If there’s one thing that’s rapidly progressing, it is technology. Each and every day our scientists and researchers are embarking upon mind-boggling feats that have the potential to change the world. Although we hear about a few of them, many go unnoticed. So, we bring to you 10 such technologies that very few people know exist.
1. The space shuttle thermal protection system protects the shuttle with the help of tiles that dissipate heat so fast that you can grab them just seconds after they have been in a 2,200 °F environment.
The Space Shuttle Orbiter has been one of NASA’s greatest engineering feats. They had to solve uncountable minor problems to get the shuttle to space, problems that previously were never encountered. But the most troublesome aspect when it comes to shuttle design is to make the exterior part of the shuttle resistant to intense heat.
NASA experimented with numerous heat-insulating materials to design exterior tiles for the shuttle. What worked was LI-900, a low-density, insulating surface that is composed of mainly silica glass fibers. The material is actually pure quartz sand with 94% air. The exterior tiles were made with LI-900 and were coated with white or black insulation to regulate different temperatures. Silica glass and air are extremely poor conductors when it comes to heat. This makes them great insulators and so, were used to produce LI-900.
During the experiment, LI-900 cubes were heated to 2 200 °F in an oven at the Kennedy Space Center. They were kept at that temperature for a long time. But, as soon as the cubes were taken out of the oven, they cooled down instantly and were able to be picked up by bare hands! That’s how fast the heat dissipation is in LI-900. (1, 2)
2. Richard Browning has developed a real-life Iron Man suit using 3D-printed parts, five jet engines, and specialized electronics. The suit hovers by seemingly defying gravity, can soar at 32 miles per hour, and reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet.
Gravity Industries started selling their Iron Man suits last year. The suits were developed by the founder of Gravity Industries, Richard Browning. Each suit is powered by five jet engines – two on each of the arms and one at the back. Once strapped on, the suit can fly at speeds as fast as 32 miles per hour. It can also reach altitudes as high as 12,000 feet. Gravity Industries is selling the suits for $443,000 each.
Richard Browning says that it was not Iron Man who inspired him to create the suit but an urge to prove that man can fly. So, he started making the suit as a side-project. Once the Iron Man team saw the suit prototype developed by Browning, they reached out to say that they were astonished at the amazing similarity between the suits.
The suits are being sold by Gravity Industries via a London department store. In case people do not wish to purchase but only try it out, they can learn to fly it for a mere $39,000. The only problem is that as of now, the suit just stays in the air for three to four minutes. Hopefully, Browning comes up with a way to make the suit stay in the air longer. (1, 2, 3)
3. Hybrid oyster mushrooms have been developed that have the ability to eat and dispose of plastic. They don’t retain the toxicity of the material and can be consumed themselves.
A recent study showed that there’s more than 250 tons of plastic in the ocean. Plastic has been the biggest issue that the environment has been fighting for a long time, and it’s getting worse. With the rise in population, the problem with plastics is also on the rise. But, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel.
In 2012, some students at Yale discovered a very rare mushroom species called Pestalotiopsis microspora. This mushroom can survive entirely on a diet of polyurethane, the major component of plastic. The Yale team also found that the mushroom can live without oxygen, which means that it can easily flourish at the bottom of a landfill. Pestalotiopsis microspora is not alone. There are other fungi that have the same ability, and the best part is that we can eat the mushroom later!
Designer Katharina Unger partnered with Julia Kaisinger and Utrecht University to create a system that can enable the growth and cultivation of plastic-eating fungi. The system looks like a mini-factory. The first step involves placing the plastic in an activation chamber. UV light is used to sterilize the plastic, and then it is placed inside an egg-shaped pod that is made out of agar. Next, the mushroom is added to the pod which slowly starts to eat away the plastic, and itself turns into a fully-grown mushroom! It takes a couple of months for complete plastic degradation as of now, but researchers are working on ways to speed up the process.
4. Scientists have discovered a natural, nano-cellulose fiber that the human gut can digest. This fiber is then used to develop a bio-ink that can 3D-print customized meals. They also plan to add select proteins, antioxidants, vitamins, supplements, carbs, and fats into cartridges containing their nano-cellulose material.
3D-printing of food sounds like something out of a sci-fi movie, but, it’s real, and the technology is already at the beta stage. Oded Shoseyov is the man behind this. Shoseyov is known for many inventions in the fields of nanobiotechnology and protein engineering. Now his 12th company, Chef-it, is working on 3D-printing personalized meals and foods.
Chef-it is in the process of developing a device that can “print” a real, edible burger, all customized to the customer’s choices. The cartridge for the printing device is filled with ink that has been made from a nano-cellulose fiber. Apart from the fiber, the cartridge contains the right portions of proteins, fats, and flavors to make a burger that is no different than the real one. The nano-cellulose fiber can be molded into different textures ranging from fat to meat. Once the printing starts, the cooking starts simultaneously with the help of infrared light. So, the burger gets cooked as it is being printed.
Chef-it’s technology has the potential to replicate various cooking methodologies such as grilling, frying, and baking. Moreover, all dietary restrictions can be incorporated while cooking. As of 2018, the prototype of the device has been able to print a burger in under three minutes. Shoseyov predicts that the device would be on the market in a few months, producing burgers exactly similar to the ones we have now. (1, 2)
5. China’s Dove Surveillance drones look and fly like actual birds. They are equipped with wings that flap so are not attacked by real birds. The wings change shape while the drone climbs to higher altitudes, accelerates, or swoops back down.
Drones are no longer a new technology, but the Dove surveillance drones that China developed last year are quite enticing. The physical design of the Dove drones are so similar to real birds, especially the aesthetic and the aerial movements, they can easily replicate 90% of a real bird’s movements. Plus, the drone cannot be detected even by advanced radar systems.
The mechanism for the wing flap allows the wings to slightly change its shape when the drone changes altitude. This not only generates lift but also helps to push the drone forward. The drones do not make any sound which keeps them completely indistinguishable from other birds. During testing, it was noticed that some birds even flew alongside the drones.
Each drone has an HD camera, a GPS antenna, and a flight-control mechanism. It also has a data link that is directly connected to a satellite communication system. In terms of specifications, each drone weighs around 200 grams with a wingspan of 50 centimeters. They can reach speeds as high as 40 kilometers per hour and remain in the air up to 30 minutes. (source)