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Engineers Test Hyperloop's Levitating Sled

Hyperloop's sled actually works. Also, a marijuana breathalyzer; and DARPA's brain-machine interfaces.

Researchers Work on Weed Breathalyzer

You can now legally smoke weed in at least 28 states for recreational or medicinal purposes. Now, this isn't counting cities that just turn a blind eye to recreational marijuana use, but with ongoing widespread use, law enforcement is looking for a better way to test to see if a driver is under the influence. After all, you can’t really collect blood or urine on the side of the road.

Until now, it's been difficult to measure THC with a breathalyzer. Why? Because this is a booze molecule, and this is weed. Ethyl alcohol is easier to measure, because it has a simpler molecular structure than delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive compound in marijuana.

This hasn't stopped many companies from trying. After all, it would likely mean a financial windfall. But a group of researchers at the NIST may have found a way to measure THC with the help of PLOT-cryo. PLOT-cryo is the technique invented in 2009 for those puffer machines that smell you for explosives at the airport. The researchers used the technique to determine THC’s vapor pressure. You need vapor pressure because that is how breathalyzers measure the amount of THC molecules in your blood based on your breath.

More work has to be done before we can manufacture a reliable solution, but the researchers at NIST have made some important strides toward consistent marijuana breathalyzers. Reliability and consistency will be key, especially when your guilt or innocent depends on it.

DARPA Strives Towards Brain-Machine Interface

Earlier this week, DARPA announced that it awarded contracts to five research organizations and one company to as part of a $65 million effort to support its Neural Engineering System Design (NESD) program. The NESD is DARPA's effort to develop an implantable neural interface between your brain and electronics. The effort is similar to the Elon Musk's Neuralink which is creating a "neural lace.”

The teams are working on a mix of fundamental research and applied science. For example, Brown University is working on neurograin sensors that would be implanted into your cerebral cortex and transmit neural and digital signals.

Columbia University is working on a non-penetrating bioelectric interface to the visual cortex. Basically, instead of an implantable into the brain, they would lay a CMOS IC over your cortex.

UC-Berkeley is working on a holographic microscope that would help the blind see again, or serve as a brain-machine interface to control an artificial limb.

And a team out of Yale is collaborating with Rice engineers who have built a prototype of a flat microscope that will sit on your brain, and detect optical signals from neurons in the cortex. The goal is to provide an alternate path for sight and sound to be delivered directly to the brain.

We plan on colonizing new planets and parts of the brain, I just hope that we know what we’re doing once we get there.

Hyperloop Unveils Test Footage; New Pod

In May, Hyperloop One engineers performed its first full scale system test of controlled propulsion and levitation of a Hyperloop One vehicle in a vacuum environment. And this week, for the first time, we were able to see footage from what they are describing as their Kitty Hawk moment.

The test only lasted 5.3 seconds in a tube with a pressure down to about five pascals. The sled reached 70 mph, but they were only testing 100 feet of the motor - the longer the motor, the faster the sled can go.

In comparison, the company is on the verge of a complete systems test at its DevLoop site in the desert north of Las Vegas. At the site, the company has nearly 1,000 feet of the linear motor in a 1,640-foot-long tube. The top speed on the test track will be around 250 mph.

This week, the company also unveiled the XP-1, the pod with a slick new paint job on its carbon fiber and aluminum aeroshell that sits on top of the levitating chassis. The XP-1 will be used for the upcoming tests at the DevLoop site.

According to the company, about 200 engineers, machinists, welders and fabricators worked together to achieve its Kitty Hawk moment, and I agree, it is certainly a moment to be proud. 

This is Engineering By Design with David Mantey.

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