Science and IT news

World’s first "solar panel road" opens in France

Forget solar roofs. The world’s first solar road is here, in the small village of Tourouvre-au-Perche in Normandy, France. The 1 kilometer road was opened yesterday by French Ecology Minister Ségolène Royal and could generate enough electricity to power the street lights. That might not sound very impressive for 30,000 square feet of solar panels — and it kind of isn’t, especially for its $5.2 million price tag. The panels have been covered in a silicon-based resin that allows them to withstand the weight of passing big rigs, and if the road performs as expected, Royal wants to see solar panels installed across 1,000 kilometers of French highway. There are numerous issues, however. For one, flat solar panels are less effective than the angled panels that are installed on roofs, and they’re also massively more expensive than traditional panels. Colas, the company that installed the road, hopes to reduce the cost of the panels going forward and it has around 100 solar panel road projects in progress around the world. Solar Roadway is another company looking at building roads with solar panels, and it installed a small number of panels at the Route 66 Welcome Center in Conway, Missouri earlier this year. Still, they’re facing the same seemingly insurmountable cost problems as Colas and the French. Maybe those solar roofs from Tesla are the better way to go after all. theverge.com

South Korea KSTAR tokamak operates in high plasma mode for a record of 70 seconds

The Korean Superconducting Tokamak Advanced Research (KSTAR) tokamak-type nuclear fusion reactor has achieved a world record of 70 seconds in high-performance plasma operation, South Korea's National Fusion Research Institute (NFRI) has announced. The institute, based at Daejeon, 160 km south of Seoul, said a fully non-inductive operation mode - called a "high poloidal beta scenario" - has been used to achieve this long and steady state of operation using high-power neutral beam. It said various techniques, including a rotating 3D field, have been applied to alleviate the accumulated heat fluxes on the plasma-facing components. "The world record for high-performance plasma for more than a minute demonstrated that the KSTAR is the forefront in steady-state plasma operation technology in a superconducting device," NFRI said in a statement today. "This is a huge step forward for realization of the fusion reactor." In addition, the institute said, KSTAR researchers also succeeded in achieving an alternative advanced plasma operation mode with the internal transport barrier (ITB). This is a steep pressure gradient in the core of the plasmas due to the enhanced core plasma confinement. NFRI said this is the first ITB operation achieved in the superconducting device at the lowest heating power. nextbigfuture.com

Adidas' latest 3D-printed running shoe will cost you $333

3D printing has proven to be useful across many different areas, including the creation of lifestyle products for consumers. Adidas, for one, began toying with the idea of 3D-printed footwear in recent years, which led to the introduction of its Futurecraft 3D concept in 2015. But the German sportswear company doesn't want to stop there. Today, it announced that it will be selling a 3D-printed running shoe for the first time, albeit in limited-edition form. Not to crush your enthusiasm early on, but these are going to be hard to get. The 3D Runner, as the shoe is named, features a similar design as the one Adidas gifted its medal-winning athletes during the 2016 Rio Olympics. It has a black Primeknit upper, like what what you see on Yeezys or Ultra Boosts, and a midsole made from 3D-printed materials -- that's the main highlight here. Unfortunately, you'll only have the chance to buy a pair if you live in New York City, London or Tokyo, with pricing set at $333. Those of you in NYC can try reserving tomorrow via the Adidas Confirmed app, which is available for iOS and Android, and then pick up your pair at the brand's new flagship store on 5th Avenue. Meanwhile, people in the other two cities can try their luck on Thursday, December 15th. While the 3D Runner seems expensive, the truth is if you miss out at launch, it'll end up on the resell market for hundreds of dollars above its original MSRP. engadget.com

Indian Startup Plans to Land on the Moon in January 2018

An Indian aerospace startup has said that it will launch its mission to the moon in a year’s time, as it takes part in a Google-funded competition to become the world’s first-ever privately held company to make a soft landing there. A group of more than 100 scientists and engineers, including around a dozen former ISRO scientists, make up Axiom Research Labs’ Team Indus. The team is India’s only entry in the Google-funded Lunar XPrize challenge, which has a bounty of $30 million. To win the prize, a team has to successfully place a spacecraft on the moon’s surface, travel at least 500 meters and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. “A full launch vehicle from ISRO [Indian Space Research Organization] will launch our spacecraft into the orbit of the moon end of 2017,” Rahul Narayan, the fleet commander of the team, said at a news conference in New Delhi on Thursday. The Team Indus spacecraft is expected to make it to the moon’s Mare Imbrium region by January 2018. The race is on. Sixteen other teams from across the world want to make the 238,900-mile trip, and Team Indus is the fourth team to announce its launch plans, said Mr. Narayan. “We are considering the team from Israel great competition at this point,” he said. The Indian team’s plan is the country’s first shot at becoming the fourth nation to land gently on the lunar surface and unfurl its national flag, after the U.S., Russia and China. “We’ve already raised about $15 million through private equity,” said Julius Amrit, co-founder and director. The company aims to raise $20 million by charging companies or universities to put their instruments on board to collect data. It also expects to raise another $20 million from sponsorship, donations and grants. Its top investors include Ratan Tata, chairman of the Tata group, one of India’s biggest conglomerates; Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Indian outsourcing firm Infosys; and the owners of e-commerce website Flipkart Internet Pvt. Ltd. “We are quite confident at this moment that we will have enough money to send our spacecraft to the moon,” Mr. Amrit said. The Bangalore-based startup won a million dollar prize from Google last year for its WALL-E lookalike moon rover, which will shoot high-quality images, video and data and beam them from the moon’s surface to the company’s mission center in India. But the mission isn’t without its challenges. “If you have to softly land, you need to be able to [precisely] manage your velocity and time [to switch your engines on and off],” said Dhruv Batra, Program Lead at Team Indus. “Unfortunately, there is no throttle-like mechanism in a spacecraft, like you have in a car.” Another challenge is to be able to land at the right time of the day—to make sure the solar panels are able to power the gadgetry, while making sure the temperature isn’t too extreme for the batteries and other electronics to work properly. “We are currently refining each and every output of our simulations to arrive at that level of precision we need,” said Mr. Batra. Seven years ago, Team Indus was one of the last teams to sign up for the Google challenge, and its founders had no prior experience in aerospace engineering or space sciences, said Mr. Narayan, the fleet commander. “It was just a dream.”