Laura Sanders

Laura Sanders

2 years ago

Xenobots, tiny living machines, can duplicate themselves.

Strange and complex behavior of frog cell blobs

A xenobot “parent,” shaped like a hungry Pac-Man (shown in red false color), created an “offspring” xenobot (green sphere) by gathering loose frog cells in its opening.

Tiny “living machines” made of frog cells can make copies of themselves. This newly discovered renewal mechanism may help create self-renewing biological machines.

According to Kirstin Petersen, an electrical and computer engineer at Cornell University who studies groups of robots, “this is an extremely exciting breakthrough.” She says self-replicating robots are a big step toward human-free systems.

Researchers described the behavior of xenobots earlier this year (SN: 3/31/21). Small clumps of skin stem cells from frog embryos knitted themselves into small spheres and started moving. Cilia, or cellular extensions, powered the xenobots around their lab dishes.

The findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Dec. 7. The xenobots can gather loose frog cells into spheres, which then form xenobots.
The researchers call this type of movement-induced reproduction kinematic self-replication. The study's coauthor, Douglas Blackiston of Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, and Harvard University, says this is typical. For example, sexual reproduction requires parental sperm and egg cells. Sometimes cells split or budded off from a parent.

“This is unique,” Blackiston says. These xenobots “find loose parts in the environment and cobble them together.” This second generation of xenobots can move like their parents, Blackiston says.
The researchers discovered that spheroid xenobots could only produce one more generation before dying out. The original xenobots' shape was predicted by an artificial intelligence program, allowing for four generations of replication.

A C shape, like an openmouthed Pac-Man, was predicted to be a more efficient progenitor. When improved xenobots were let loose in a dish, they began scooping up loose cells into their gaping “mouths,” forming more sphere-shaped bots (see image below). As many as 50 cells clumped together in the opening of a parent to form a mobile offspring. A xenobot is made up of 4,000–6,000 frog cells.

Petersen likes the Xenobots' small size. “The fact that they were able to do this at such a small scale just makes it even better,” she says. Miniature xenobots could sculpt tissues for implantation or deliver therapeutics inside the body.

Beyond the xenobots' potential jobs, the research advances an important science, says study coauthor and Tufts developmental biologist Michael Levin. The science of anticipating and controlling the outcomes of complex systems, he says.

“No one could have predicted this,” Levin says. “They regularly surprise us.” Researchers can use xenobots to test the unexpected. “This is about advancing the science of being less surprised,” Levin says.

More on Science

Katherine Kornei

Katherine Kornei

2 years ago

The InSight lander from NASA has recorded the greatest tremor ever felt on Mars.

The magnitude 5 earthquake was responsible for the discharge of energy that was 10 times greater than the previous record holder.

Any Martians who happen to be reading this should quickly learn how to duck and cover.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, reported that on May 4, the planet Mars was shaken by an earthquake of around magnitude 5, making it the greatest Marsquake ever detected to this point. The shaking persisted for more than six hours and unleashed more than ten times as much energy as the earthquake that had previously held the record for strongest.

The event was captured on record by the InSight lander, which is operated by the United States Space Agency and has been researching the innards of Mars ever since it touched down on the planet in 2018 (SN: 11/26/18). The epicenter of the earthquake was probably located in the vicinity of Cerberus Fossae, which is located more than 1,000 kilometers away from the lander.

The surface of Cerberus Fossae is notorious for being broken up and experiencing periodic rockfalls. According to geophysicist Philippe Lognonné, who is the lead investigator of the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, the seismometer that is onboard the InSight lander, it is reasonable to assume that the ground is moving in that area. "This is an old crater from a volcanic eruption."

Marsquakes, which are similar to earthquakes in that they give information about the interior structure of our planet, can be utilized to investigate what lies beneath the surface of Mars (SN: 7/22/21). And according to Lognonné, who works at the Institut de Physique du Globe in Paris, there is a great deal that can be gleaned from analyzing this massive earthquake. Because the quality of the signal is so high, we will be able to focus on the specifics.

Will Lockett

Will Lockett

1 year ago

The Unlocking Of The Ultimate Clean Energy

Terrestrial space-solar terminals could look like radio telescopes — Photo by Donald Giannatti on Unsplash

The company seeking 24/7 ultra-powerful solar electricity.

We're rushing to adopt low-carbon energy to prevent a self-made doomsday. We're using solar, wind, and wave energy. These low-carbon sources aren't perfect. They consume large areas of land, causing habitat loss. They don't produce power reliably, necessitating large grid-level batteries, an environmental nightmare. We can and must do better than fossil fuels. Longi, one of the world's top solar panel producers, is creating a low-carbon energy source. Solar-powered spacecraft. But how does it work? Why is it so environmentally harmonious? And how can Longi unlock it?

Space-based solar makes sense. Satellites above Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) enjoy 24/7 daylight. Outer space has no atmosphere or ozone layer to block the Sun's high-energy UV radiation. Solar panels can create more energy in space than on Earth due to these two factors. Solar panels in orbit can create 40 times more power than those on Earth, according to estimates.

How can we utilize this immense power? Launch a geostationary satellite with solar panels, then beam power to Earth. Such a technology could be our most eco-friendly energy source. (Better than fusion power!) How?

Solar panels create more energy in space, as I've said. Solar panel manufacture and grid batteries emit the most carbon. This indicates that a space-solar farm's carbon footprint (which doesn't need a battery because it's a constant power source) might be over 40 times smaller than a terrestrial one. Combine that with carbon-neutral launch vehicles like Starship, and you have a low-carbon power source. Solar power has one of the lowest emissions per kWh at 6g/kWh, so space-based solar could approach net-zero emissions.

Space solar is versatile because it doesn't require enormous infrastructure. A space-solar farm could power New York and Dallas with the same efficiency, without cables. The satellite will transmit power to a nearby terminal. This allows an energy system to evolve and adapt as the society it powers changes. Building and maintaining infrastructure can be carbon-intensive, thus less infrastructure means less emissions.

Space-based solar doesn't destroy habitats, either. Solar and wind power can be engineered to reduce habitat loss, but they still harm ecosystems, which must be restored. Space solar requires almost no land, therefore it's easier on Mother Nature.

Space solar power could be the ultimate energy source. So why haven’t we done it yet?

Well, for two reasons: the cost of launch and the efficiency of wireless energy transmission.

Advances in rocket construction and reusable rocket technology have lowered orbital launch costs. In the early 2000s, the Space Shuttle cost $60,000 per kg launched into LEO, but a SpaceX Falcon 9 costs only $3,205. 95% drop! Even at these low prices, launching a space-based solar farm is commercially questionable.

Energy transmission efficiency is half of its commercial viability. Space-based solar farms must be in geostationary orbit to get 24/7 daylight, 22,300 miles above Earth's surface. It's a long way to wirelessly transmit energy. Most laser and microwave systems are below 20% efficient.

Space-based solar power is uneconomical due to low efficiency and high deployment costs.

Longi wants to create this ultimate power. But how?

They'll send solar panels into space to develop space-based solar power that can be beamed to Earth. This mission will help them design solar panels tough enough for space while remaining efficient.

Longi is a Chinese company, and China's space program and universities are developing space-based solar power and seeking commercial partners. Xidian University has built a 98%-efficient microwave-based wireless energy transmission system for space-based solar power. The Long March 5B is China's super-cheap (but not carbon-offset) launch vehicle.

Longi fills the gap. They have the commercial know-how and ability to build solar satellites and terrestrial terminals at scale. Universities and the Chinese government have transmission technology and low-cost launch vehicles to launch this technology.

It may take a decade to develop and refine this energy solution. This could spark a clean energy revolution. Once operational, Longi and the Chinese government could offer the world a flexible, environmentally friendly, rapidly deployable energy source.

Should the world adopt this technology and let China control its energy? I'm not very political, so you decide. This seems to be the beginning of tapping into this planet-saving energy source. Forget fusion reactors. Carbon-neutral energy is coming soon.

Jack Burns

Jack Burns

1 year ago

Here's what to expect from NASA Artemis 1 and why it's significant.

NASA's Artemis 1 mission will help return people to the Moon after a half-century break. The mission is a shakedown cruise for NASA's Space Launch System and Orion Crew Capsule.

The spaceship will visit the Moon, deploy satellites, and enter orbit. NASA wants to practice operating the spacecraft, test the conditions people will face on the Moon, and ensure a safe return to Earth.

We asked Jack Burns, a space scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and former member of NASA's Presidential Transition Team, to describe the mission, explain what the Artemis program promises for space exploration, and reflect on how the space program has changed in the half-century since humans last set foot on the moon.

What distinguishes Artemis 1 from other rockets?

Artemis 1 is the Space Launch System's first launch. NASA calls this a "heavy-lift" vehicle. It will be more powerful than Apollo's Saturn V, which transported people to the Moon in the 1960s and 1970s.

It's a new sort of rocket system with two strap-on solid rocket boosters from the space shuttle. It's a mix of the shuttle and Saturn V.

The Orion Crew Capsule will be tested extensively. It'll spend a month in the high-radiation Moon environment. It will also test the heat shield, which protects the capsule and its occupants at 25,000 mph. The heat shield must work well because this is the fastest capsule descent since Apollo.

This mission will also carry miniature Moon-orbiting satellites. These will undertake vital precursor science, including as examining further into permanently shadowed craters where scientists suspect there is water and measuring the radiation environment to see long-term human consequences.

Diagram depicting earth, moon, and spacecraft travel route

Artemis 1 will launch, fly to the Moon, place satellites, orbit it, return to Earth, and splash down in the ocean. NASA.

What's Artemis's goal? What launches are next?

The mission is a first step toward Artemis 3, which will lead to the first human Moon missions since 1972. Artemis 1 is unmanned.

Artemis 2 will have astronauts a few years later. Like Apollo 8, it will be an orbital mission that circles the Moon and returns. The astronauts will orbit the Moon longer and test everything with a crew.

Eventually, Artemis 3 will meet with the SpaceX Starship on the Moon's surface and transfer people. Orion will stay in orbit while the lunar Starship lands astronauts. They'll go to the Moon's south pole to investigate the water ice there.

Artemis is reminiscent of Apollo. What's changed in 50 years?

Kennedy wanted to beat the Soviets to the Moon with Apollo. The administration didn't care much about space flight or the Moon, but the goal would place America first in space and technology.

You live and die by the sword if you do that. When the U.S. reached the Moon, it was over. Russia lost. We planted flags and did science experiments. Richard Nixon canceled the program after Apollo 11 because the political goals were attained.

Large rocket with two boosters between two gates

NASA's new Space Launch System is brought to a launchpad. NASA

50 years later... It's quite different. We're not trying to beat the Russians, Chinese, or anyone else, but to begin sustainable space exploration.

Artemis has many goals. It includes harnessing in-situ resources like water ice and lunar soil to make food, fuel, and building materials.

SpaceX is part of this first journey to the Moon's surface, therefore the initiative is also helping to develop a lunar and space economy. NASA doesn't own the Starship but is buying seats for astronauts. SpaceX will employ Starship to transport cargo, private astronauts, and foreign astronauts.

Fifty years of technology advancement has made getting to the Moon cheaper and more practical, and computer technology allows for more advanced tests. 50 years of technological progress have changed everything. Anyone with enough money can send a spacecraft to the Moon, but not humans.

Commercial Lunar Payload Services engages commercial companies to develop uncrewed Moon landers. We're sending a radio telescope to the Moon in January. Even 10 years ago, that was impossible.

Since humans last visited the Moon 50 years ago, technology has improved greatly.

What other changes does Artemis have in store?

The government says Artemis 3 will have at least one woman and likely a person of color. 

I'm looking forward to seeing more diversity so young kids can say, "Hey, there's an astronaut that looks like me. I can do this. I can be part of the space program.

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1 year ago

2000s Toys, Secrets, and Cycles

During the dot-com bust, I started my internet career. People used the internet intermittently to check email, plan travel, and do research. The average internet user spent 30 minutes online a day, compared to 7 today. To use the internet, you had to "log on" (most people still used dial-up), unlike today's always-on, high-speed mobile internet. In 2001, Amazon's market cap was $2.2B, 1/500th of what it is today. A study asked Americans if they'd adopt broadband, and most said no. They didn't see a need to speed up email, the most popular internet use. The National Academy of Sciences ranked the internet 13th among the 100 greatest inventions, below radio and phones. The internet was a cool invention, but it had limited uses and wasn't a good place to build a business. 

A small but growing movement of developers and founders believed the internet could be more than a read-only medium, allowing anyone to create and publish. This is web 2. The runner up name was read-write web. (These terms were used in prominent publications and conferences.) 

Web 2 concepts included letting users publish whatever they want ("user generated content" was a buzzword), social graphs, APIs and mashups (what we call composability today), and tagging over hierarchical navigation. Technical innovations occurred. A seemingly simple but important one was dynamically updating web pages without reloading. This is now how people expect web apps to work. Mobile devices that could access the web were niche (I was an avid Sidekick user). 

The contrast between what smart founders and engineers discussed over dinner and on weekends and what the mainstream tech world took seriously during the week was striking. Enterprise security appliances, essentially preloaded servers with security software, were a popular trend. Many of the same people would talk about "serious" products at work, then talk about consumer internet products and web 2. It was tech's biggest news. Web 2 products were seen as toys, not real businesses. They were hobbies, not work-related. 

There's a strong correlation between rich product design spaces and what smart people find interesting, which took me some time to learn and led to blog posts like "The next big thing will start out looking like a toy" Web 2's novel product design possibilities sparked dinner and weekend conversations. Imagine combining these features. What if you used this pattern elsewhere? What new product ideas are next? This excited people. "Serious stuff" like security appliances seemed more limited. 

The small and passionate web 2 community also stood out. I attended the first New York Tech meetup in 2004. Everyone fit in Meetup's small conference room. Late at night, people demoed their software and chatted. I have old friends. Sometimes I get asked how I first met old friends like Fred Wilson and Alexis Ohanian. These topics didn't interest many people, especially on the east coast. We were friends. Real community. Alex Rampell, who now works with me at a16z, is someone I met in 2003 when a friend said, "Hey, I met someone else interested in consumer internet." Rare. People were focused and enthusiastic. Revolution seemed imminent. We knew a secret nobody else did. 

My web 2 startup was called SiteAdvisor. When my co-founders and I started developing the idea in 2003, web security was out of control. Phishing and spyware were common on Internet Explorer PCs. SiteAdvisor was designed to warn users about security threats like phishing and spyware, and then, using web 2 concepts like user-generated reviews, add more subjective judgments (similar to what TrustPilot seems to do today). This staged approach was common at the time; I called it "Come for the tool, stay for the network." We built APIs, encouraged mashups, and did SEO marketing. 

Yahoo's 2005 acquisitions of Flickr and Delicious boosted web 2 in 2005. By today's standards, the amounts were small, around $30M each, but it was a signal. Web 2 was assumed to be a fun hobby, a way to build cool stuff, but not a business. Yahoo was a savvy company that said it would make web 2 a priority. 

As I recall, that's when web 2 started becoming mainstream tech. Early web 2 founders transitioned successfully. Other entrepreneurs built on the early enthusiasts' work. Competition shifted from ideation to execution. You had to decide if you wanted to be an idealistic indie bar band or a pragmatic stadium band. 

Web 2 was booming in 2007 Facebook passed 10M users, Twitter grew and got VC funding, and Google bought YouTube. The 2008 financial crisis tested entrepreneurs' resolve. Smart people predicted another great depression as tech funding dried up. 

Many people struggled during the recession. 2008-2011 was a golden age for startups. By 2009, talented founders were flooding Apple's iPhone app store. Mobile apps were booming. Uber, Venmo, Snap, and Instagram were all founded between 2009 and 2011. Social media (which had replaced web 2), cloud computing (which enabled apps to scale server side), and smartphones converged. Even if social, cloud, and mobile improve linearly, the combination could improve exponentially. 

This chart shows how I view product and financial cycles. Product and financial cycles evolve separately. The Nasdaq index is a proxy for the financial sentiment. Financial sentiment wildly fluctuates. 

Next row shows iconic startup or product years. Bottom-row product cycles dictate timing. Product cycles are more predictable than financial cycles because they follow internal logic. In the incubation phase, enthusiasts build products for other enthusiasts on nights and weekends. When the right mix of technology, talent, and community knowledge arrives, products go mainstream. (I show the biggest tech cycles in the chart, but smaller ones happen, like web 2 in the 2000s and fintech and SaaS in the 2010s.) 

Tech has changed since the 2000s. Few tech giants dominate the internet, exerting economic and cultural influence. In the 2000s, web 2 was ignored or dismissed as trivial. Entrenched interests respond aggressively to new movements that could threaten them. Creative patterns from the 2000s continue today, driven by enthusiasts who see possibilities where others don't. Know where to look. Crypto and web 3 are where I'd start. 

Today's negative financial sentiment reminds me of 2008. If we face a prolonged downturn, we can learn from 2008 by preserving capital and focusing on the long term. Keep an eye on the product cycle. Smart people are interested in things with product potential. This becomes true. Toys become necessities. Hobbies become mainstream. Optimists build the future, not cynics.

Full article is available here

Liz Martin

Liz Martin

1 year ago

What Motivated Amazon to Spend $1 Billion for The Rings of Power?

Amazon's Rings of Power is the most costly TV series ever made. This is merely a down payment towards Amazon's grand goal.

Here's a video:

Amazon bought J.R.R. Tolkien's fantasy novels for $250 million in 2017. This agreement allows Amazon to create a Tolkien series for Prime Video.

The business spent years developing and constructing a Lord of the Rings prequel. Rings of Power premiered on September 2, 2022.

It drew 25 million global viewers in 24 hours. Prime Video's biggest debut.

An Exorbitant Budget

The most expensive. First season cost $750 million to $1 billion, making it the most costly TV show ever.

Jeff Bezos has spent years looking for the next Game of Thrones, a critically and commercially successful original series. Rings of Power could help.

Why would Amazon bet $1 billion on one series?

It's Not Just About the Streaming War

It's simple to assume Amazon just wants to win. Since 2018, the corporation has been fighting Hulu, Netflix, HBO, Apple, Disney, and NBC. Each wants your money, talent, and attention. Amazon's investment goes beyond rivalry.

Subscriptions Are the Bait

Audible, Amazon Music, and Prime Video are subscription services, although the company's fundamental business is retail. Amazon's online stores contribute over 50% of company revenue. Subscription services contribute 6.8%. The company's master plan depends on these subscriptions.

Streaming videos on Prime increases membership renewals. Free trial participants are more likely to join. Members buy twice as much as non-members.


Amazon Studios doesn't generate original programming to earn from Prime Video subscriptions. It aims to retain and attract clients.

Amazon can track what you watch and buy. Its algorithm recommends items and services. Mckinsey says you'll use more Amazon products, shop at Amazon stores, and watch Amazon entertainment.

In 2015, the firm launched the first season of The Man in the High Castle, a dystopian alternate history TV series depicting a world ruled by Nazi Germany and Japan after World War II.

This $72 million production earned two Emmys. It garnered 1.15 million new Prime users globally.

When asked about his Hollywood investment, Bezos said, "A Golden Globe helps us sell more shoes."

Selling more footwear

Amazon secured a deal with DirecTV to air Thursday Night Football in restaurants and bars. First streaming service to have exclusive NFL games.

This isn't just about Thursday night football, says media analyst Ritchie Greenfield. This sells t-shirts. This may be a ticket. Amazon does more than stream games.

The Rings of Power isn't merely a production showcase, either. This sells Tolkien's fantasy novels such Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit, and The Silmarillion.

This tiny commitment keeps you in Amazon's ecosystem.

Caleb Naysmith

Caleb Naysmith

1 year ago

Ads Coming to Medium?

Could this happen?

Medium isn't like other social media giants. It wasn't a dot-com startup that became a multi-trillion-dollar social media firm. It launched in 2012 but didn't gain popularity until later. Now, it's one of the largest sites by web traffic, but it's still little compared to most. Most of Medium's traffic is external, but they don't run advertisements, so it's all about memberships.

Medium isn't profitable, but they don't disclose how terrible the problem is. Most of the $163 million they raised has been spent or used for acquisitions. If the money turns off, Medium can't stop paying its writers since the site dies. Writers must be paid, but they can't substantially slash payment without hurting the platform. The existing model needs scale to be viable and has a low ceiling. Facebook and other free social media platforms are struggling to retain users. Here, you must pay to appreciate it, and it's bad for writers AND readers. If I had the same Medium stats on YouTube, I'd make thousands of dollars a month.

Then what? Medium has tried to monetize by offering writers a cut of new members, but that's unsustainable. People-based growth is limited. Imagine recruiting non-Facebook users and getting them to pay to join. Some may, but I'd rather write.


  • Donation buttons

  • Tiered subscriptions ($5, $10, $25, etc.)

  • Expanding content

and these may be short-term fixes, but they're not as profitable as allowing ads. Advertisements can pay several dollars per click and cents every view. If you get 40,000 views a month like me, that's several thousand instead of a few hundred. Also, Medium would have enough money to split ad revenue with writers, who would make more. I'm among the top 6% of Medium writers. Only 6% of Medium writers make more than $100, and I made $500 with 35,000 views last month. Compared to YouTube, the top 1% of Medium authors make a lot. Mr. Beast and PewDiePie make MILLIONS a month, yet top Medium writers make tens of thousands. Sure, paying 3 or 4 people a few grand, or perhaps tens of thousands, will keep them around. What if great authors leveraged their following to go huge on YouTube and abandoned Medium? If people use Medium to get successful on other platforms, Medium will be continuously cycling through authors and paying them to stay.

Ads might make writing on Medium more profitable than making videos on YouTube because they could preserve the present freemium model and pay users based on internal views. The $5 might be ad-free.

Consider: Would you accept Medium ads? A $5 ad-free version + pay-as-you-go, etc. What are your thoughts on this?

Original post available here