Hot Solar Cells

By converting heat to focused beams of light, a new solar device could create cheap and continuous power. Availability: 10 to 15 years   by James Temple Solar panels cover a growing number of rooftops, but even decades after they were first developed, the slabs of silicon remain bulky, expensive, and inefficient. Fundamental limitations prevent these conventional photovoltaics from absorbing more than a fraction of the energy in sunlight. But a team of MIT scientists has built a different sort of solar energy device that uses inventive engineering and advances in…

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The 360-Degree Selfie

Inexpensive cameras that make spherical images are opening a new era in photography and changing the way people share stories. Availability: Now   by Elizabeth Woyke Seasonal changes to vegetation fascinate Koen Hufkens. So last fall Hufkens, an ecological researcher at Harvard, devised a system to continuously broadcast images from a Massachusetts forest to a website called VirtualForest.io. And because he used a camera that creates 360°pictures, visitors can do more than just watch the feed; they can use their mouse cursor (on a computer) or finger (on a smartphone or tablet) to…

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Practical Quantum Computers

Advances at Google, Intel, and several research groups indicate that computers with previously unimaginable power are finally within reach. Availability: 4-5 years by Russ Juskalian One of the labs at QuTech, a Dutch research institute, is responsible for some of the world’s most advanced work on quantum computing, but it looks like an HVAC testing facility. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the applied sciences building at Delft University of Technology, the space is devoid of people. Buzzing with resonant waves as if occupied by a swarm of electric katydids,…

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Paying with Your Face

Face-detecting systems in China now authorize payments, provide access to facilities, and track down criminals. Will other countries follow? Availability: Now by Will Knight Shortly after walking through the door at Face++, a Chinese startup valued at roughly a billion dollars, I see my face, unshaven and looking a bit jet-lagged, flash up on a large screen near the entrance. Having been added to a database, my face now provides automatic access to the building. It can also be used to monitor my movements through each room inside. As I tour the…

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Self-Driving Trucks

Tractor-trailers without a human at the wheel will soon barrel onto highways near you. What will this mean for the nation’s 1.7 million truck drivers? Availability: 5 to 10 years   by David H. Freedman   Roman Mugriyev was driving his long-haul 18-wheeler down a two-lane Texas highway when he saw an oncoming car drift into his lane just a few hundred feet ahead. There was a ditch to his right and more oncoming cars to his left, so there was little for him to do but hit his horn and…

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Reversing Paralysis

Scientists are making remarkable progress at using brain implants to restore the freedom of movement that spinal cord injuries take away. Availability: 10 to 15 years by Antonio Regalado “Go, go!” was the thought racing through Grégoire Courtine’s mind. The French neuroscientist was watching a macaque monkey as it hunched aggressively at one end of a treadmill. His team had used a blade to slice halfway through the animal’s spinal cord, paralyzing its right leg. Now Courtine wanted to prove he could get the monkey walking again. To do it, he…

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