First floating city set to advance the development of drone taxis: Hoverbike director

A talk at The First Tahitian Seasteading Gathering yesterday has opened up the possibility of seasteadings – small floating cities – as a proving ground for people-carrying drones. With the first floating ‘island’ units having undergone early-stage testing for a seasteading off French Polynesia, the work currently being done could act as fuel for a variety of experimental technologies.

The talk was given by Oriol Badia Rafart, director of business development at Malloy Aeronautics. Building on Malloy’s work with the Hoverbike, Rafart described the development of “the uber of the skies, the airline of daily objects”. At the basic level, Rafart believes that floating cities will act as an accelerant for the development of drones in our daily lives.

The development of drones for wider commercial use is not a unique idea; Airbus for example is working on the development of various drone-based forms of public transportation. In concept, by making use of the skies we ease road congestion and, in no small part due to the automation, can potentially come up with more efficient modes of transport.

Rafart, however, focuses on the belief that the development of seasteadings will provide a fertile ground for scientific development. Moreover, it is the kind of development that will be vastly accelerated by the purpose and environment of a seasteading.

A proposed design for the French Polynesia-based floating city. Image and featured image courtesy of The Seasteading Institute

He suggests that the kind of machinery Malloy is developing is perfectly suited to the philosophy of the Seasteading Institute.

“The Seasteading Institute wants to create an ecosystem in which progress can happen: social progress, political progress and scientific progress,” he said. “We at Malloy Aeronautics believe we have to put technology and machines to work for those individuals there so they can focus only on such purpose.”

Of course, what makes the Seasteading Institute’s work of real value to people like Malloy is regulation. Free of traditional government, and established with the purpose of progress, seasteadings are ideal environments in which to test and develop technologies that would otherwise become quickly entangled in regulatory red tape.

A hoverbike developed by Malloy Aeronautics. Image courtesy of Malloy Aeronautics

It is of course understandable why regulations are in place over autonomous drones. If something goes wrong, no one wants a hoverbike plummeting from the sky above a busy street. That said, though, as laid out by Rafart, the current state of regulations poses large problems to making any actual progress in the field.

“Regulations that don’t allow any vehicle to fly without a pilot, to fly out of the line of sight and beyond the line of sight of a pilot, to fly to and from platforms that are not fixed in the ground, and they classify these vehicles and drones by their weight instead of by their use and their safety,” he said. “So, in sum, regulations that don’t understand what they are regulating.”

This sounds all well and good: the establishment of seasteadings as bastions of scientific progress that, free of regulation, allow researchers and companies to make quantum leaps in development. However, I’m just going to note that this whole thing is a little creepily reminiscent of Bioshock. Of course I want to ride a hoverbike. But the memories of an ocean-based society devoted purely to scientific progress with no limitation are a little too real.

Soviet report detailing lunar rover Lunokhod-2 released for first time

Russian space agency Roskosmos has released an unprecedented scientific report into the lunar rover Lunokhod-2 for the first time, revealing previously unknown details about the rover and how it was controlled back on Earth.

The report, written entirely in Russian, was originally penned in 1973 following the Lunokhod-2 mission, which was embarked upon in January of the same year. It had remained accessible to only a handful of experts at the space agency prior to its release today, to mark the 45th anniversary of the mission.

Bearing the names of some 55 engineers and scientists, the report details the systems that were used to both remotely control the lunar rover from a base on Earth, and capture images and data about the Moon’s surface and Lunokhod-2’s place on it. This information, and in particularly the carefully documented issues and solutions that the report carries, went on to be used in many later unmanned missions to other parts of the solar system.

As a result, it provides a unique insight into this era of space exploration and the technical challenges that scientists faced, such as the low-frame television system that functioned as the ‘eyes’ of the Earth-based rover operators.

A NASA depiction of the Lunokhod mission. Above: an image of the rover, courtesy of NASA, overlaid onto a panorama of the Moon taken by Lunokhod-2, courtesy of Ruslan Kasmin.

One detail that main be of particular interest to space enthusiasts and experts is the operation of a unique system called Seismas, which was tested for the first time in the world during the mission.

Designed to determine the precise location of the rover at any given time, the system involved transmitting information over lasers from ground-based telescopes, which was received by a photodetector onboard the lunar rover. When the laser was detected, this triggered the emission of a radio signal back to the Earth, which provided the rover’s coordinates.

Other details, while technical, also give some insight into the culture of the mission, such as the careful work to eliminate issues in the long-range radio communication system. One issue, for example, was worked on with such thoroughness that it resulted in one of the devices using more resources than it was allocated, a problem that was outlined in the report.

The document also provides insight into on-Earth technological capabilities of the time. While it is mostly typed, certain mathematical symbols have had to be written in by hand, and the report also features a number of diagrams and graphs that have been painstakingly hand-drawn.

A hand-drawn graph from the report, showing temperature changes during one of the monitoring sessions during the mission

Lunokhod-2 was the second of two unmanned lunar rovers to be landed on the Moon by the Soviet Union within the Lunokhod programme, having been delivered via a soft landing by the unmanned Luna 21 spacecraft in January 1973.

In operation between January and June of that year, the robot covered a distance of 39km, meaning it still holds the lunar distance record to this day.

One of only four rovers to be deployed on the lunar surface, Lunokhod-2 was the last rover to visit the Moon until December 2013, when Chinese lunar rover Yutu made its maiden visit.

Robot takes first steps towards building artificial lifeforms

A robot equipped with sophisticated AI has successfully simulated the creation of artificial lifeforms, in a key first step towards the eventual goal of creating true artificial life.

The robot, which was developed by scientists at the University of Glasgow, was able to model the creation of artificial lifeforms using unstable oil-in-water droplets. These droplets effectively played the role of living cells, demonstrating the potential of future research to develop living cells based on building blocks that cannot be found in nature.

Significantly, the robot also successfully predicted their properties before they were created, even though this could not be achieved using conventional physical models.

The robot, which was designed by Glasgow University’s Regius Chair of Chemistry, Professor Lee Cronin, is driven by machine learning and the principles of evolution.

It has been developed to autonomously create oil-in-water droplets with a host of different chemical makeups and then use image recognition to assess their behaviour.

Using this information, the robot was able to engineer droplets to have different properties­. Those which were found to be desirable could then be recreated at any time, using a specific digital code.

“This work is exciting as it shows that we are able to use machine learning and a novel robotic platform to understand the system in ways that cannot be done using conventional laboratory methods, including the discovery of ‘swarm’ like group behaviour of the droplets, akin to flocking birds,” said Cronin.

“Achieving lifelike behaviours such as this are important in our mission to make new lifeforms, and these droplets may be considered ‘protocells’ – simplified models of living cells.”

One of the oil droplets created by the robot

The research, which is published today in the journal PNAS, is one of several research projects being undertaken by Cronin and his team within the field of artificial lifeforms.

While the overarching goal is moving towards the creation of lifeforms using new and unprecedented building blocks, the research may also have more immediate potential applications.

The team believes that their work could also have applications in several practical areas, including the development of new methods for drug delivery or even innovative materials with functional properties.