We keep an eye on the latest technology developments so you don’t have to. Here are some of the things we’ve spotted recently that are changing our world - or at least, helping us raise a smile in challenging times.

Walking the (robot) dog

Their dystopian videos of Atlas the gymnastic robot and Spot the dog have made Boston Dynamics the world’s best known robotics company, but an initiative by Formant, who make robot-controlling software, gives Spot a rather cuddlier makeover, offering the general public the chance to take him for walkies through San Francisco. A human handler stays by Spot’s side, but you can use a joystick to control his movements and decide where he goes if you are one of the lucky people selected to have a go on Formant’s platform. https://www.cnet.com/news/i-walked-the-boston-dynamics-spot-robot-dog-remotely-and-only-crashed-once-formant/

Solar gliders connecting remote communities

Solar power will help populations in remote areas stay connected, if Softbank subsidiary HAPSMobile has its way. The rather beautiful SunGlider has been undergoing testflights at SpacePort America in New Mexico, and has been gradually flying higher and higher. It is designed to carry telecommunications payloads all the way up to the stratosphere, where it can fly at that altitude for months at a time. SunGliders are designed to link to each other in large networks and with each providing connectivity to an area of 200 square km, it is easy to see how remote areas could be provided with vital communications. https://newatlas.com/aircraft/solar-powered-sunglider-testing-spaceport-america/

Build your own satellite tracker for $100

There was once a time when ham radio was the only option for nerds of all ages who wanted a low-cost hobby built around the communications network. Now, shed-based hobbyists have a more high-tech option: an open-source satellite tracking system costing just $100. Red Balloon comes with some basic hardware, plus an API that allows you to program and follow the orbit of satellites of your choice and communicate with them. The project’s backers hope that in addition to being an absorbing individual hobby, groups of enthusiasts will be motivated to crowdsource their findings. https://www.wired.com/story/nyansat-open-source-satellite-tracker/

VR painting as performance

Virtual reality is changing the way we think about many traditional pursuits - and there is nothing like seeing a painter making bold colourful strokes that swirl around her to produce bold 3-D objects, to help us realise that we are barely scratching the surface of what is possible. Anna Zhilyaeva, aka Anna Dream Brush, presents her artworks like theatrical performances: the aesthetics are less cutting-edge than the technology [Google’s Tilt Brush], but the overall effect is mesmerising: https://www.annadreambrush.com/tiltbrush/chatting-with-summers-elf-mixed-reality-painting-video/

Who owns your DNA?

Researching one’s family tree via genealogy networking sites has become a popular pastime, especially when combined with ancestry-focused DNA testing. However, news that private equity giant Blackstone has bought the popular Ancestry.com - along with its huge DNA database - should give us all pause for thought. This makes Blackstone the majority owner of the largest consumer database of human genetic and genealogical information in the world, and raises interesting questions about who really owns the most private of our personal data. https://futurism.com/the-byte/private-equity-bought-largest-consumer-dna-database

Your vertical-takeoff taxi is waiting for you

We’re used to seeing electric cars, buses and even trucks on our roads. But how about electric flying taxis? This might sound like something out of Blade Runner, but with startups like Munich-based Lilium pushing ahead with their plans to launch passenger flights by 2025, current air-safety legislation has to evolve to meet these new developments. In May this year, the European Union Aviation Safety Agency published their guidance on how new categories of VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) aircraft should meet safety standards, showing that science fiction is fast becoming reality in this area: https://techcrunch.com/2020/06/08/lilium-adds-35m-from-baillie-gifford-at-a-1b-valuation-for-its-electric-aircraft-taxi-service/