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Google Looked Into Space Elevator, Hoverboards, and Teleportation 98

Posted by Soulskill
from the go-big-or-go-home-on-your-hoverboard dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Google has a huge research budget and an apparent willingness to take on huge projects. They've gotten themselves into autonomous cars, fiber optic internet, robotics, and Wi-Fi balloons. But that raises a question: if they're willing to commit to projects as difficult and risk as those, what projects have they explored but rejected? Several of the scientists working at Google's 'innovation lab' have spilled the beans: '[Mag-lev] systems have a stabilizing structure that keeps trains in place as they hover and move forward in only one direction. That couldn't quite translate into an open floor plan of magnets that keep a hoverboard steadily aloft and free to move in any direction. One problem, as Piponi explains, is that magnets tend to keep shifting polarities, so your hoverboard would constantly flip over as you floated around moving from a state of repulsion to attraction with the magnets. Any skateboarder could tell you what that means: Your hoverboard would suck. ... If scaling problems are what brought hoverboards down to earth, material-science issues crashed the space elevator. The team knew the cable would have to be exceptionally strong-- "at least a hundred times stronger than the strongest steel that we have," by Piponi's calculations. He found one material that could do this: carbon nanotubes. But no one has manufactured a perfectly formed carbon nanotube strand longer than a meter. And so elevators "were put in a deep freeze," as Heinrich says, and the team decided to keep tabs on any advances in the carbon nanotube field.'"
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Google Looked Into Space Elevator, Hoverboards, and Teleportation

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  • by Katatsumuri (1137173) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @05:54AM (#46765301)

    And more generally, if you are the world's leader in fetching, organizing and navigating the information, it puts you in a great position to jump on new trends.

    I believe Google's business plan goes like this:
    1. Master the world's information flow.
    2. Make some money in the process.
    3. Invest in promising new technology.
    4. Strengthen your competitive advantage even more.
    5. Massive profit.
    6. World domination.

    See? No "???" item.

    As a technocratic optimist, I am glad that this plan extends the human knowledge and power. But I'm also worried that this power will likely be concentrated in one mega-corporation.

  • by tlambert (566799) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:11AM (#46765347)

    Once thing they should look at is a city within a single mega-structure.

    Why should they build an Arcology, when there are already two in progress:

    Masdar City in Abu Dhabi: []

    Arcosanti North of Phoenix Arizona: []

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:28AM (#46765423) Journal
    There's a big difference between 'cautionary tale' and 'impossible' (indeed, 'cautionary tale' is one of the valuable tools that designers can use to make things possible and not fuck them up...); but anytime somebody proposes some arcology-style megastructure, I immediately think of all those (relatively modern, relatively upscale in terms of rent/unit area and clientele, office buildings that can't even maintain comfortable temperatures in many of their rooms, despite being built, by a single entity in the position to dictate the solution used, at a point in history where networked, digital, temperature sensors are nearly free compared to the price of putting up a decent, code-compliant, office building...

    That's obviously exactly the sort of problem that 'big data' people probably love, just throw a few more sensors in there, let us crunch the numbers and build an expert system to control the heating ducts, etc; but it's also an example of how even people who should know better, and who can afford to buy what they need to do better, fuck up so often it isn't even a surprise anymore. On an arcology scale, that sort of incompetence starts to edge into 'life-support failure' territory.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday April 16, 2014 @06:34AM (#46765453) Journal

    The things have more uses than space elevators. A thinner stronger cable is always going to have uses even if it's only a few metres.

    If we could fab them cheaply (and they don't turn out to be as carcinogenic as irradiated super-death-asbestos or anything), we'd probably use carbon nanotubes in everything. All sorts of neat thermal and electrical properties, strong as hell, just replace fiberglass with engineered carbon and feel the strength!

    However, (aside from the pure sci-fi value) I think the reason that space elevators get the attention is that, unlike many other things that are entirely doable with lesser carbon fiber, fiberglass, aramid, etc. but would be X% better with nanotubes; the going consensus seems to be "If you want to stretch a rope from earth to orbit, it has to be This Strong, and that really narrows the options down to carbon nanotubes and, um, um...

    The question of whether what we build with carbon fiber composites today will be better tomorrow is interesting; but its a 'difference of degree not of kind' sort of thing. 'Space elevator' vs. 'Haha, huddle in your gravity well like pitiful ants!' is a much more dramatic matter.

"Floggings will continue until morale improves." -- anonymous flyer being distributed at Exxon USA