Self-healing hybrid spacesuit among 18 new futuristic NASA proposals

12 Apr 2019

Image: © chagpg/

This week in future tech, NASA backs 18 different space exploration projects, while New York’s facial recognition tech fails miserably.

US space agency NASA is to fund 18 studies under its NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) programme to determine the feasibility of some truly out-there technologies for future space exploration.

In a release, NASA said that these funded technologies have “the potential to transform human and robotic exploration of other worlds”. Some of the standout proposals include a self-healing spacesuit that would be substantially more manoeuvrable than current ones, ‘solar surfing’ for future sun missions and a Venus lander charged by a floating power generator.

“Our NIAC programme nurtures visionary ideas that could transform future NASA missions by investing in revolutionary technologies,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “We look to America’s innovators to help us push the boundaries of space exploration with new technology.”

Those awarded backing under the first phase of the NIAC are given $125,000, with those in phase two receiving $500,000. Later this year, one of these proposals will move to a phase three study with an award of up to $2m.

New York antiterrorism facial recognition tech fails at first attempt

The New York Metropolitan Transport Authority (MTA) has been testing facial recognition technology with the aim of using it to spot drivers found on a terrorist watchlist. However, The Wall Street Journal has reported that a trial run on the Robert F Kennedy Bridge was a complete failure.

Over the course of 2018, the technology failed to detect a single face “within acceptable parameters”, but the MTA said it would continue to trial it at the bridge and in tunnels across the city. The biggest issue seems to be the speeds at which the cars are travelling, making it difficult for the cameras to pick up a clear image of a person’s face.

However, the concept remains controversial, with Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella earlier this year warning people about the outcomes of a failure to regulate facial recognition technology.

UK team reaches major milestone in revolutionary rocket engine

An air-breathing rocket engine concept called Sabre, designed by Reaction Engines in the UK, has just achieved a record level of performance. According to the BBC, the novel design would allow space planes to reach orbit and allow jetliners to travel across the globe in a matter of hours.

Its most recent demonstration has shown it to be capable of flying at more than three times the speed of sound. However, the team is confident that the jet-rocket hybrid engine can achieve five times the speed of sound in flight conditions.

“We’re now able to prove many of the claims we’ve been making as a business, backed up by very high-quality data,” said the company’s CEO, Mark Thomas.

“In this most recent experiment, we’ve near-instantaneously transferred 1.5MW of heat energy – the equivalent of 1,000 homes’ worth of heat energy.”

APAC region to spend $35.4bn on smart cities in 2019

Tech Wire Asia reports that Singapore, Hong Kong and Melbourne are among a group of cities in the Asia Pacific (APAC) region to spend more than $35bn on smart cities initiatives this year.

A recent forecast from market intelligence firm IDC said that the amount to be spent this year will be a 16.8pc increase on last year. Hardware is expected to account for 40pc of the overall smart cities spending, followed by services, software and connectivity.

IDC’s APAC senior market analyst for IT spending, Swati Chaturvedi, said: “APAC is an epicentre of innovation, and governments are finally realising and focusing their energy and investments on smarter technological choices so that cities across the region can manage growth and ever-increasing market opportunities.”

Another recent study, entitled ‘IESE Cities in Motion 2018’, also showed APAC cities were ahead of the curve in spending and development when compared with the rest of the world.

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Updated, 4.30pm, 12 April 2019: This article was amended to clarify that those eligible for funding in phase one of the NIAC programme will receive $125,000, not $250,000.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic