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Top 10 of the world scientific developments of 2018

1/14/19
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For CJSC »String Technologies» and the SkyWay project, last year was quite busy: we finished and presented several samples of the rolling stock, designed and implemented new technological solutions for the track structure at the EcoTechnoPark, started with the development of the large-scale crypto platform. The company's engineers have expanded their roles and created the Unimobile – some of the solutions applied there have appeared at major car manufacturers only recently.

We not only follow global trends, but also create our own – the UAE, as an example, show quite material interest to the high-speed public transport at the second level. We can say that the SkyWay project has become part of the large technological family – the community that moves humanity forward and makes the lives of other people easier and better.

The SkyWay Information service offers to look back and recollect the main achievements of the scientific and technological community in 2018. Of course, many of the important events might not have been included in the list, but we tried to choose those that point to new directions and, in our opinion, will determine the future.  

The first tests of the ion lifter aircraft have taken place

The scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of technology (MIT)have created and tested for the first time a model plane on «ionic wind«. This phenomenon is characterized by the formation of a flow of ionized air between two spaced electrodes, which are supplied with high voltage. Previously, the engines, using this effect, were believed not to be able to provide more traction, but now MIT specialists managed to refute this theory. They made a few experimental planes and called them lifters or ion aircraft. The researchers installed four horizontal pairs of electrodes under the wing consoles, thanks to which the phenomenon of ion wind occurs.

During testing indoors, the ion aircraft model with a 5-meter wingspan and 2.5-kg weight was first launched from a catapult with the engine off. The flying range of the model was 10 meters in average. After that, a series of launches with the turned on engine was carried out. The average flying range of the model was 45 meters, and the maximum one –60.

It is assumed that improvements in the design of ion engines will create more powerful, environmentally friendly and cost-effective power plants than those used in modern aircraft. In addition, they can be repaired less frequently – such engines are devoid of moving parts.

Public transport has become smarter and« greener«

In 2018, there took place several high-profile premieres in the world of public transport, and it's not just about SkyWay with its new models of the rolling stock and infrastructure. Traditional trains, trams and buses also «aimed« to the future and presented their developments in the field of artificial intelligence, energy and engineering. And Germany with its highly developed transport industry is among the leaders here: last year, in this countrythere was created the world's first hydrogen train. It was developed by the Alstom company. We are talking about the train Coradia iLint, which can move at speeds up to 140 kilometers per hour and has a distance endurance of about 1,000 kilometers. The new Alstom trains will operate in Lower Saxony on a section of about 100 kilometers.

The German new products have not ended with the mentioned novelty. Siemens Mobility together with the operator of passenger transport ViP Verkehrsbetrieb Potsdam have created and put on the rail track the first self-driving tram in the city of Potsdam. It was made on the base of the carriage Combino, on which there was installed equipment to provide «machine vision» – several infrared lidars, cameras and a radar. With the help of these devices, the tram can make up a three-dimensional map of the surrounding space, monitor the movement of cars and pedestrians, navigate on road signs and traffic lights. The tram is also able to recognize stops, to embark and disembark passengers. So far, «the smart» tram is already running in test mode, but the German authorities are already planning to increase the number of such equipment in the city streets in case of the tests success. Thus, they are going to reduce the accident rate on the roads and improve the efficiency of public transport.  

3D printing on the Earth and in space – surrounds from all sides!

In medicine, construction, astronautics, industrial manufacturing and dozens of other areas – 3D printing is now used everywhere. And 2018 was crucial for it. There have been solved several problems related to its application, as well as there have been carried out very important experiments, which determined the possibility of the new technology use.

For the first time in history, on board of the international space station, there began an experiment, in which the bio-printer will printmini organ. Its results will be made public in early 2019. The experiment was set up by 3D Bioprinting Solutions laboratory. The significance of this experience for science and practice is really great: the organ bioprinting technology can be used to treat cancer, and in the future, with the help of bioprinting, colonizers of other planets of the Solar system will be able, if necessary, to create organs for transplantation.

If organ printing is still at an early stage of development, the use of 3D printers in the industry has already reached a serious level. This year, for example, there appearedthe world's first commercial 3D printer, which works with metal. The researchers from Yale, USA, have found a method to create printed metal objects much easier than before. Metal is difficult to make soft enough for 3D printing, so they used a volumetric metal glass, or metallic glass. This is a type of metal material that does not have such a rigid atomic structure as most alloys. They can soften easier than conventional materials, but they are still strong, with a high threshold of elasticity and resistance to corrosion.

The 3D printer with metal printing can be used in almost any area: with this device, you can print parts for cars, medical equipment, or consumer goods.   

The US has launched the world's first 5G network < /b>

The role of the Internet and communications in today's world cannot be overestimated. Today, it is the engine of trade, the main source of knowledge, and the basis of the industry. Therefore, the development of data transmission technologies plays a very important role not only in science and economics, but also in everyday life.

On 1 October, 2018, Verizon opened the world's first 5G network in the US.   The average speed of the Internet in it will be 300 Mbit/s with peak values of data transfer of 1 Gbit/s.

The use of the 5G technology provides greater availability of broadband mobile communication, allows to create ultra-reliable large-scale communication systems between devices, as well as provide a shorter delay time; The Internet speed 1—2 Gbit/s, less battery consumption than that of 4G-equipment, which will have a positive impact on the development of the Internet of things is one of the popular today's concepts that can change people's daily life.  

The mission InSight has reached Mars – exploring the depths of Mars

Space projects have always moved humanity forward. Last year, the attention of the community of people interested in space was focused on the mission of InSight. This is a NASA project as part of the Discovery program to deliver a research lander with a seismometer to Mars. It is designed to study the internal structure and composition of Mars, the estimated life of the device is 720 days.

InSightwas launched on 5 May, 2018 from Vandenberg base, and on 26 November, it made a successful landing on the surface of Mars on the Elysian plain and transmitted the first image. On 19 December, with the help of a robotic arm, InSight installed SEIS seismometer on the surface of Mars at a distance of 1.6 meters from the landing platform

Unlike other vehicles on Mars, InSight is not searching for water and other signs of life, but is studying the geology of the Red planet:

«The key question is to study the internal content and rocks of the similar to the Earth planet. It is needed for comparing Mars directly with the Earth. And this is the goal of the new mission», - said the Head of the German Institute for space research Tilman Spohn

It is the comparative analysis of the Earth and Mars that attracts scientists. Lu Pаn from the University of Lyon says that very little is known about the geology of Mars:

«“We do you have some guesses from our understanding of the Earth interior. We think Mars, as a terrestrial planet, was formed more-or-less the same way as the Earth. So, we think it has a core, mantle and a crust. We know that Earth’s outer-liquid core is the reason we have a magnetic field, and because we don’t observe these magnetic fields on Mars, we think it probably doesn’t have a liquid outer core.»,- says Lu Pan.  

Carbon dioxide: from enemies to friends

Human use of combustible fuel has led to the fact that in the Earth's atmosphere there has significantly increased the content of CO2. Due to the fact that this gas has an impact on climate change, scientists have recently been working to reduce its emissions into the atmosphere. On the other hand, carbon dioxide is a renewable resource. It is a waste in many types of production, and even a person exhales about 1 kilogram of CO2 per day. Therefore, many researchers are looking for ways to simultaneously neutralize the harm and benefit from this substance.

Charles Dismukes, Professor of Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University, said:«Our breakthrough allows to transform carbon dioxide into raw material for the chemical and pharmaceutical industry« -

Using five different catalysts made of nickel and phosphorus, which are pretty cheap and common items, the researchers, under the leadership of Dismukes learned electrochemically convert carbon dioxide and water in a wide range of products based on carbon. The choice of catalyst and suitable conditions determine how many carbon atoms can be joined together to produce molecules or even longer polymers.

In the future, the scientists plan to find out whether such reactions can produce renewable carbon fuels and diols used in the polymer industry.  

There has been launched the most ambitious project to decode human DNA

One of the fastest growing segments of high technology is healthcare. A number of private companies study in detail the human body in order to bring to the market numerous «smart« electronics that can help us cope with illnesses and monitor our health. But some large-scale research, without which it will be difficult to advance in this area, can be organized only by the state. A group of National institutes of health of the United States received funding from the government in the amount of 28.6 million dollars for the construction of genetic data processing centers. The project was named All of Us, and it is the largest project to study DNA in history

Within the framework of the project, scientists plan to allocate, sequence the information about 1 million people's DNA and enter it into the database. At the moment, 110000 people have registered in the program, 60000 of which have already passed the first stage of preliminary data collection. At the same time, the project participants not only provide their DNA for study, but also undergo surveys and questionnaires related to health status and lifestyle.

The project««Human Genome» finished 15 years ago, and now we are starting an equally large-scale event, during which we will collect a huge amount of genetic information. The new database will help to improve not only the knowledge about our body, but also positively affect the health of future generations», said one of the Directors of the Group of National institutes of health Francis Collins.  

There has been introduced a fluoride battery: electronics will be 8 times more durable

The problem of energy storage in the world of electric vehicles and wearable electronics is more relevant than ever. And last year, one very interesting solution was proposed in this area. The development team led by Nobel prize winner in chemistry in 2015 Robert Grubbsintroduced the battery on fluoride, which allows to increase the battery life of electronic devices by eight times.

Unlike lithium-ion batteries common today, in the new batteries, the lithium piston can operate in two directions, that is, negative ions also create electric current. This property of batteries has been known before, but because of the high reaction temperature, it has not found practical application, since fluoride in this reaction is heated up to 150 degrees. Robert Grubbs' team found a way to solve this problem: they created a solvent that allows fluoride anions to mix with electrons at room temperature.

The fluoride battery has a higher energy density and can give up to eight times more charge than common batteries today. It is not yet possible to buy such a battery for yourself – it will take some time for this technology to reach the stage of commercial use, for example, in smartphones, tablets, laptops or even electric vehicles. 

 There has been launched the world's largest neuromorphic supercomputer

The human brain is still a mystery to science. Its study will help in the development of robotics, machine learning and other fields of technology. For a more detailed study of the brain, on 2 November, 2018, there was launched the world's largest neuromorphic supercomputer SpiNNaker at the Manchester school of Informatics . It simulates the parallel communication architecture of the brain, sending billions of small amounts of information simultaneously in thousands of different directions. To date, it is the biggest simulation of biological neurons.

Now, scientists will be able to model the brain on a larger scale than before, it should also help developers of autonomous robots «teach« them to move confidently and speak.

«Neuroscientists can now use SpiNNaker to unravel some of the secrets of the human brain by conducting unprecedented large-scale simulations,», – says a Computer Science Professor Steve Farber.– «In addition, it works as a real-time neural simulator that allows robot technicians to create large-scale neural networks for mobile robots so that they can walk, talk and move». 

There has begun the most ambitious mission of cleaning the ocean from plastic waste

According to the available data, there are about 350 million tons of plastic waste in the waters of the world ocean today. The main problem is that it is extremely heterogeneous and small, which makes it very difficult to collect it. In order to solve this problem, scientists have proposed to install barriers that will help to concentrate the plastic in one place for it to be collected later on. For this purpose, there was created the projectOcean Cleanup. Plastic waste is collected by special pipes-catchers, which are placed on the surface of the water and accumulate garbage inside. Once the pipes are filled, Ocean Cleanup employees can only collect them and take them to the surface for processing the accumulated waste.

The project developers say that, if the tests are successful, this technology can be used to remove up to 50% of all plastic debris in the world ocean in 5 years, and by 2040, it will have been possible to achieve a 90-percent result.

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