Thanks to Supersonic Flight, We May Be Able to Cross the Atlantic in Half the Time

Supersonic Flight’s Rocky Past

We are one step closer to an affordable reboot of supersonic flight. Japan Airlines (JAL) has invested $ 10 million in the Denver-based aerospace company, Boom Supersonic, that’s planning to resurrect the method of travel. In exchange for their funding, JAL will be able to pre-order 20 of the new aircraft. The airline’s president, Yoshiharu Ueki, said in a press release from December 5: “Through this partnership, we hope to contribute to the future of supersonic flight with the intent of providing more time to our valued passengers while emphasizing flight safety.”

It’s been 14 years since British Airways and Air France grounded their Concorde fleets, and commercial air travel hasn’t hit supersonic speeds since. Fourteen of these planes ferried first-class passengers from New York to London at speeds of 1,353 mph (2177.44 kph) — twice as fast as the speed of sound — making the jaunt across the pond in only 3.5 hours. That’s about half the time it takes a normal passenger plane to cross the Atlantic Ocean.

Supersonic flight was pioneered by this Concorde jet.
British Airways Concorde G-BOAC. Image Credit: Eduard Marmet via Wikimedia Commons

But the supersonic travel industry was hampered by prohibitive costs. Not only did it need four times as much fuel per passenger as a Boeing 747 airbus, but the average cost of a round-trip ticket was $ 12,000. Passenger numbers also dropped dramatically after the fiery crash of Air France Flight 4590 in Paris killed everyone on board.

A “Baby” Concorde

“We’ve been working with Japan Airlines behind the scenes for over a year now,” said Blake Scholl, founder and CEO of Boom Supersonic in the press release. The companies have been collaborating to improve the plane’s design for passengers on board in addition to technical aspects.

JAL is only one of Boom’s financial backers. In 2016, British billionaire and founder of the Virgin Group Richard Branson agreed to buy the first 10 of these jets. He also promised that his spaceflight company, Virgin Galactic, would assist with flight test support.

With Branson’s and now JAL’s support, Boom Supersonic is aiming to build a faster, cheaper version of the Concorde. The company’s FAQ says it aims to have its supersonic airliner in service by 2023, designed so it “can operate profitably while charging the same fares as today’s business class.” These potential cuts to the cost of supersonic flight might make the industry more accessible to less wealthy passengers.

“We are talking about the first supersonic jet people can afford to fly,” Scholl told Wired UK earlier this year. “This isn’t science fiction. We are actually doing this. You will be able to fly New York to London in three-and-a-half hours for $ 5,000 (£3,548) return,” he said.

The company’s supersonic prototype, the XB-1 Supersonic Demonstrator, is scheduled to fly in 2018. Nicknamed “Baby Boom,” it’s one-third the size of what the commercial option will look like. It will fly at speeds of 1,300 mph (2092.15 kph) — exceeding two times the speed of a jumbo jet. The full-sized one will reach 1,700 mph (2735.89 kph).

JAL could use their 20 new jets, seating up to 55 passengers each, to plan flights between Tokyo and North America. While a standard flight from San Francisco to Tokyo takes 11 hours, a supersonic jet might make the trip in half the time.

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Amazon Music Unlimited expands to 28 more countries, where you’ll also be able to order an Echo

Amazon’s paid music streaming service, Music Unlimited, has been live for a little over a year. Since its launch in the US, it has rolled to a few additional countries like the UK, Germany, Austria, and Japan, but today marks its largest expansion to date: 28 countries are getting Amazon Music Unlimited.

I know you’re looking for the list, so before I babble on about what Music Unlimited is, here are the countries getting AMU:

  • Belgium
  • Bolivia
  • Bulgaria
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cyprus
  • Czech Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Estonia
  • Finland
  • Greece
  • Hungary
  • Iceland
  • Latvia
  • Liechtenstein
  • Lithuania
  • Luxembourg
  • Malta
  • Netherlands
  • Panama
  • Peru
  • Poland
  • Portugal
  • Slovakia
  • Sweden
  • Uruguay

If you live in one of these countries and you’re wondering what you get with Music Unlimited, here’s the quick rundown: 40 million songs, unlimited ad-free streaming, personalized playlists and stations, new releases, new worldwide playlists, with the options to listen on the web, iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Echo devices, and FireTV.

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Amazon Music Unlimited expands to 28 more countries, where you’ll also be able to order an Echo was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Google’s Tez app will soon be able to process bill payments

A couple of months back, Google introduced a brand new mobile payments app exclusive to India. The country’s banking landscape is a little different to many of the territories that currently have access to Android Pay, and so it needed a different approach. Until now, Tez has only been able to pay participating merchants or transfer between users, but it will soon be possible to pay utility bills, too.

According to Google, Tez has handled 140 million transactions in its first ten weeks and has more than 525,000 businesses signed on to accept payments.

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Google’s Tez app will soon be able to process bill payments was written by the awesome team at Android Police.

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Thanks to a New Study, We May Be Able to Stop HIV in Its Tracks

Stuck in Place

There are several steps HIV-1 must go through in the process of infecting the body, but the most important is the invasion of an immune cell and enters its nucleus. From there, HIV-1 can take control of the cell and begin to replicate, which allows it to spread. Knowing this, one question that researchers have been asking for quite some time is, what if HIV-1 could be stopped before it makes it into a cell? Or even if the virus could be slowed down enough that the body’s immune system, and treatments that support it, had time to could get a head start on its attempts to destroy it?

A recent study conducted at Loyola University Chicago suggests this could be done, and it starts with the microtubules tracks the virus uses to get to the nucleus, as well as a protein known as bicaudal D2. The findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

HIV-1 tends to move quickly through the body. So quickly, in fact, that it doesn’t give the body enough time to react to or even detect its presence. The virus reaches the immune cell’s nucleus by way of microtubules and attaches itself to bicaudal D2, which calls upon a molecular motor called a dynein to move along the microtubules. You could say that HIV-1 uses bicaudal D2 as a boarding pass for the biological train that will take it nonstop to its final destination within the cell: the nucleus.

That being said, if HIV-1 doesn’t have that protein, it essentially becomes stranded.

“By preventing its normal movement, we essentially turned HIV-1 into a sitting duck for cellular sensors,” explained Edward M. Campbell, Ph.D., corresponding author of the study and associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology of Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

Unwanted Exposure

The study carried out by Campbell and his team opens up the possibility of creating a drug that can prevent HIV-1 from binding to bicaudal D2. As explained by Medical Express, the introduction of such a drug would leave HIV-1 stranded in the cytoplasm — an area within the immune cell that’s thick with proteins and mitochondria. The virus must navigate through the cytoplasm to reach the nucleus, but it’s not an easy journey.

“Something the size of a virus cannot just diffuse through the cytoplasm,” said Campbell. “It would be like trying to float to the bathroom in a very crowded bar. You need to have a plan.”

Interrupting that trajectory could play a key role in future HIV treatments, or a cure. As Kristen Lanphear, Manager in Community Health Initiatives at Trillium Health, previously told Futurism, “No one tool is going to be enough to do the job because every tool doesn’t work the same for every person or every country.”

This new development is notable in that it could, theoretically, be used in combination with treatments that already exist, such as the vaccine being tested in Africa, or the antibody capable of fighting off 99 percent of HIV strains.

For the nearly 40 million people living with HIV, this research is promising. Of course, as with any new drug, the one proposed in Campbell’s study still needs more testing to determine its effectiveness and safety, particularly in terms of how it might interact with other treatments.

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We May Be Able to Use Waves to Power Our World

About a mile offshore from Kaneohe Bay on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, a yellow, doughnut-shaped contraption bobs up and down with the motion of the ocean. The hulking device, as wide as a school bus is long, looks a bit like a massive buoy or life raft. In fact, it’s a wave energy converter — one example of a new renewable energy technology that transforms ocean waves into electrical power.

The Lifesaver, as the device is known, is full of gears, cables, and sophisticated electronics. But while other renewable energy devices (like wind turbines and solar panels) are relatively mature technologies, wave energy converters represent a nascent technology. If wind energy has a graduate degree, says Luis Vega, manager of the Hawaii National Marine Renewable Energy Center that’s testing the Lifesaver, “wave energy is still in the first grade.”

But Vega and other experts see big things for wave energy. If they’re right, arrays of wave energy converters moored along coastal regions of the U.S. will be providing power to millions of homes in coming decades.

A Thousand Variations

What these devices will look like — and exactly how they will work — is anybody’s guess. The Lifesaver has an onboard electrical generator driven by the up and down motion of cables that stretch from the bottom of the device to the ocean floor.

Other converters resemble large snakes and harness wave energy via hydraulic systems activated by the movement of jointed segments; still others resemble giant underwater metallic balloons and feature pumps that pressurize seawater to power a hydroelectric turbine back on shore. Some operate close to shore and are visible from land, while others operate in deeper waters.

There are more than a thousand different wave converter designs, says Reza Alam, a wave energy researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. Adds Ted Brekken, an energy systems researcher at Oregon State University, “The simple fact is that we’re not at a point yet where there’s a dominant technological paradigm. It may be that there might not be one.”

One thing is clear: Wave energy is a vast, untapped resource that could help reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Key Advantages

Like solar and wind power, wave power harnesses energy that comes ultimately from the sun. Solar radiation causes air pressure gradients that cause wind, and wind gives its momentum to the ocean surface, producing waves. As Alam puts it, “Wave power is a very dense form of solar power.”

Just how dense? Every square meter of a solar panel receives 0.2 to 0.3 kilowatts of solar energy, Alam says, and every square meter of a wind tower absorbs 2 to 3 kilowatts. Every meter of the California coast receives 30 kilowatts of wave energy.

Wave energy has another advantage over solar and wind. Waves are easy to forecast, Brekken says. And unlike solar, which works only in daylight hours, wave energy can be harnessed 24/7.

Wave power is provided by buoys.
Carnegie’s CETO technology captures the up and down movement of buoy to drive a pump which delivers high pressure water to drive an onshore hydro electric turbine. Image Credit: Carnegie Clean Energy

The latest research suggests that wave energy in the U.S. could produce up to 1,170 terawatt-hours a year, or nearly one-third of the country’s total electricity usage. Recognizing this vast potential, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is investing heavily in wave energy. Last year, the DOE awarded $ 2.25 million to winners of a wave energy converter design challenge and $ 40 million to Oregon State University for a new grid-connected wave energy testing facility.

Hurdles Abound

Brekken offers a cautious assessment of the real-world potential of wave energy, predicting that it will ultimately contribute about 6 percent of the nation’s total electricity production (similar to hydropower).

Such caution stems, in part, from the many engineering hurdles that must be overcome before wave power becomes viable. The marine environment, with all the water, high winds, and violent waves, is tough on even the most robust devices. And deploying and testing wave converters requires vessels and divers, which only add to the cost of deploying the devices.

Given these and other challenges, it may take a decade to develop converters that marry efficiency and economy. “It just depends on how much funding we can put into [developing the technology],” Vega says. “But we have to do it because we are going to run out of fossil fuels eventually.”

Why Wave Power May Be the Next Big Thing in Green Energy was originally published by NBC Universal Media, LLC on November 24, 2017 by Joseph Bennington-Castro. Copyright 2017 NBC Universal Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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