage boosters separated.

The new video shows a view of the lower, or “strap-on,” booster blocks from launch until just after the moment three of the four large blocks can be seen falling away. As we now know, the fourth strap-on block didn’t separate properly and actually smacked its top against the central core rocket stage of the Soyuz.

“It resulted in its decompression (of the core’s fuel tank) and, as a consequence, the space rocket lost its attitude control,” Roscosmos said in a statement released Thursday.

The automatic systems on board the rocket detected the problem and triggered the escape system, which detaches the crew capsule and shoots it to the side to safely clear the rest of the rocket assembly.

The final moments of the new video show the rocket clearly beginning to spin in a chaotic way. This would be about the same moment Hague and Ovchinin’s capsule was being flung to the side of the failing rocket.

Hague later recounted the occasionally uncomfortable long ride back to the surface, where both men were quickly rescued and found to be unscathed from the experience.

Roscosmos now says the failure was the result of a bent separation sensor pin on the strap-on block.

“It was damaged during the assembling of the strap-on boosters with the core stage at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.”

The Russian space agency says it is taking preventive measures to guard against future failures and to get Soyuz back into space. In fact, a Soyuz launch to carry cargo to the space station is scheduled for Nov. 16 and a crewed launch set for Dec. 3.

It seems likely a NASA astronaut could be on that December flight.

“We have a number of Russian Soyuz rocket launches in the next month and a half and in December, we’re fully anticipating putting our crew on a Russian Soyuz rocket to launch to the International Space Station again,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said last week.

NASA turns 60: The space agency has taken humanity farther than anyone else, and it has plans to go further.

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