Author Archives: Rupendra Brahambhatt

About Rupendra Brahambhatt

Rupendra Brahambhatt is an experienced journalist and filmmaker covering culture, science, and entertainment news for the past five years. With a background in Zoology and Communication, he has been actively working with some of the most innovative media agencies in different parts of the globe.

Why cats sleep all day?

Why do cats sleep all day?

Famous American poet Rodney Mckuen once said “cats have it all; admiration, an endless sleep, and company only when they want it”. If you have a cat (or more), it’s probably not that hard to relate to these lines. Cats receive a lot of praise only for being cute, and they’re always quick to enjoy a nice (and often lengthy) nap. But why do cats sleep so much? Turns out, there’s a good reason for that.

Image credits: Jacalyn Beales/Unsplash

If you think cats are sleep addicts, that’s not exactly true. Similar to jaguars, ocelots, and some other members of their feline family, cats are actually crepuscular beings — they’re most active between sunset and sunrise (around twilight). The reason is that their prey is often crepuscular — so if you’re a cat and want to hunt something, that’s a good time to go about it. Many years ago (before we started domesticating them), when both cats and their prey lived in the wild, cats had to stay awake and hunt between dusk and dawn in search of food. 

Hunting could be a very energy-demanding process for any animal, and cats can cover impressive ranges in their search for food. So in order to recharge themselves for the next hunt, cats have developed a habit of sleeping a lot during the day — after all, it doesn’t make much sense to spend extra energy. So evolution pushed cats to sleep so much, and particularly during the day, when humans tend to be most active.

Domestication of these furry animals by humans has certainly brought some changes in their behavior and lifestyle and nowadays, house cats at least don’t roam the wild during the night looking for mice and rabbits — but their sleep-wake cycle has remained largely unchanged. This is the big reason why, for cats, daytime (when we regularly interact with them) is for resting, and resting is serious business.

How much sleep is enough for my cat?

Cats usually require around 15 hours of sleep in a day, but this can vary. Kittens and aging cats tend to sleep more, even up to 20 hours. Active cats may sleep as little as 12 hours. Most of the time cats go through a slow-wave sleep (SWP), light sleep, or a catnap during which their nose and ears are in alert mode and they are sleeping in such a posture that they can evade instantly as soon as they sense any danger. A catnap usually lasts between 15 to 30 minutes.

At least 12-14 hours of sleep is required for cats and both REM and light sleep are important for their health because good sleep ensures better energy conservation, muscle repair, good immunity, and the overall well-being of cats. The diet of cats mostly consists of protein (meat, fish, milk, etc) so proper sleep is also needed for complete digestion of their protein intake. 

However, as far as sleep timing is concerned there is no fixed time at which all cats prefer to go to sleep in the day. Cats have the ability to set their sleeping hours as per their feeding pattern, and one research also reveals that some cats adjust their sleep timing as per the activity of their owners.

What do cats dream about?  

Image credits: Gokul Barman/pexels

Only 25% of a cat’s total sleep is deep sleep and this is the time during which your cat may go through REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, a unique sleeping phase accompanied with dreams (yes, cats can also dream) and involves increased brain activity, it is also experienced by humans and birds. If your cat’s limbs are twitching or whiskers are showing a slight regular movement during her sleep, it is possible that she might be dreaming. Maybe dreaming about you… but probably not — research suggests they’re likely dreaming about being on the hunt.

However, there’s still a chance that your cat may be dreaming about you from time to time. Professor Dr. Nicholas Dodman from Cumming Vet School, New England told Metro in an interview that cats exhibit many of the physiological and behavioral characteristics that humans also manifest in their dreaming. It’s entirely possible, according to a report, that cats dream of a variety of things, from their prey to other cats to their owner petting them. 

Why cats sleep more when it’s raining?

Factors like weather and temperature also affect a cat’s activity and sleeping pattern, and it has been found that on rainy and cold days, cats spent more time sleeping. If you are a cat owner, you may have noticed your cat often lying near the heating system in winters. This is because cats are warm-blooded animals like us which means that on a cold day they require more energy to keep their internal body temperature balanced.

Also, cats, in general, prefer sunny weather and don’t like the rainy season. Cats and water are rarely good friends, and there’s a good reason for this too: it’s hard for them to stay warm during the wet season, and they also hate the noise that comes from the clouds. Plus, if they do get wet, it’s very hard to dry out and the moisture on their skin and fur can easily make them catch a cold.

Cats also tend to sleep more when they feel safe, and tend to pick sleeping spaces where they feel nothing can disturb them. But more sleep is not always a good sign. If your normal-aged cat is sleeping more than 15-16 hours a day, it is possible that she could be suffering from boredom, physical pain, hyperthyroidism, depression, etc. These disorders occur more frequently in cats that are overweight and you should consult a vet if you notice a sudden change in the sleeping habits of your cat or if it sleeps excessively. Just like humans, cats’ sleep patterns can offer hints about their health.

Just like a good night’s sleep is important for the proper functioning of our body, a good day’s sleep is necessary for a cat’s well-being. So the next time your cat is yawning in front of you as you work, don’t call them lazy. They just have a different sleep setting than yours — and arguably a better one.

Who invented school?

School is an institution that is hated (especially during exams) by millions of kids around the world — but at the same time billions of adults remember it as the ‘good old days’. For all its good and bad, society as we know it couldn’t exist without schools — and we’re not just talking about the building, we’re talking about the entire system and environment that allows us to pass knowledge to younger generations and prepare them for what’s to come in the real world (at least in theory). But who actually invented school?

Image credits: Max Fischer/pexels

From old school to modern schooling system

Ironically enough, for all the information you can find in schools, no textbook mentions exactly when and how the idea of a school originated. This is mostly because it depends on how exactly you define a school. For instance, in ancient Greece, education was somewhat democratized, and education in a gymnasium school was considered essential for participation in Greek culture, but it was reserved only for boys (and often, not all boys). In ancient Rome, rich children were tutored by private professors, but neither of these is a school in the sense we consider today — public, formal education that is compulsory, open, and available to all — though you could argue that in some sense, school dates from ancient times, and the organized practice of teaching children dates for thousands of years.

Compulsory education was also not an unheard-of concept in ancient times –though it was mostly compulsory for those tied to royal, religious, or military organizations. In fact, Plato’s landmark The Republic, written more than 2,300 years ago, argues in favor of compulsory education, though women and slaves were not truly a part of Greek society.

Much information about schooling is also lost to the shroud of time. For instance, there is some indirect evidence about schools in China existing at least 3,000 years ago, but this comes from “oracle bones” where parents would try to divine whether it was auspicious for their children to go to ‘school’ — and there’s little information about what these schools were like.

It’s not just the Chinese, Greeks, and Romans. The Hindus, for instance, had developed their own schooling system in the form of gurukuls. In 425 AD, the Byzantine empire in Rome came up with the world’s first known primary education system dedicated to educating soldiers enrolled in the Byzantine army so that no person in the army faces problems in communicating and understanding war manuals. Different parts of the world had developed different types of education — some more efficient than others.

In Western Europe (and England, in particular), the church became involved in public education early on, and a significant number of church schools were founded in the Early Middle Ages. The oldest still operating (and continuously operating school) is The King’s School in Canterbury, which dates from the year 597. Several other schools still in operation were founded in the 6th century — though again, you could argue whether they were true schools as they were only open to boys.

Albert Bettannier’s 1887 painting that depicts the scene of an old European school. Image credits: Deutsches Historisches Museum Berlin/Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, compared to the modern schools, education in the above-mentioned institutes was more focused on religious teachings, language, and low-level or practical skills only. Many of them even used to operate in a single room with no set standards and curriculum, but as humanity progressed ahead people started to realize the need for an organized system to educate the future generations. 

For more than ten centuries, schools maintained the same general profile, focused mostly on a niched set of skills and religious training. In the 9th century, the first university was founded in Fez, Morocco. However, that too was founded as a mosque and focused on religious teachings. The oldest university still in operation, the University of Bologna, in Italy, was founded in 1088. It hired scholars from the city’s pre-existing educational facilities and gave lectures in informal schools called scholae. In addition to religion, the university also taught liberal arts, notarial law, and scrivenery (official writing). The university is notable for also teaching civil law.

However, the university is not necessarily the same as a school — it wasn’t a public “for all” education system, but rather a “school” for the intellectual elite. For schools to truly emerge as we know them today, we have to fast forward a few more centuries.

Compulsory, free education for all

In 1592, a German Duchy called Palatine Zweibrücken became the first territory in the world with compulsory education for girls and boys — a remarkable and often-ignored achievement in the history of education. The duchy was followed in 1598 by Strasbourg, then a free city of the Holy Roman Empire and now part of France. Similar attempts emerged a few decades later in Scotland, although this compulsory education was subject to political and social turmoil.

In the United States — or rather, in the colonies that were to later become the United States — three legislative acts enacted in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642, 1647, and 1648 mandated that every town having more than 50 families to hire a teacher, and every town of more than 100 families to establish a school.

Prussia, a prominent German state, implemented a compulsory education system in 1763 by royal decree. The Prussian General School Regulation asked for all young citizens, girls and boys, to be educated from age 5 to age 13-14 and to be provided with a basic education on religion, singing, reading, and writing based on a regulated, state-provided curriculum of textbooks. To support this financially, the teachers (often former soldiers) cultivated silkworms to make a living. In nearby Austria, Empress Maria Theresa introduced mandatory primary education in 1774 — and mandatory, systemized education was starting to take shape in Europe. Schools, as we know them today, were becoming a thing.

Meanwhile, the US was having its own educational revolution.

In 1837, a lawyer and educator Horace Mann became the Secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education in the newly-formed United States. Mann was a supporter of public schooling and he believed that without a well-educated population political stability and social harmony could not be achieved. So he put forward the idea of a universal public education system for teaching American kids. Mann wanted a system with a set curriculum taught to students in an organized manner by well-trained subject experts. 

Without undervaluing any other human agency, it may be safely affirmed that the Common School…may become the most effective and benignant of all forces of civilization.

Horace Mann, Father of the Common School Movement

Mann employed his “normal school” system in Massachusetts and later other states in the US also started implementing the education reforms that he envisioned. He also managed to convince his colleagues and other modernizers to support his idea of providing government-funded primary education for all. 

Due to his efforts, Massachusetts became the first American state in 1852 to have a mandatory education law, school attendance and elementary education were made compulsory in various states (mandatory education law was enacted in all states of the US by 1917), teacher training programs were launched, and new public schools were being opened in rural areas. 

At the time, when women were not even allowed to attend schools in many parts of the world, Mann advocated the appointment of women as teachers in public schools. Instead of offering religious learning to students, Mann’s normal schools were aimed at teaching them reading, writing, grammar, arithmetic, geography, and history. He believed that school education should not incorporate sectarian instructions, however, for the same reason, some religious leaders and schoolmasters used to criticize Mann for promoting non-sectarian education.

The innovative ideas and reforms introduced by Mann in the 1800s became the foundation of our modern school system. For his valuable contribution in the field of education, historians sometimes credit him as the inventor of the modern school system.

However, as we’ve seen, the history of schools is intricate, complex, and very rich. There is no one “inventor” of school — the process of arriving at the school systems we have today (imperfect as they may be) took thousands of years of progress, which was not always straightforward.

Shocking facts about school education

Now that we’ve looked a bit at the history of the school, let’s see how things are today — and why there’s still plenty of work to be done in schools around the world.

Image credits: Pixabay/pexels
  • A study conducted by the Institute of Education in the UK suggests that quality of primary education is more crucial for an individual’s academic progress, social behavior, and intellectual development as compared to factors including his or her family income, background, and gender. Another study highlights that students who receive good elementary education and have a positive attitude about the significance of their performance in primary and middle school are more likely to earn well and live a better life than others in the future.  
  • A UNESCO report reveals that school education up to nine years of age is compulsory in 155 countries but unfortunately, there are more than 250 million children in the world who are still not able to attend school. 
  • According to International Labour Organization (ILO), due to poverty and lack of educational opportunities, 160 million kids are forced into work across the globe and about 80 million of them work in unhealthy environments. Thousands of such kids are physically and sexually abused, tortured, and are even trained to work under drug mafia, criminal groups, and terrorist organizations. Some studies reveal that child labor is also associated with school dropout in less developed countries. Due to poor financial conditions, many individuals at a young age start giving preference to economic activities and lose interest in costly education opportunities. However, an easily accessible and high-quality school education model that could allow children (from poor families) to pursue education without compromising their financial security can play an important role in eliminating child labor.
  • African nation South Sudan has the lowest literacy rate in the world. Only 8% of females in this country are literate and overall only 27% of its adult population is educated. 98% of the schools that offer elementary education in Sudan do not have an electric power supply and only one-third of such schools have access to safe drinking water. 
  • City Montessori School (CMS) located in Dehradun, India is hailed as the largest school in the world. The CMS campus houses 1,050 classrooms in which more than 50,000 students attend classes every day. 

For Horace Mann, schools were a means to produce good citizens, uphold democratic values and ensure the well-being of society. Though not all schools are able to achieve these goals, the power of school education can be well understood from what famous French poet Victor Hugo once said, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison”.

Cyberpunk aesthetics and concepts.

What is cyberpunk — and are we already living in it?

In its simplest form, cyberpunk is a science fiction subgenre that brings together advanced, futuristic technology, with a decline in societal decay. Think of a society featuring advanced artificial intelligence, cybernetics, massive skyscrapers, but with many people living in slums or being controlled and lacking social freedom. But cyberpunk isn’t only a sci-fi subgenre, but also a cultural movement that has some influence on things like entertainment, design, gaming, architecture, fashion, and technology. In fact, you could argue we’re already living in a cyberpunk world.

Image credits: Raasgendor/Pixabay

Cyberpunk often features a flashy visual theme and an underlying dystopian theme of this genre. It depicts a world where technological development is at its peak, artificial intelligence co-exists with humans, people have access to robotic brains and body implants — but at the same time, the social order is heavily disturbed, corrupt multinational corporations (or machines) own and controls everything, crime has become an integral part of society, and most of the population has a poor standard of living.

The “high tech, low life” concept of a cyberpunk world has been popularized by comics, films, animes, and books of the same genre. Writers like Philip K. Dick, William Gibson, Katsuhiro Otomo, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, and many others in the 70s and 80s introduced different characteristics. Thin neon city lights, electronic music, dark streets, cyborgs, holograms, rugged and vibrant clothing style, drug syndicates, cramped apartments, illegal tech markets, and a broke society) — those are the tell-tale of a cyberpunk world that later became symbols of the genre. Cyberpunk protagonists are typically rebels, hackers, reluctant heroes clinging to individuality in a world where invasive control is the norm. Unsurprisingly, many see cyberpunk as more than just an artistic current, but rather as a social critique.

Cyberpunk elements in the real world 

Remarkably, many famous novels, anime, and movies in the cyberpunk style from the 80s and 90s that popularized the genre are set in the current time. Ridley Scott’s iconic sci-fi flick Blade Runner shows events from 2019, Software, a critically acclaimed cyberpunk novel from Rudy Rucker is based in the year 2020, P.D. James’ highly popular dystopian fiction, Children of Men is set in 2021 (its movie adaptation is based in 2027), whereas Bruce Sterling’s thrilling sci-fi book Islands in the Net tells a dark futuristic story from the year 2023.

But cyberpunk is still going strong now, we’ve just pushed the date by a few years.

Cyberpunk-type scenery from Tokyo. Image in public domain.

Learning from cyberpunk

Science fiction is reality ahead of schedule, Syd Mead, concept designer of tron and blade runner once famously said. So is cyberpunk a realistic expectation of what’s to come?

Researchers have suggested in the past that technology can fuel economic inequality. Big tech companies, in particular, are fueling inequality, and although technology as a whole is alleviating poverty, there are fears that it could fuel rampang social inequality. In addition, while making us richer, technology can also be used to control and impose dystopian measures — as we’re already starting to see in China, for instance.

In fact, what makes cyberpunk different from other sci-fi genres is its ability to manifest our fears associated with hi-technology and the perils it could bring, perils such as over-capitalism, drug addiction, gadget dependency, media oversaturation, crime, and data privacy. So while cyberpunk is a literary and artistic current, we’re definitely starting to see some of its signature trademarks in the real world.

Cyberpunk in the real world

Aesthetically, cyberpunk is distinctive in its neon urban lights. Perhaps unsurprisingly, cyberpunk scenery is becoming more and more common, as some of its underlying aspects are also creeping into our world. If we look around carefully, it’s not hard to find various cyberpunk elements around us. Here are just a few examples.

  • A cyberpunk world where powerful multinational corporations much of society. In the real world, multinational tech corporation like Google, Facebook, and Amazon control the web and most of our digital assets. A normal internet user may never know even if his data is sold on the dark web or his privacy is compromised on some level. Moreover, from time to time, these trillion-dollar tech companies are accused of putting their profits above democratic principles. Recently, an ex-Facebook (now Meta) employee Frances Haugen told CBS in an interview “The thing I saw at Facebook over and over again was there were conflicts of interest between what was good for the public and what was good for Facebook. And Facebook, over and over again, chose to optimize for its own interests, like making more money.” Oh, and we’re just beginning to see their influence.
  • Places like Las Vegas, Chongqing city in China, Japan’s major economic centers Tokyo and Osaka, and various parts of Singapore (Golden Mile complex), and Hong Kong (such as Montane Mansion and Monster building) are loaded with visual cyberpunk-ish aesthetics such as giant neon signboards, skyscrapers, stacked apartments, dark alleys, large advertisement screens, neon-lit commercial complexes, and crowded streets. In fact, Tokyo has been the inspiration for various fictional cyberpunk cities in video games and movies.
Akira, an anime, is one of the most influential cyberpunk operas of all time, featuring many of the genre’s characteristic elements (both visual and phylosophical).
  • Chatbots and voice assistants like Alexa and Siri that monitor our preferences using algorithms are an example of artificial intelligence co-existing in the real world. Similarly, the ability of social media and online advertisements to manipulate our emotions, thoughts, and decision-making ability indicates how deep technology has entered into our lives.      
  • A popular cyberpunk video game called Cyberpunk 2077 features an in-game personalized virtual world called Braindance. Though we have not been able to develop a futuristic VR experience as advanced as Braindance, VR devices in the present also allow us to experience virtual reality. Games and applications like Fortnite, Decentraland, Second Life, and Facebook’s newly launched Horizon World are examples of virtual worlds existing within our own world. 

Moreover, prosthetic body parts, augmented reality-based applications (like the game Pokemon GO), cyberpunk-themed clothing (such as cybergoth, futuristic gothic, etc), as well as the advent of brain chips (such as Neuralink), machine learning, smart weapons, humanoids (like Sophia and Ameca) and Internet of Things (IoT)are some of the developments that are taking place in the real world but also share a striking resemblance to various elements shown in the cyberpunk themes of Terminator, Akira, Blade Runner, Alita Battle Angel, and Ghost in the Shell.

Cyberpunk and transhumanism  

Although to many people, cyberpunk is merely an aesthetic style, we’ve already mentioned that there’s some hardcore social critique to it. The main reason for this is that cyberpunk involves heavy philosophical concepts.

Transhumanism is believed to be the core philosophy behind the development of the cyberpunk genre. Transhumanism is a social, philosophical, and intellectual movement that favors the invention and use of advanced innovations that can enhance human ability. Basically, transhumanists want us to evolve past our human nature using technology. Any technology capable of improving intelligence, physical strength, health, cognitive ability, memory, and lifespan of humans is part of transhumanist progress. 

Image credits: Ben Sweer/Unsplash

Transhumanist thinkers predict emerging technologies and examine their possible positive and negative impacts on human society. Writers in the 70s and 80s are also believed to have analyzed the influence of the internet, terrorism, drugs, computers, cybersecurity, and sexual revolution while working on various cyberpunk themes. This can also be understood from the fact that the nature of the protagonist in various such works is of a transhuman, for example, Ghost in the Shell’s Motoko Kusanagi was also a transhuman.

However, due to its dystopian nature, most of the fictional works in the cyberpunk genre reveal a negative side of a transhumanist approach. Novels and films like Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Alita: Battle Angel, Cowboy Bebop, Terminator, etc shows how advanced technologies can promote corruption, greed, destruction and ultimately lead to a chaotic world. According to Robert M. Geraci, who is a professor of religious studies at Manhattan College, “cyberpunk as a genre attempts to caution against transhumanism by exposing the problematic elements of the social economy that supports it.”

Nobody wants to live in a dystopian world (especially after the pandemic) but in the coming years, it would be really interesting to see if some popular cyberpunk technologies such as cyborgs, laser weapons, advanced VR devices, and flying cars become a reality.

Future weapons: Microwave weapons (like the ones from Star Wars) already exist in reality

Ever since sci-fi became a thing, sci-fi weapons also became a thing. Lasers, rayguns, microwave weapons, you name it, and someone wrote about it. Many of these are still fiction, but some are inching towards reality. Laser weapons, for instance, are already being tested by the US military and many speculate that they’re already close to being used. Something else that militarists are looking closely at are microwave weapons.

Image credits: Pixabay/pexels.

If there’s any big sci-fi franchise that’s been teasing weapons, it’s Star Wars. For half a century, the Star Wars universe has featured all sorts of crazy weapons (including your favorite lightsabers), but many of these don’t have any equivalent in the real world.

But that may soon change. Some recent weapon systems and defense experiments (conducted both in and outside the US) have successfully managed to demonstrate the use of high-powered microwave weapons technology.

The physics of microwave weapons stands up to scrutiny and according to defense experts, they can do a lot of damage. In theory, at least, a long-range microwave beam could cause severe damage to human brain cells and tissues, and make soldiers and other nearby people permanently blind.

What are microwave-based weapons and how do they work?  

Image credits: Francesco Ungaro/pexels

High-power microwave (HPM) weapons use focused electromagnetic energy beams (frequencies ranging between 500 MHz to 3 GHz) that can disable electronic systems, disarm air defense networks, and destroy enemy facilities. Such weapons are also called directed energy weapons (DEW), and they are able to release energy in the form of microwaves, laser beams, plasma, or sonic rays.

Microwaves are essentially a form of electromagnetic radiation. The wavelengths of microwaves range from one meter to one millimeter, and they work at a frequency between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. You can kind of tell that microwaves can do a lot of damage just by thinking about your microwave and how quickly it heats up your food or drinks. It does this by sending energy dispersed as molecular rotations and raising the temperature.

Your microwave weapon only works in a small enclosure, but microwaves can be used to transmit power over long distances — and this is the principle on which proposed microwave weapons would also work.

A powerful microwave weapon system has three main units: a pulse power source that produces high voltage electrical pulses; an HPM source that generates microwaves either from a linear electron beam (by converting the kinetic energy of electrons into electromagnetic radiation); or directly through impulsive sources such as electronic circuits; and finally, an antenna that allows the focus of high power microwaves on a target. 

Unlike conventional artillery units, microwave-based weapon systems do not require any physical ammunition but they do demand high amounts of electrical power, and they can also work with explosive chemicals as well.  

Promising developments in the field of microwave weapon technology

A prototype PHASR laser rifle. Image credits: US Air Force/Wikimedia Commons

In January 2019, a notice was released by the Department of Defence revealing that the US army is planning to create an Ultrashort Pulse Laser (USPL) system in order to advance its tactical capabilities and meet future warfare demands. USPL is a part of the department’s plans to modernize the army and on completion, it could become the most powerful laser-based weapon system ever made. 

However, USPL is not the only initiative that is concerned with the development of microwave weapons. Here are some similar programs and microwave weapons that exist in reality:

  • Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies Office (RCCTO) under the US Army has developed a Directed Energy-Maneuver Short-Range Air Defense (DEM SHORAD) system to shoot down enemy’s drone swarms and other hostile UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles). This laser-shooting system comes installed on Stryker vehicles and by 2022, RCCTO is planning to deliver at least four of these to the military. 
  • A 2018 report from South China Morning Post reveals that China has developed a lithium-ion powered laser rifle that can shoot invisible microwaves at the target and even make it catch fire. Being hailed as the laser equivalent of AK-47, this non-lethal assault gun is called ZKZM-500 and it is said to be used by the Chinese police and by the army in future covert military operations. However, many defence experts have raised doubts about the claims made by the Xian Institute of Optics and Precision Mechanics related to the range and laser-shooting abilities of ZKZM-500.  
  • European arms manufacturer MBDA is developing a laser weapon system named ‘Dragonfire’ that could be deployed on the warships owned by UK’s Royal Navy. This new LDEW (laser-directed energy weapon) system would be able to shoot several thousand-kilowatt powered lasers and provide defense against drones and other airborne enemy units. Recently, the British government also awarded military contracts worth $100 million to companies like Raytheon and Thales for the development of directed energy weapon systems.
  • A video uploaded by the US Navy in May 2020 shows a successful laser weapon test conducted at a San Antonio-class transport ship USS Portland. During the test, a 150 kW powered laser weapon system shoots an energy beam at a AV flying in the sky, the target catches fire as soon as it comes in contact with the beam and gets destroyed.
  • India’s Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is working on a classified project named Durga II, which is actually a 100-kilowatt, lightweight directed-energy system. The organization plans to design Durga II in such a manner that it could be deployed anywhere from land-based military vehicles to aircraft and naval warships. 

Apart from these recent developments, countries like Russia, Australia, and Israel have also been developing their own microwave-based laser weapon systems. Some of those systems have been already deployed and others are in the testing or development phase.

Microwave weapons other than laser-based systems

An LRAD deployed at USS Blue Ridge. Image credits: Tucker M. Yates/Wikimedia Commons

When compared to traditional artillery, microwave weapons have many tactical advantages. For instance, microwaves when fired from a weapon hit the target without being affected by any external factors such as wind, weather, inertia, gravity, etc. Plus, the enemy soldiers can neither see nor hear any approaching microwave shots unless they have specialized microwave detecting sensors. Moreover, microwave weapons only require a power supply unit and no other heavy logistics or ammunition supply units during a mission.

These are the main reasons why countries and defense companies are spending millions of dollars on creating efficient microwave weapons. However, these aren’t the only types of futuristic weapons actively researched in the military field.

Other types of futuristic weapons

Sonic and ultrasonic weapons

These weapons release unbearable sound waves that can cause pain, intense headache, ear bleeding, eyeball vibration, and even permanent hearing loss. Sound cannons used by the police to control the crowd during a protest are also an example of sonic weapons, they operate on a frequency similar to microwaves. A sonic system falls in the non-lethal weapon category and is sometimes also referred to as a long-range acoustic device (LRAD).

Plasma weapons

Similar to Han Solo’s Blaster gun, plasma weapons are capable of firing bolts of plasma at the enemy. In physics, plasma is called the fourth state of matter which is formed by free ionized electrons and may contain some other subatomic particles as well. They are used to daze, burn, or warn the target but similar to sonic weapons they are also said to be non-lethal.

The Plasma Acoustic Shield System (PASS) being developed by Stellar Photonics for the US Army is one such plasma-based weapon system that would be capable of firing plasma shockwaves (both lethal and non-lethal) at the target.

Heat ray weapons

A DEW system, capable of increasing the surface temperature of a target and destroying the enemy’s electronic devices. It is designed for area security, port protection, and crowd control purposes and if a human is hit by a heat ray weapon, he or she may feel a burning sensation and intense pain in the skin. 

The US Military’s Active Denial System is a riot-control weapon based on heat-ray technology, it can fire microwaves up to a distance of 1000 meters and is used in both defensive and offensive field operations.

From laser-shooting planes to bullet-less plasma rifles and vibration-causing sonic guns, defense researchers are working on many insane microwave weapon ideas but only time will tell how many of those become a reality. 

Paradoxes are contradictory.

The appeal of the paradox — mankind’s fascination with self-contradicting ideas

Just like true love, a paradox cannot be explained with logic alone. Simply put, a paradox is a self-contradicting statement. Any idea, situation, puzzle, statement, or question that challenges your ability to reason, and leads you to an unexpected and seemingly illogical conclusion, can be considered a paradox.

The classic paradox example is the so-called Grandfather Paradox. Imagine a psychotic time traveler who goes back in time and kills his grandfather before his father is conceived. This means that the traveler wouldn’t have been conceived, and if he wasn’t conceived, then who went back to kill his grandfather?

The answer to this theoretical time travel mystery is still unclear, as is the case with many other interesting paradoxes. In this information age, logic helps us understand what is known to us but a paradox serves as a reminder of what else we need to know. Let’s dive in.

Image credits: cottonbro/pexels

How do you define a paradox?

A paradox is a thought that can sound reasonable and illogical at the same time. The Cambridge dictionary defines paradox as a situation that could be true but is impossible to comprehend due to its contrary characteristics. In the Greek language, ‘para’ translates to ‘abnormal’, ‘distinct, or ‘contrary’’ and ‘dox’ means ‘idea’ or ‘opinion’. Therefore, according to some Greek philosophers, a paradox is an abnormal or self-contrary belief or idea that ultimately leads to an unsolvable contradiction.  

You don’t need time travel to create a crazy paradox. For instance, in the famous crocodile paradox (of which there are many variations), a magical crocodile steals a child and promises to return it only if the father can guess correctly what the crocodile will do. If the father says “The child will not be returned” — what can the crocodile do? If he doesn’t return the child, that means the father’s guess was true so he should have returned the child. If he does return it, then the father’s guess was false, so he shouldn’t have. It’s a paradox, nothing the crocodile does can satisfy the situation.

The face a crocodile makes when faced with an unsolvable paradox. Image credits: Pixabay/pexels.

This paradox is believed to have originated centuries ago in ancient Greece, but there are hundreds of different paradoxes that are found in literature, mathematics, philosophy, science, and various other domains as well. Though a true paradox can seem both true and false at the same time, logic tends to suggest most of the paradoxes as invalid statements. 

There are four main types of paradoxes:

  1. Falsidical paradox: A paradox that leads to a false conclusion resulting from a misconception or false belief. For example, Zeno’s Achilles and tortoise.
  1. Veridical paradox: When a situation or statement tells us about a result that sounds absurd but is actually valid by logic. Shrodinger’s cat is a famous example of a veridical paradox.
  1. Antinomy paradox: A question, puzzle, or statement that does not lead to a solution or conclusion is called an antimony paradox (also known as self-referential paradox). One of its examples is the Barber’s paradox (discussed below).
  1. Dialetheia: When the opposite of a situation and the original situation co-exist together, such a paradox is called dialetheia. No concrete examples are known but some real-life situations can be considered dialetehia (for example when you are standing at the kitchen door, and one of your family members ask you if you are in the kitchen? You are right whether you answer yes or no.    

Why paradoxes matter

Paradoxes are important because they make us think. They force us to reassess what we thought we knew and ponder things from unusual perspectives. A paradox mindset, in which we embrace contradicting (or seemingly contradicting ideas) is a key to success, some studies have shown. Leading thinkers were found to spend considerable time developing ideas and counter-ideas simultaneously, something called the Janusian process.

Studying paradoxes is also important, especially for mathematicians. Mathematicians love to break everything into small pieces and define things carefully, and they do that with paradoxes. For instance, let’s take a simple paradox called the Temperature paradox, which states:

“If the temperature is 90 and the temperature is rising, that would seem to entail that 90 is rising.”

Obviously, 90 is not rising, it’s a fixed number, it can’t be rising. We know that intuitively, but how do we prove it? American mathematician and philosopher Richard Montague dealt with this paradox (and many others), and explained that the paradox emerges from linguistic vagueness, which can be addressed through mathematical clarity. The linguistic formalization of the paradox would go something like this:

  1. The temperature is rising.
  2. The temperature is ninety.
  3. Therefore, ninety is rising. (invalid conclusion)

But the mathematical formalization implies that point 1. marks how the temperature changes over time, while point 2. makes an assertion about the temperature at a particular point in time. Therefore, we cannot draw conclusions based on this single point in time.

This type of paradox, which emerges from language issues and ambiguity is not often important, but other paradoxes, especially those that can’t be resolved through normal means, hold importance because they help us find better definitions of objects and relationships. A good example of this is Curry’s paradox.

Now that we know the types of paradoxes and why they matter, let’s look at of the most popular and insane paradoxes of all time:

Paradox examples

“This sentence is false”

This so-called liar’s paradox is the canonical example of a self-referential paradox. Other classic examples are “Is the answer to this question ‘no’?”, and “I’m lying.”

Mathematicians have tried to dissect and analyze this paradox in great detail because it can hold some importance to defining inherent limitations of mathematical axioms.  The liar’s paradox was used in 1931 by a mathematician named Kurt Gödel to define mathematical axioms, but the paradox itself dates back to at least 600 BC, when the semi-mythical seer Epimenides, a Cretan, reportedly stated that “All Cretans are liars.”

The Barber paradox

The scene of a Bucharest-based barbershop in 1842. Image credits: Charles Doussault/Wikimedia Commons

Proposed by British mathematician Bertrand Russell, this paradox states that if a barber is defined as the person who only shaves individuals who do not shave on their own, then who shaves the barber? In this case, the barber would shave himself — but then, according to the definition, he is no longer the barber as he cannot shave a person who would shave on their own. 

Now, if he is not shaving on his own, then he is among those who are supposed to be shaved by the barber. In this case, also, the barber has to shave himself. Therefore, the barber paradox suggests that no such barber can ever exist who is called a barber because he only shaves people who do not do their own shave. Well, then what the heck even is a barber?

Sorites’ paradox

If there is a heap of sand that has one million grains, and one by one, grains are being removed from the heap such that at the end of the process only one grain remains, would it still be seen as a heap? If not then when does the heap of sand become a non-heap? Sounds crazy, right? But that is the Sorites paradox given by Eubuildus of Miletus around the fourth century BCE, and till this day, no math genius has been able to give a logical solution to this problem.

Another similar type of puzzle is the so-called ship of Theseus. The mythological hero Theseus sails on to his adventures, and at some point, one of the ship parts needs replacing. It’s still the same ship, right? Just one part was replaced. But part after part, every component on the ship is replaced. Is it still the same ship? If not, when did it stop being the same ship?

Zeno’s Achilles and the tortoise

Achilles and the tortoise.

In this paradox developed by the ancient Greek philosopher Zeno, there is a race between the great Greek warrior Achilles and a tortoise. The tortoise is given a head start of 100 meters. Achilles runs faster than the tortoise so it will catch up to it. But here’s how Zeno looked at things:

  • Step #1: Achilles runs to the tortoise’s starting point while the tortoise walks forward.
  • Step #2: Achilles runs to where the tortoise was at the end of Step #1, while the tortoise goes a bit further.
  • Step #3: Achilles runs to where the tortoise was at the end of Step #2 while the tortoise goes yet further.
  • … and so on.

The gaps get smaller and smaller every time, but there is an infinity of these steps, so how can Achilles overcome an infinite number of gaps and catch up to the turtle? How does anything catch up to anything, for that matter? Obviously, things do catch up to other things, so what’s going on here?

The ancient Greeks lacked the mathematical tools to address this paradox, but nowadays, we know better. There may be an infinite number of steps, but they are also infinitely small. It’s a bit like how 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 + 1/16 +… to infinite adds up to 1. It’s an infinite number of steps, but the steps become infinitely small, and in the end, they add up to something tangible.

Animalia Paradoxa – The classification of magical creatures

This is actually not a paradox but a biological classification of the beasts and magical creatures that are also mentioned in ancient storybooks. In the versions of Systema Naturae that arrived before its sixth edition, author Carl Linnaeus (father of modern taxonomy) has listed creatures like Hydra (snake with seven faces), Draco (a dragon with bat-like wings and ability to spit fire), Unicorn (beautiful single-horned horse), Lamia (half-human half-animal), etc.

From a scientific point of view, these creatures don’t exist so then why did a genius like Carl Linnaeus mention such creatures in his greatest scientific work? It seems paradoxical that the man who defined our classification of biological creatures would introduce unreal creatures; one might say it’s a bit paradoxical.

A painting of Hercules and the Lernaean Hydra by Gustave Moreau. Image credits: The Yorck Project/Wikimedia Commons

Paradoxes have a unique draw because they appeal to human curiosity and mystery. They seem to ignite the curiosity of the human mind for thousands of years and will likely continue to do so for many years to come. 

Why transparent solar cells could replace windows in the near future

No matter how sustainable, eco-friendly, and clean sources of energy they are, conventional solar panels require a large setup area and heavy initial investment. Due to these limitations, it’s hard to introduce them in urban areas (especially neighborhoods with lots of apartment blocks or shops). But thanks to the work of ingenious engineers at the University of Michigan, that may soon no longer be the case.

The researchers have created transparent solar panels which they claim could be used as power generating windows in our homes, buildings, and even rented apartments.

Image credits: Djim Loic/Unsplash

If these transparent panels are indeed capable of generating electricity cost-efficiently, the days of regular windows may be passing as we speak. Soon, we could have access to cheap solar energy regardless of where we live — and to make it even better, we could be rid of those horrific power cuts that happen every once in a while because, with transparent glass-like solar panels, every house and every tall skyscraper will be able to generate its own power independently.

An overview of the transparent solar panels

In order to generate power from sunlight, solar cells embedded on a solar panel are required to absorb radiation from the sun. Therefore, they cannot allow sunlight to completely pass through them (in the way that a glass window can). So at first, the idea of transparent solar panels might seem preposterous and completely illogical because a transparent panel should be unable to absorb radiation. 

But that’s not necessarily the case, researchers have found. In fact, that’s not the case at all.

Professor R. Lunt at MSU showing the transparent luminescent solar concentrator. Image credits: Michigan State University

The solar panels created by engineers at the University of Michigan consist of transparent luminescent solar concentrators (TLSC). Composed of cyanine, the TLSC is capable of selectively absorbing invisible solar radiation including infrared and UV lights, and letting the rest of the visible rays pass through them. So in other words, these devices are transparent to the human eye (very much like a window) but still absorb a fraction of the solar light which they can then convert into electricity. It’s a relatively new technology, only first developed in 2013, but it’s already seeing some impressive developments.

Panels equipped with TLSC can be molded in the form of thin transparent sheets that can be used further to create windows, smartphone screens, car roofs, etc. Unlike, traditional panels, transparent solar panels do not use silicone; instead they consist of a zinc oxide layer covered with a carbon-based IC-SAM layer and a fullerene layer. The IC-SAM and fullerene layers not only increase the efficiency of the panel but also prevent the radiation-absorbing regions of the solar cells from breaking down.

Surprisingly, the researchers at Michigan State University (MSU) also claim that their transparent solar panels can last for 30 years, making them more durable than most regular solar panels. Basically, you could fit your windows with these transparent solar cells and get free electricity without much hassle for decades. Unsurprisingly, this prospect has a lot of people excited.

According to Professor Richard Lunt (who headed the transparent solar cell experiment at MSU), “highly transparent solar cells represent the wave of the future for new solar applications”. He further adds that these devices in the future can provide a similar electricity-generation potential as rooftop solar systems plus, they can also equip our buildings, automobiles, and gadgets with self-charging abilities.

“That is what we are working towards,” he said. “Traditional solar applications have been actively researched for over five decades, yet we have only been working on these highly transparent solar cells for about five years. Ultimately, this technology offers a promising route to inexpensive, widespread solar adoption on small and large surfaces that were previously inaccessible.”

Recent developments in the field of transparent solar cell technology

Apart from the research work conducted by Professor Richard Lunt and his team at MSU, there are some other research groups and companies working on developing advanced solar-powered glass windows. Earlier this year, a team from ITMO University in Russia developed a cheaper method of producing transparent solar cells. The researchers found a way to produce transparent solar panels much cheaper than ever before.

“Regular thin-film solar cells have a non-transparent metal back contact that allows them to trap more light. Transparent solar cells use a light-permeating back electrode. In that case, some of the photons are inevitably lost when passing through, thus reducing the devices’ performance. Besides, producing a back electrode with the right properties can be quite expensive,” says Pavel Voroshilov, a researcher at ITMO University’s Faculty of Physics and Engineering.

“For our experiments, we took a solar cell based on small molecules and attached nanotubes to it. Next, we doped nanotubes using an ion gate. We also processed the transport layer, which is responsible for allowing a charge from the active layer to successfully reach the electrode. We were able to do this without vacuum chambers and working in ambient conditions. All we had to do was dribble some ionic liquid and apply a slight voltage in order to create the necessary properties,” adds co-author Pavel Voroshilov.

Image credits: Kenrick Baksh/Unsplash

PHYSEE, a technology company from the Netherlands has successfully installed their solar energy-based “PowerWindow” in a 300 square feet area of a bank building in The Netherlands. Though at present, the transparent PowerWindows are not efficient enough to meet the energy demands of the whole building, PHYSEE claims that with some more effort, soon they will be able to increase the feasibility and power generation capacity of their solar windows.   

California-based Ubiquitous Energy is also working on a “ClearView Power” system that aims to create a solar coating that can turn the glass used in windows into transparent solar panels. This solar coating will allow transparent glass windows to absorb high-energy infrared radiations, the company claims to have achieved an efficiency of 9.8% with ClearView solar cells during their initial tests.

In September 2021, the Nippon Sheet Glass (NSG) Corporation facility located in Chiba City became Japan’s first solar window-equipped building. The transparent solar panels installed by NSG in their facility are developed by Ubiquitous Energy.  Recently, as a part of their association with Morgan Creek Ventures, Ubiquitous Energy has also installed transparent solar windows on Boulder Commons II, an under-construction commercial building in Colorado.

All these exciting developments indicate that sooner or later, we also might be able to install transparent power-generating solar windows in our homes. Such a small change in the way we produce energy, on a global scale could turn out to be a great step towards living in a more energy-efficient world.

Not there just yet

If this almost sounds too good to be true, well sort of is. The efficiency of these fully transparent solar panels is around 1%, though the technology has the potential to reach around 10% efficiency — this is compared to the 15% we already have for conventional solar panels (some efficient ones can reach 22% or even a bit higher).

So the efficiency isn’t quite there yet to make transparent solar cells efficient yet, but it may get there in the not-too-distant future. Furthermore, the appeal of this system is that it can be deployed on a small scale, in areas where regular solar panels are not possible. They don’t have to replace regular solar panels, they just have to complement them.

When you think about it, solar energy wasn’t regarded as competitive up to about a decade ago — and a recent report found that now, it’s the cheapest form of electricity available so far in human history. Although transparent solar cells haven’t been truly used yet, we’ve seen how fast this type of technology can develop, and the prospects are there for great results.

The mere idea that we may soon be able to power our buildings through our windows shows how far we’ve come. An energy revolution is in sight, and we’d be wise to take it seriously.

Dissociative identity disorder.

Being multiple people: Diving into Dissociative Identity Disorder

If I could choose two personalities for myself, I’d go with Elon Musk and your friendly neighborhood SpiderMan but unfortunately, that’s not at all how Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) works.

Individuals who experience multiple personalities as a result of DID don’t have control over the kind of personalities they have to contend with. However, researchers have also noticed that some DID patients can use their different personalities as a mental shield against the traumatic memories of their past. 

A woman in makeup with two different facial expressions. Image credits: Elīna Arāja/pexels

DID stands as one of the most controversial psychological disorders, with some researchers even arguing that DID is a hoax without any scientific basis. However, a Harvard study busted this idea, along with other speculations on the legitimacy of DID as a mental illness. Although there is still a lot of debate about DID, researchers mostly don’t doubt its validity as a mental illness.

Apart from the cases documented scientifically (which are surprisingly scarce), numerous cases have been reported in different parts of the world, suggesting that the occurrence of multiple identities may be more common than once believed, and may be associated with mental health conditions. Which begs the question: what exactly is this condition?

What is dissociative identity disorder? 

When a person develops two or more identities of his own that often results in disconnected behavior involving memory gaps, he or she is said to be suffering from DID, which is also referred to as split personality or multiple-personality disorder (MPD). Unfortunately, 70% of patients who suffer from DID are prone to suicidal thoughts and self-harm. According to a relatively small study from the US, DID affects about 1.5% of the world population — which still makes it a relatively rare condition, but is much more common than some of the other syndromes reported in psychiatric literature.

Generally, each identity of a DID patient has a name, habits, liking, dislikings, age, and thought process. It is also possible that two identities of the same person may hate each other. The shift from one identity to another is called switching, and some DID patients can undergo switching multiple times in a single day. These changes may be associated with memory loss and confusion. PTSD is also not uncommon in patients.  

A DID patient has at least two distinct and relatively enduring personality states but can have multiple ones. These various personalities control the person’s behavior at different times and can be associated with memory loss, depression, or delusions.

Why do people have dissociative identity disorder? 

Sometimes, a person is unable to process any more mental stress so their brain may see dissociation as the only way of coping with all the trauma that they are experiencing. As a result of this, they create different personalities (as a psychological response), in order to dissociate the original identity from the traumatic experience. The occurrence of these multiple personalities eventually leads to DID.

People who go through painful life-threatening experiences, physical violence, emotional breakdown, or sexual abuse during their childhood (according to a shocking report, about 90% of DID patients have been victims of sexual abuse when they were kids), and those who suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are more likely to have Dissociative Identity Disorder.

Image credits: Charly Pn/Unsplash

Common symptoms of DID include episodes of disorientation and memory loss, depression, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, delusions, hallucinations, emotional detachment, substance abuse, etc. It has been observed that increased levels of stress and substance abuse can make the condition of DID patients worse.

Unfortunately, there’s no cure per se for DID, but its symptoms can be limited to some extent using different treatments (such as psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and adjunctive therapy) but in most cases, the patient has no option but to learn to adapt and live with the multiple personalities that he or she experiences. The effectiveness of DID treatment also depends on a patient’s mindset, family environment, early diagnosis, and awareness. Therapy is also important for this type of treatment, and with the right treatment and therapy, many people with DID can learn to cope and live normal lives.

If a patient receives treatment soon after the traumatic experience that’s causing him to show DID symptoms, then the probability of him being able to control the disorder increases. Ironically, there is no particular test to diagnose DID and often its symptoms are either confused with other mental disorders or remain unnoticed until the patient becomes an adult. 

The behavior of parents, friends, and other people around a DID patient also affects the dissociative behavior. A good emotional support system can make the patient live happily and comfortably even with different identities, whereas a stressful environment can escalate the condition and even provoke a patient to cause self-harm. 

Some famous DID cases

Dissociative identity disorder is a rare but very unique psychological condition, and this is why many cases of DID in the past have grabbed a lot of media attention. Recently, in an interview with Economic Times, American actress AnnaLynne McCord also revealed that she has been diagnosed with DID. Here are some of the most high-profile cases of DID:

  • In his book Breaking Free: My Life with Dissociative Identity Disorder, American footballer Herschel Walker admits to having an alter ego named “Warrior” whom he believes is the reason behind his great sportsmanship abilities. He also talks about his other personality “Hero”, according to Walker, Hero has helped him manage his public image. The footballer won 1982’s Heisman Trophy but he claims that due to DID, he has no memory of winning the trophy.
  • A DID patient Kim Noble is believed to have over 100 personalities. She also appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. However, according to Kim, it wasn’t her but mostly Patricia (her most dominant personality), who talked to Oprah during the show. In an interview with The Guardian, her alter identity Patricia also revealed that Kim goes through three to four switches every day.  
  • Psychiatrist Richard Baer claims that he has helped his patient Karen Overhill in overcoming the episodes from her 17 different identities. In his book, Switching Time: A Doctor’s Harrowing Story of Treating a Woman With 17 Personalities, Dr. Baer reveals that Karen had come to her as a patient of depression but during her treatment, he came across her different identities that resulted as a mental response to being herself abused by both her dad and grandfather during her childhood. The treatment process that involved hypnosis and various other psychological techniques ran for more than 20 years.

The bottom line

Ultimately, there is much we still don’t know about this condition. It appears to be more common than you’d expect and is often linked to trauma or other mental conditions. For some patients, DID can also be a defense mechanism through which their brain protects them from the overwhelming traumas and horrors that they had to face as a kid.   

Hopefully, as more research is coming, we can better understand and enable people suffering from it to live a normal, healthy life. At least two such trials are currently underway, and several others have been recently finished.

Test tube baby population: from 1 to a few million in less than 50 years

The idea of so-called “test-tube babies” (technically called in vitro fertilization) is not new, but it has developed and matured incredibly rapidly — up to the point where in developed countries, it’s become a fairly routine procedure. The technique can help with fertility problems, enabling millions to conceive a child.

But the technique can be used for even more things than just conceiving. The method has been used to screen for embryos carrying hereditary genetic diseases, and even for features that are unrelated to diseases, such as sex selection — which has raised a number of ethical questions and concerns. 

A new born baby.
Image credits: Jan Canty

IVF is the same process that was once employed in the late 1970s to give birth to the world’s first test-tube baby, and since then it has come a long way. 

When a couple is unable to conceive children naturally (whether it’s due to physiological or reproductive issues), doctors carry out the artificial fertilization of their sperm and egg under laboratory conditions. This external lab-based fertilization is called IVF and the baby born from using this method is colloquially referred to as a test-tube baby.

Until now, about eight million children have been born by IVF globally — but IVF is not just limited to childbirth. Entrepreneurs and many medical experts believe that IVF could also play a key role in human genetic engineering, genetic diagnosis, and numerous other advanced medical technologies in the future. For these reasons, the technology has garnered a fair share of critics.

History of IVF and the first test tube baby

In 1891, Cambridge University professor Walter Heape performed the first-ever mammal embryo transfer. More than 50 years later, American scientists John Rock and Miriam Menkin introduced the concept of biochemical pregnancy by extracting and fertilizing oocytes (immature eggs) and sperm cells in-vitro.

In 1958, a paper concerning in-vitro fertilization was published in Nature by researchers Anne Mclaren and John Bigger, this was the first study that proposed that fertilization outside of a woman’s body as possible. The following year, biologist M.C. Chang performed a successful experiment involving the birth of a live rabbit using in-vitro fertilization, this groundbreaking achievement led to a spree of in-vitro fertilization experiments across the globe. Things were moving quickly and already, researchers started to look forward to the world’s first “test-tube baby”. But the time was not ripe yet.

In-vitro fertilization using human gametocytes (the precursors of male and female reproductive cells) would not be performed until 1973, when a team of Australian embryologists (Alan Trounson, Carl Wood, John Leeton) created a biochemically conceived human embryo that survived for just a couple of days. The same year, American gynecologist Landrum Shettles also tried to perform a human IVF experiment but he had to cancel the same due to unknown reasons. Then, it finally happened.

In November 1977, Lesley Brown along with her husband Peter Brown decided to conceive a child through IVF. The couple had their gametocytes fertilized on a laboratory dish at Dr. Kershaw’s Hospice in Royton, England under the supervision of Dr. Patrick Steptoe, Dr. Robert Edwards, and embryologist Jean Purdy. About nine months later, Lesley gave birth to the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Joy Brown on July 25, 1978.

The published news of first test tube baby.
The birth of Louise Brown became the headline. Daily Mail issue published on July 27, 1978.

Just two months after Louise’s birth, a second test-tube baby was born in Kolkata, India. The newborn girl was named Durga and Dr. Subhash Mukharjee and embryologist Sunit Kumar Mukharjee were responsible for her conception through IVF.

Both Louise and Durga (official name – Kanupriya Agarwal) are now 43 years old and mothers of naturally born children. Louise’s younger sister Natalie was also born through IVF and she was the first IVF-born person to give birth to children. 

For his exceptional work in the field of in-vitro fertilization, Robert Edwards was awarded the 2010’s Nobel Prize in Medicine. Steptoe and Purdy had passed by that time so they were not eligible for the award.

IVF Facts

In-vitro fertilization taking place.
In-vitro fertilisation (IVF). Image credits: DrKontogianniIVF/Pixapay

IVF has enabled hundreds of thousands of families to have children of their own, the assisted reproductive technology (ART) has emerged as the most successful treatment for infertility. However, there are various shocking myths and facts associated with test-tube babies that make it a controversial subject as well:

  • IVF has been a subject of debate among various religious communities. The Catholic Church and many Sunni Islamic scholars have not been in the favor of IVF because they believe that assisted reproductive techniques are immoral and interfere with the natural process of reproduction. Several religious groups are against the practice.
  • Unmarried couples and people having certain types of contagious medical conditions are not allowed to undergo IVF in China. In India, IVF is allowed to conceive children but prenatal sex discernment (detecting the sex of fetus) through IVF is a punishable crime.
  • In the US, pineapple (the fruit) has emerged as a symbol of hope among many couples facing infertility or undergoing IVF treatment. People tend to believe that by eating pineapple, the probability of them being pregnant increases. However, there is no scientific evidence or research that validates this belief. 
  • Many people also happen to believe that there is no risk of ectopic pregnancy when a couple conceives a child through in-vitro fertilization. This is not true because research reveals that while the possibility of ectopic pregnancy in IVF is between 2 and 8.6%, it is only 1 to 2% in the case of natural conception.
  • There is plenty of room for IVF to grow, and it likely will. In the US alone, infertility affects 10% of women, and approximately 1.9% of all infants born in the United States every year are conceived using assisted reproductive techniques.
  • Plenty of factors affect IVF success rates, but the most important factor determining success rates is a woman’s age. However, while complications are not uncommon after the age of 40, women much older can give birth through IVF. Until recently, Adriana Iliescu from Romania held the record for as the oldest woman to give birth using IVF and a donor egg, when she gave birth in 2004 at the age of 66. In September 2019, a 74-year-old woman became the oldest-ever to give birth after she delivered twins at a hospital in Guntur, Andhra Pradesh.
  • In the US, the average IVF. cycle can cost anywhere from $12,000 to $25,000. Prices may vary in other parts of the world, but this remains a relatively expensive technique.

Impact and future of the test-tube baby technique  

Apart from families coping with infertility, the test tube method has also allowed same-sex couples, single individuals, and overaged life partners to conceive children. IVF techniques have made parenthood accessible to more human beings than ever before.

Many couples who earlier faced infertility are now enjoying parenthood due to IVF treatment.
A mother playing with her child at the beach. Source: Pixabay/pexels

According to a report, the IVF market is expected to value around $25.56 Billion by the year 2026. Increasing delayed pregnancy among the youth, rising birth success rate, and growing acceptance for IVF also indicate that the test tube baby technique (along with other ART methods such as artificial insemination, surrogacy, etc) is going to be more popular in the coming years.

The birth success rate of test-tube babies has also increased considerably over the years and now stands at 52% (for people below the age of 35 years). During IVF treatment, doctors are able to choose an embryo that is least likely to carry genetic disorders. Moreover, scientists are now trying to go one step further, they are looking for ways through which they can manipulate the genes of in-vitro embryos so that genetically superior individuals could be born. Needless to say, many other scientists (and important parts of civil society) are strongly against this idea.

Concerns still loom regarding the potential use of IVF and related techniques for eugenics — the improvement of the embryo by the selection of desired hereditary traits. If you could make your baby more likely to be tall, intelligent, and have blue eyes, would you? Millions likely would, but this opens up a can of worms that many researchers and philosophers fear could steer humanity towards a darker path that could spiral out of control and lead to discrimination and in the long term, increase the risk of our species going extinct due to less richness in the gene pool.

Ultimately, technology has had a significant and positive impact on humanity, and will likely continue to have a bigger and bigger impact as technology progresses. The debate around what’s acceptable for IVF is still not settled, and the discussion will likely continue for decades and centuries. It’s up to researchers and civil society to try to steer the technology into a continuously positive direction and stay clear of dystopian applications.

Futuristic transparent smartphone.

Are transparent phones close to becoming a thing?

We’ve seen smartphones change drastically over the years, is going transparent the next stage of their evolution? We’re not sure yet, but companies seem to be taking it seriously.

Futuristic transparent smartphone.
Image credits: Daniel Frank/Unsplash.

A few tech giants have already received patents for their respective transparent phone designs, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re already working on transparent smartphones. The problem is that this type of design not only requires changes in the design or one particular part of the device but it asks for a complete makeover. 

From the display to cameras, sensors, and circuitry, phone engineers might have to make each and every component transparent if they wish to develop a true lucid smartphone — or assemble them in such a way that those components don’t overlap with the transparent screen. This is definitely not going to be easy, but if they somehow achieve this difficult feat, this might revolutionize other gadgets around us as well.

Furthermore, the advent of transparent smartphones may lead us towards the creation of transparent televisions, laptop screens, cameras, and a whole new generation of transparent gadgets. No surprise, such cool gadgets would make the current devices look like ancient artifacts (at least, in terms of appearance).

Are there any real-life transparent smartphones yet?

Well, not quite.

Although they’re not exactly like the ones you may have seen in The Expanse, Real Steel, or Minority Report, some companies have tried to develop transparent phones — not smartphones — or at least make them partially transparent. Although they were ahead of their time, some designs were actually pretty impressive.

In 2009, LG introduced the GD900, a stylish slider phone that was equipped with a see-through keyboard, it is considered the world’s first transparent phone. The same year, Sony Ericsson launched Xperia Pureness, the world’s first keypad phone with a transparent display. 

A look at LG GD900, world's first transparent phone.
LG GD-900, the first phone with a transparent design. Image credits: LG전자/flickr

Despite its unique design, the Xperia phone received poor ratings from both critics and users due to its poor display visibility and it didn’t turn out to be a very successful product. A couple of years later, Japanese tech company TDK developed transparent bendable displays using OLEDs (organic light-emitting diodes). 

In 2012, two other companies in Japan (NTT Docomo and Fujitsu) joined hands to develop a see-through touch screen phone, and they did come up with a prototype that also had a transparent OLED touchscreen. The following year, Polytron Technologies from Taiwan, released some information about a transparent smartphone prototype they developed. Though the camera, memory card, and some motherboard components in this Polytron device were clearly visible, the phone almost looked like a piece of transparent glass. 

The see-through display technologies demonstrated by TDK, Docomo, and Polytron were impressive but for reasons that are not entirely clear, they never became a part of the mainstream touch phones.

Concept image of Samsung galaxy transparent smartphone.
A concept image of Samsung’s transparent smartphone. Image credits: Stuffbox/Youtube

However, the most exciting developments concerning transparent smartphones have happened much more recently.  In November 2018, WIPO (World Intellectual Property Office) published Sony’s patent for a dual-sided smartphone transparent display, reports reveal that Sony is soon going to use this see-through display design in its upcoming premium range smartphones. The next year, LG received a smartphone design patent from USPTO (the United States Patent and Trademark Office) that shined a light on the company’s plans for a foldable transparent smartphone. However, LG has also said they will stop making phones because the market is too saturated — so it’s unclear whether something will actually come of this design.

Leading tech manufacturer Samsung is also said to be in the process of developing a see-through smartphone. According to a report from Let’s Go Digital, The company had a patent (concerning a transparent device) published on the WIPO website in August 2020. The same report also reveals that in the coming years, Samsung aims to launch smartphones and other gadgets in the market (under its popular Galaxy series) that would come equipped with a transparent luminous display panel.

Are transparent smartphones even practical?

Just because big brands like Sony, LG, and Samsung are working on different projects related to transparent smartphone technology, it doesn’t mean we’re close to seeing actual see-through phones very soon. Many tech experts believe that while transparent smartphones may sound like a futuristic idea, they may not be feasible, for several reasons.

Surprisingly, one of the main challenges with transparent smartphones is the camera. You can definitely make transparent displays using OLEDs, but what about the rear and front-side cameras? There is no known way by which a phone engineer can make camera sensors go transparent. The same goes with other parts like SIM cards, memory chips, and speakers, if these components are still visible in a see-through phone then it is no better than the Polytron prototype of 2013. So while there’s a realistic chance of transparent-screen phones becoming a reality, how exactly a fully transparent phone would be built is not at all clear.

Another issue that users might face with transparent smartphones is poor display visibility. The screens used in current smartphones may not be transparent but they offer clear and sharp picture quality, whether you use them under bright daylight or in the dark. Transparent displays might not be able to deliver such a flawless visual experience, and users may even struggle to see the text or images clearly on a see-through screen in daylight conditions.

Until and unless these major issues are resolved, we probably won’t be able to see transparent smartphones in the market. But why would we even want one? Well, there are some merits to transparent smartphones. For instance, the notification and alerts could look more clear and more distinct on a transparent screen, and such a display might be conveniently used in a divided manner to use different applications at the same time. 

Moreover, you could use both sides of a see-through display; this would facilitate multitasking and save a lot of time. For example, you are watching an educational video or recipe on YouTube and you are noting down points from the same in a different tab. With a double-sided transparent screen, you don’t need to close your video tab every time you need to switch to another tab, you can just flip your phone to jump to the tab you want to use.

Transparent smartphones might also bring a drastic improvement in the way you experience augmented reality. The screen which serves as a barrier between your real and virtual worlds if becomes transparent, then you may not need an AR app to see virtual elements in the real world. The transparent screen itself may act as an AR simulator but then again such a screen may not be able to give you as good virtual imagery as you experience on a normal display.

Let’s face it: transparent phones would be very cool, but we’re not quite there yet. We can geek out about them as much as we want, but a transparent smartphone still requires a healthy amount of innovation that might take some time to evolve. With how quickly technologies are progressing, though, we may see them in the not too distant future.

Cluster of satellites in Earth's orbit.

Space junk is becoming a problem and we need to talk about it

When we think about junk, things like garbage bins or landfills come to mind — but there’s another junk problem, one that’s hard to see with the naked eye from the Earth. Space junk, researchers warn, is a growing problem, and if we don’t address it quickly, it may soon be too much to handle.

Satellites revolving around the earth. Image credits: ESA

There are a total of 6,542 satellites that are currently occupying Earth’s orbit, but only half of them are actually doing something. The other half are inactive — they’re simply junk. To make matters even more problematic, over 1,200 satellites were launched in 2020 — this marks a record, but generally speaking, we could expect more and more satellites to be plopped into orbit.

Now, imagine one day Earth’s orbit becomes overcrowded and two such large satellites hit each other. Both the satellites would get broken into smaller pieces that would further clash with other satellites and trigger a series of unstoppable collisions and a lot of junk pieces flying around. This has happened a few times already.

Due to these collisions, our planet’s orbit gets more and more cluttered with debris, to the extent that eventually, we will end up having no room to launch more rockets and satellites. Such a situation in which Earth’s orbit becomes completely unusable because of large amounts of space junk is referred to as Kessler syndrome — a phenomenon first envisioned by NASA scientist Donald J. Kessler in 1978.

Fortunately, we’re not at that stage yet. For now, space junk does not seem like a big problem but aerospace experts suggest that in the coming years, the number of satellite launches and space missions could increase dramatically, and this is likely to add more junk to space and make Earth’s orbit more crowded than ever. Simply put, if we don’t start taking action quickly, it will soon be too late.

What is space junk and why it’s dangerous?

Space junk is a generic term. Unusable satellite parts, rocket components, and debris of man-made machines in space are called “space junk”. Until now, NASA has tracked 27,000 such items that are aimlessly moving in Earth’s orbit. This orbital debris can move at a speed of 24,000 km/h (15,000 mph), and therefore any such fast-moving piece of junk can hit and destroy a functional satellite or a passing by rocket at any time.  

A graphical representation of debris in Earth’s orbit. Image credits: NASA

We’re already seeing some of this damage in action. In March 2021, the 18th Space Control Squadron (18SPCS), a space control unit under the US Space Force confirmed that a small debris piece named Object 48078 hit China’s Yunhai 1-02 satellite. According to Astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, Object 48078 was a remnant of Zenet-2, a Russian rocket that was launched in the year 1996. McDowell further added that the “Yunhai 1-02 satellite broke up” after the collision. 

“Finding ways to remove at least some of all that space junk should be a top global priority.”

Donald Kessler, Retired NASA Scientist

However, such collisions due to space junk are still rare. Before the Yunhai 1-02 crash, the last collision reported was in 2009. Moreover, such collisions can be prevented by mission controllers by adjusting the position of a satellite. Every year many satellites are manoeuvered multiple times in order to avoid collision with space junk, even the International Space Station (ISS) has performed more than 20 junk avoidance maneuvers since its launch in 1998.

The space junk problem does not seem like a big issue for now but if not dealt with properly, it may lead to chaos in our planet’s orbit in the future — chaos that will be extremely difficult to address.

A small but growing problem

Before 2010, only around 100 satellites were launched every year but in the year 2020, for the first time, more than 1000 satellites were sent to space. The numbers continue to increase in 2021 as well because so far, 1400 new satellites have already been placed in orbit this year. 

Moreover, in the early days of space exploration, there used to be only a few agencies that would send satellites into space — like NASA, Roscosmos, and the European Space Agency. Nowadays, active private players like SpaceX and Blue Origin have created a boom in the aerospace industry and are launching more and more satellites. These companies are planning to launch mega-constellations (groups of satellites that cover large orbital area) in Earth’s orbit to provide wireless broadband internet services across the globe, in the coming years — an exciting project that is bound to help millions around the world, but which also poses new threats to the problem of space junk.

These mega-constellations would bring an unprecedented increase in the number of satellites revolving around Earth (a report suggests that the Earth’s orbit may have 100,000 satellites by 2030). With every launch, the amount of space junk will also increase making the orbit more congested. As a result, both the existing and new satellites will have to perform more collision avoidance maneuvers. 

Therefore, more fuel and resources would be spent on saving the satellites from space junk. Sooner or later, with an increasing number of space missions, the growing amounts of space junk might raise the frequency of outer space collisions and over the course of time, it could ultimately cause the Kessler syndrome.

Is it possible to free Earth’s orbit of space junk?

Cleaning up space junk is not as easy as it sounds. For starters, imposing a ban doesn’t seem like a promising idea.

Rockets are launched to explore space and collect information about other planets in our galaxy, whereas, man-made satellites are placed in Earth’s orbit in order to facilitate communication, navigation, military assistance, earth observation, weather forecast, mineral search, and many other activities that hold great importance for humans. Therefore, banning space missions and new satellite launches is obviously not a solution.

ELSA-d (End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration). Image credits: Astroscale/Wikimedia Commons

Cleaning our planet’s orbit is both an expensive and complicated process. However, researchers and space agencies are working on this and they keep coming up with new and interesting methods to remove space junk from Earth’s orbit.

Around 2012, a group of researchers working at EPFL (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) came up with the idea of a special satellite (called CleanSpaceOne) that could attach itself to a targeted piece of space junk and drag the same back towards earth. The researchers proposed that during its journey to Earth, both the satellite and space junk would be burnt by the atmospheric heat.

This idea sounds promising, but it will also be costly, and bringing down satellites one at a time will be very time-consuming.

In 2016, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency sent an electrodynamic tether in space that could direct space junk towards Earth’s atmosphere by using the planet’s magnetic field. A couple of years later, the Surrey Space Center in the UK launched the RemoveDEBRIS project in April 2018, this project was focused to encourage and demonstrate various space junk removal technologies. Under the RemoveDEBRIS initiative the effectiveness of methods involving net, harpoon, and drag sail for catching space junk was tested.

Researchers at Purdue University also developed a drag sail named Spinnaker3 in 2020. This powerful drag sail is an efficient and cost-effective way to deal with space junk as it does not require any fuel during its operation. Moreover, it can drag even rocket-sized space debris back to Earth’s atmosphere so that they get destroyed in peace. Spinnaker3 is expected to launch in November 2021 on a Firefly rocket.

A concept image of CleanSpaceOne chaser. Image credits: Lucpiguet/Wikimedia Commons

Astroscale, an orbital junk removal company from Japan, launched the ELSA-d (End-of-Life Services by Astroscale-demonstration) satellite in March 2021. This advanced debris removal system uses magnetic satellite catching technology to pick small inactive satellites from Earth’s orbit. ELSA-d successfully completed its first satellite capturing test on August 25, 2021, and it is now moving on to the next phases of its space junk removing process.  

The bottom line

As is generally the case, prevention is better than cure. In the case of space junk, it’s not yet a big problem — but by the time it becomes a big problem, it may be too big to handle efficiently, which is why it’s best to act as quickly as possible.

Aerospace experts are following this closely and if their research is supported, we’ll likely soon see effective waste-management strategies for space — and by the time we’re ready to go on our first interplanetary picnic, we’ll have a clean, green (hopefully), and beautiful orbital view.

Flyboard Air from Zapata.

Hoverboards are now real — and the science behind them is dope

What could be the coolest way of going to work you can imagine? Let me help you out. Flying cars — not here yet. Jetpacks — cool, but not enough pizzaz. No, there’s only one correct answer to this question: a hoverboard.

A whole generation of skateboarders and sci-fi enthusiasts (especially Back to the Future fans) have been waiting for a long time to see an actual levitating hoverboard. Well, the wait is over. The future is here. 

Franky Zapata flying on Flyboard Air. Image credits: Zapata/YouTube.

There were rumors in the 90s that claimed hoverboards had been invented but were not made available in the market because some powerful parent groups are against the idea of flying skateboards being used by children. Well, there was little truth to those rumors — hoverboards haven’t been truly developed until very recently. No longer a fictional piece of technology, levitating boards exist for real and there is a lot of science working behind them.

A hoverboard is basically a skateboard without tires that can fly above the ground while carrying a person on it. As the name implies, it’s a board that hovers — crazy, I know.

The earliest mention of a hoverboard is found in Michael K. Joseph’s The Hole in the Zero, a sci-fi novel that was published in the year 1967. However, before Michael Joseph, American aeronautical engineer Charles Zimmerman had also come up with the idea of a flying platform that looked like a large hoverboard.

Zimmerman’s concept later became the inspiration for a small experimental aircraft called Hiller VZ-1 Pawnee. This bizarre levitating platform was developed by Hiller aircraft for the US military, and it also had a successful flight in 1955. However, only six such platforms were built because the army didn’t find them of any use for military operations. Hoverboards were feasible, but it was still too difficult to build them with the day’s technology.

Hoverboards were largely forgotten for decades and seemed to fall out of favor. Then, came Back to the Future.

A page from the book Back to the Future: The Ultimate Visual History. Image credits: /Film

The hoverboard idea gained huge popularity after the release of Robert Zemeckis’s Back to the Future II in 1989. The film featured a chase sequence in which the lead character Marty McFly is seen flying a pink hoverboard while being followed by a gang of bullies. In the last two decades, many tech companies and experts have attempted to create a flying board that could function like the hoverboard shown in the film.

Funnily enough, Back to the Future II takes place in 2015, and hoverboards were common in the fictional movie. They’re not quite as popular yet, but they’re coming along.

The science behind hoverboards

Real hoverboards work by cleverly exploiting quantum mechanics and magnetic fields. It starts with superconductors — materials that have no electrical resistance and expel magnetic flux fields. Scientists are very excited about superconductors and have been using them in experiments like the Large Hadron Collider.

Because superconductors expel magnetic fields, something weird happens when they interact with magnets. Because magnets must maintain their North-South magnetic field lines, if you place a superconductor on a magnet, it interrupts those field lines, and the magnet lifts the superconductor out of its way, suspending it into the air.

A magnet levitating above a high-temperature superconductor, cooled with liquid nitrogen. Image credits: Mai Linh Doan.

However, there’s a catch: superconductors gain their “superpowers” only at extremely low temperatures, at around -230 degrees Fahrenheit (-145 Celsius) or colder. So real-world hoverboards need to be fueled with supercooled liquid nitrogen around every 30 minutes to maintain their extremely low temperature. 

All existing hoverboards use this approach. While there has been some progress in creating room-temperature superconductors, this technology is not yet ready to be deployed in the real world. But then again, 30 minutes is better than nothing.

Some promising hoverboards and the technology behind them

In 2014, an inventor and entrepreneur Greg Henderson listed a hoverboard prototype Hendo hoverboards on the crowdfunding platform Kickstarter. The Hendo hoverboard could fly 2.5 cm above the ground with 300 lb (140 kg) of weight but just like maglev trains, it required a magnetic track made of non-ferromagnetic metals to function. 

The hoverboard followed magnetic levitation, a principle that allows an object to overcome gravitation and stay suspended in the air in the presence of a magnetic field. However, the hoverboard didn’t go into mass production because Henderson used the gadget only as a means to promote his company Arx Pax Labs.

A year later, another inventor (Cătălin Alexandru Duru) developed a drone-like hoverboard prototype (which is registered under the name omni hoverboard) and using the same approach, he set a Guinness World Record for covering maximum distance with an autonomous hoverboard. During his flight, Alexandru covered a distance of about 276 meters and reached a height of 5 meters. 

ARCA CEO Dumitru Popescu controlling his ArcaBoard through body movement. Image Credits: Dragos Muresan/Wikimedia Commons

In 2015, Japanese auto manufacturer Lexus also came up with a cool liquid-nitrogen-filled hoverboard that could levitate when placed on a special magnetic surface. The Lexus hoverboard consists of yttrium barium copper oxide, a superconductor which if cooled down beyond its critical temperature becomes repulsive to magnetic field lines. The superconductor used both quantum levitation (and quantum locking) to make the hoverboard perfectly fly over a magnetic surface.

The same year in December, Romania-based ARCA Space Corporation introduced an electric hoverboard called ArcaBoard. Being able to fly over any terrain and water, this rechargeable hoverboard was marketed as a new mode of personal transportation. The company website mentions that ArcaBoard is powered by 36 in-built electric fans and can be easily controlled either from your smartphone or through the rider’s body movements.   

Components in an ArcaBoard. Image Credits: ARCA

One of the craziest hoverboard designs is Franky Zapata’s Flyboard Air. This hoverboard came into the limelight in the year 2016 when Zapata broke Cătălin Alexandru Duru’s.Guinness World Record by covering a distance of 2,252.4 meters on his Flyboard Air. This powerful hoverboard is capable of flying at a speed of 124 miles per hour (200 km/h), and can reach as high as 3000 meters (9,842 feet) up in the sky. 

Flyboard Air comes equipped with five jet turbines that run on kerosene and has a maximum load capacity of 264.5 lbs (120 kg). At present, it can stay in the air for only 10 minutes but Zapata and his team of engineers are making efforts to improve the design further and make it more efficient. In 2018, his company Z-AIR received a grant worth $1.5 million from the French Armed Forces. The following year, Zapata crossed the English Channel with EZ-Fly, an improved version of Flyboard Air.

While ArcaBoard really went on sale in 2016 at an initial price of $19,900, Lexus Hoverboard and Flyboard Air are still not available for public purchase. However, in a recent interview with DroneDJ, Cătălin Alexandru Duru revealed that he has plans to launch a commercial version of his omni hoverboard in the coming years.

Future Homes

What’s in a futuristic house? 3D printing, automation, among many others

Futuristic houses will hopefully be more energy-efficient — like the Passive House presented here. Image via Wikipedia.

When it comes to futuristic technology, people tend to think about things like flying cars, robots, or virtual reality but the technological advancement that is likely to affect our future lifestyle the most is related to our homes.

No matter how far you’d travel in your flying car or how much time you’d spend in a virtual environment, you will still spend a big chunk of your time inside your home sweet home. Fortunately, our houses are also starting to embrace futuristic tech.

The advent of 3D printing, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and sustainable energy has given birth to numerous exciting prospects for a futuristic house — and many of such ideas are already in the early stages of development. However, technological development is not the only reason behind the various new futuristic homes and city concepts that we’ve come across. Things like climate change, increasing carbon footprint, pandemics,  population growth, desertification, global warming, work from home culture, and many more, are also forcing humans to transform the way in which we live and manage the space around us.  

Interior designers, architects, and inventors are already taking strides towards numerous future home technologies that would not only provide comfort and safety but also reduce the negative impact that our homes have on the environment. Here are just some of the most fascinating future home innovations.

Arcology Habitat, New Orleans.
New Orleans Arcology Habitat. Image credits: Ahearn Shopfer/Wikimedia Commons

Home automation

You’ve probably heard about the Internet of Things (IoT), a system that enables wireless collection and exchange of data between various devices that are connected to each other via the internet. Home automation (also known as smart home or smart living technology) is also based on IoT, equipping your home with a powerful central unit that controls every aspect of your home.

Electric appliances, light settings, temperature, water supply, door locks, and everything else inside your home can function in an automated fashion under the supervision of a centralized system, which can be accessed remotely. You can turn the heat on and off with a click on your smartphone, or set up automated routines to help you through your day. Sensors can pick up on potentially dangerous leaks, while your smart fridge could let you know when you’re running low on fruits.

We’re already starting to see this happen. Things like Samsung SmartThings Hub, Amazon Echo Dot, Adobe Iota, Apple Homepod are already popular smart home devices used in millions of households. In the US, 39 million people own a smart speaker, and 80% of American families own at least one smart TV in their homes — and we’re only scratching the surface of what home automation can do.

Smart home gadgets.
Image credits: Brandon Romanchuk/Unsplash

People do not buy smart home devices only for comfort and entertainment, but also for safety purposes, as smart home technology offers real-time video surveillance, medical emergency alerts, automated pet care, and many other options that promise to keep homes friendlier and safer than ever. For people with mobility problems, automated cabinets, doors, or home elevators could help them navigate their house with less effort, offering much-needed independence. Automated secure systems could also help, as opening and closing the door can be quite annoying when you’re in a wheelchair.

Routine medical scans could also become a part of our futuristic houses. If you think about it, we flush a good deal of medical information every day. Researchers believe that not long into the future, smart toilets could monitor our urine and poo, scanning for markers or signs of any disease.

Floating homes to lessen the burden on land

A floating house in Lake Cumberland. Image credits: Sealle / Wikimedia Commons

Over 200 million people worldwide live along coastlines less than five meters above sea level — and rising sea levels are a major problem for many of the families living in these areas. Michael Saavedra, a home developer from Hollywood, witnessed this challenge first-hand in Miami, Florida. His solution was to create a budget-friendly floating home solution called Hauser boat (although there are floating homes in Florida, they cost millions of dollars). Capable of providing protection against fluctuating sea levels, heavy rainfall, and even hurricanes, the Hauser boat is an ingenious innovation that can solve the housing problems faced by many communities living in coastal regions. 

Maldives Floating City.

The Maldives, an island nation in the Indian subcontinent, is also working on a similar solution — but they’re taking it to the next level. The country has recently hired Dutch Docklands (an international floating infrastructure developer) to build a floating city. The government of Maldives is worried about the effects of climate change that the island nation could face in the coming years, as over 80% of the country’s 1,000 plus islands are less than 1 meter above sea level and very vulnerable to sea-level rise. So through this initiative, they are planning to establish a network of floating buildings and structures that could withstand the rising sea levels and house thousands of families.

Planned to be built on a large lagoon, the floating city of Maldives will have markets, schools, grocery stores — everything you’d expect from a regular city. According to the local authorities, renewable energy sources such as solar power will be used to meet the energy demands of the city. 

Earthquakes, tides, storms, hurricanes cause a lot of destruction, and every year thousands of people die and millions of families have to leave their homes due to such disasters. Therefore, floating home technologies similar to what has been undertaken by Michael Saavedra and the Maldives Government could turn out to be a great solution to mitigate the losses that occur due to climate change-driven tragedies.

So the future house should be able to protect you from the elements — and with climate change, in particular, that is set to become more and more challenging.

Vertical farms and gardens

Mankind’s expansion is taking a big toll on the environment. Among the problems caused by our relentless urbanization is deforestation. Deforestation is happening in many parts of the world on a large scale, and this further leads to several environmental risks such as water scarcity, pollution, extinction of species, loss of biodiversity, global warming, limited availability of natural resources, etc.

But cities, one of the main drivers of deforestation, may soon be part of the solution — and your house could also help.

A green building. Image credits: Danist Soh/Unsplash

In 1969, Italian architect Paolo Soleri introduced arcology, a remarkable construction concept that combines the elements of a city and a forest to create an ecologically balanced modern space. 

Soleri envisioned scattered forests and lush green areas within large buildings such as malls and offices, farmlands operating on roofs, residential areas creatively designed around dense vegetation, and many other arcological themes, which if implemented in the real world, might mitigate the harmful consequences of deforestation. Arcosanti city in Arizona is an experimental township that was designed by Paolo Soleri in the 70s to demonstrate the application of arcology in the real world.

Recently, Milan city in Italy has launched Forestami, a tree plantation project that aims to grow three million trees by the year 2030. Under this ambitious reforestation initiative, new trees will be planted not just in the city’s streets, gardens, and open spaces but also on skyscrapers. Architect Stefan Boeri, who is heading the project Forestami, has previously designed Bosco Verticale, a pair of tall residential buildings in Milan which also function as a vertical urban forest supporting 900 trees. From LA’s community garden to Berlin’s flower meadows and Sydney’s city farms, there are numerous green housing and green city projects going on in different parts of the world that resembles Soleri’s visionary arcology concept.   

Vertical farming is also emerging as an important option for our cities. The idea with vertical farming is you grow crops indoors, vertically instead of horizontally. This would use up fewer resources and would offer cities a way to grow their own food, rather than bringing it from farther away (which could help reduce traffic and greenhouse gas emissions).

Image via Wiki Commons.

Several vertical farming projects are already underway in several parts of the world. In theory, it all sounds good, so there’s a good chance future homes will get their food from a skyscraper nearby — or maybe even grow it themselves.

3D printed houses

In January 2021, for the first time, a 3D printed house was put on sale. The futuristic house features three bedrooms, a garage, two bathrooms, and a kitchen. Moreover, 3D printed homes built using the same technology are being provided to poor families in Mexico by a nonprofit organization — and it was already cost-competitive with other houses in the area. 

3D housing is a growing sector with the potential to simplify the construction process and overcome budget-related issues often faced by developers and buyers. To 3D print a durable house, you don’t need as much heavy machinery as in a conventional concrete building assembled by humans — you just need a specialized 3D printer and some basic raw materials such as concrete and polymers. This could also make it more sustainable than current building practices.

According to real estate experts, the 3D house market may double in the next five years and 3D-printed houses could become more and more common.   

Image credits: Joel Filipe/Unsplash

Future of futuristic homes

A recent report suggests that NASA is working with LSU engineering on a 3D printing-based construction technology that would be used for building structures on the Moon. NASA sees 3D printing as a fast, efficient, and low-budget technology to boost infrastructure activities on both the Moon and Mars.

Moreover, the smart home market is believed to cross the mark of $130 billion by 2026. For the future, our cities and homes need to be designed in a thoughtful manner so that they could make the best use of smart and green home technologies. Such an architectural approach is essential for reducing the carbon footprint, promoting sustainability, and living a balanced lifestyle.

Retro-futurism and why it matters: a foray into alternative futures seen from the past

Whether it’s flying cars or flying through the stars, retrofuturism has fascinated mankind for decades, and it’s not hard to see why. But we’re still coming to terms with what retrofuturism is and what it means for our society.

people riding pink car
It’s hard to give a fixed definition to retrofuturism, but it’s one of those things you immediately recognize when you see it. Image credits: NeONBRAND/Unsplash

What is retrofuturism

Retro-futurism isn’t some complex scientific phenomenon but rather a blend of science, fiction, and art. If futurism is a type of science, forecasting what may come, then retrofuturism is looking back and recalling what that anticipation was like. Think of how people in the 1920s imagined the world a century on.

In a sense, retrofuturism works as a retrospection for our society, but surprisingly or not, it often leads to innovations, creative ideas, and products that you see or hear about in your daily life. A recent example of a retro-futuristic prototype is Tesla’s Neuralink, a brain chip that can augment the human brain. We also see it in architecture, urban design, and inventions such as self-driving cars or space suits.

In retrofuturism, science and technology meet nostalgia and it all comes with a distinctive aesthetic flavor — the type you easily recognize when you come across it. Sometimes, retrofuturism becomes a sort of “faux nostalgia” — a nostalgia for a future that never happened. It’s hard to pin down exactly what is and isn’t retrofuturism, but let’s see what you’d generally find in this current.

You can also look at retrofuturism as a future that never happened. ‘Ship’s Cat’ by Keith Spangle

Most commonly, retrofuturism can be summarized as the future seen from the past, though sometimes it also incorporates the notion of past seen from the future.

It’s common for many of us to wonder what the future will look like and have things like this pop up into mind. How long do I need to wait for flying cars or a transparent smartphone? Will there be a weekly sale event for cybernetic body parts with heavy discounts? Perhaps, I will be able to rent an apartment on Mars; maybe just on the Moon. Many such weird and exciting speculations about the future also give birth to retro-futurism, a concept that allows us to depict the existence of futuristic technology in an earlier time period.

But what’s interesting is that when we look at retrofuturism art (especially from the past, but sometimes also in modern and real-life examples), it sometimes looks exactly like real life, while other times it looks completely different.

Retrofuturistic example from Shanghai.

In the broadest sense, retrofuturism is a current present in all sorts of media (books, movies, comics, etc) that imagines a type of future “seeded” from a particular present. It’s all that could have happened if we designed things in a particular way — which is why retrofuturism is more than just an artistic current, it’s a way to envision how different world designs could look like.

The types of retrofuturism

From entertainment to fashion, and technology, the cultural impact of retro-futurism in our world is profound and can be understood through its various sub-genres that are reflected from time to time in the popular media.

Retrofuturism can itself be split into several currents. There are several variants, depending on what era you start from and what theme you focus on. Many of the general trends are owed to the early science fiction works of the likes of Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, as well as the space race of the 20th century. However, retrofuturism has branched out into several different styles, although there’s no official classification.

  • Cyberpunk

A dark and dystopian retro-future with all the advanced technology that we can ever imagine but still the world is filled with misery, pain, and chaos because evil organizations control the future. This genre is heavily explored in video games, comics, and popular movies like Tron, Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner series, etc. Electronic music, funky clothing styles, and low-key fashion accessories based on the cyberpunk theme are quite popular retro-futuristic themes.

  • Atompunk

From shiny thunderbird cars to thirst-quenching soda fountains and fashionable chunky glasses, the 1950s were vibrant and full of glamour. Surprisingly, atompunk adds more interesting elements to the retro-futuristic version of the 1950s, the thunderbirds fly and often come equipped with jet propellers, the industries run on clean nuclear power, and the city life is faster than ever with bullet trains.  

Person Wearing White Astronaut Suit
Image credits: Pixabay/pexels.

T-shirts, fashion accessories, and magazines printed in the atom punk theme are adored by fans in the US and beyond. However, the most popular depiction of atom punk is found in Fantastic Four comics, Sean Connery’s James Bond films, and famous cartoon shows such as Dexter’s Laboratory.  

  • Alternate History 

What if Einstein is erased from history? How would our lives have been without the internet? Answering such questions, alternate history has always been a popular genre among writers and especially fiction lovers, it explores changed versions of real historical events and reveals the connected consequences. Hundreds of published books including bestsellers such as Stephen King’s 11/22/63 and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Years of Rice are based on this intriguing idea.  

  • Steampunk

From aspirin to electric batteries and cameras, the 19th century marks an era that drastically transformed the human lifestyle. This was an incredible time when steam engine trains ran full speed and new industries emerged. Steampunk refers to a future that is based in 19th-century settings with grand steam-powered machines (such as steam aircraft, steam cannons, etc) at play.

The origin and cultural influence of retro-futurism

Although people have likely imagined what the future would look like since the dawn of time, the crystallized retrofuturism current is relatively recent.

According to many digital publications, the concept was first ever discussed in a late 1960s book named Retro-Futurism authored by T. R. Hinchliffe. However, not enough evidence or historical records exist in the present to validate this fact. However, although it didn’t have a name, retrofuturism was still present way before that.

This illustration by Grant E. Hamilton ran in the February 16, 1895 issue of Judge magazine.

In the year 1983, an ad about Bloomingdale’s jewelry got published in the New York Times. This was no ordinary piece of advertisement because first, it goes like this – “silverized steel and sleek grey linked for a retro-futuristic look”, and second, the Oxford English Dictionary clearly mentions this ad as the earliest recorded use of a term related to the concept of retro-future.

Filmmakers, designers, artists, and game developers have been actively using retro-futurism as a theme for their artistic creations and products. Whether it is Marty McFly’s future visit in 1989’s classic hit Back to the Future II or the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, many fictional and real-world events depict retro-futurism in ways you may never know.

City of the future, 1936.

Ultimately, retrofuturism serves as an art current, but it can play a surprisingly important role: by showing us what our world could have looked like but doesn’t, it’s highlighting how our societal expectations and decisions change in time. By looking at different versions of our future, we can get a better idea of what our present is and how our society is shaped. Hopefully, when we take a deep look into that societal mirror, we’ll like what we see.