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Fewer fields have witnessed advancements on the same scale as robotics. There have been many inspirations — from dogs to humans — for scientists and engineers to design a robot. We have seen these machines walk beside their owners, perform acrobatics, and even assist humans in identifying and lifting work in warehouses. That the robots can navigate through air, water, and land is a well-established fact, but a frontier that remained vastly unexplored for these machines is the ground under our feet. Now, a team of engineers at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) and Georgia Institute of Technology have designed a snake-like robot that has the ability to navigate underground.

The robot uses a wide range of methods to burrow beneath the earth in soft sand or soil. The study — Controlling subterranean forces enables a fast, steerable, burrowing soft robot — was published last month in Science Robotics.

Following the results, the team concluded a steerable, root-like soft robot that controls subterranean lift and drags forces to burrow faster than previous approaches by over an order of magnitude and does so through real sand. According to Science Robotics, the discovery, the team says, advances the understanding and capabilities of robotic subterranean locomotion.

Nicholas Naclerio, a graduate student researcher in the lab of UC Santa Barbara, said that the biggest challenge when it comes to moving through the ground is the forces involved, something the authors referred to in the abstract of their paper as well. “If you’re trying to move through the ground, you have to push the soil, sand or another medium out of the way,” Naclerio was quoted as saying by The Current, the official news site of UC Santa Barbara.

Many may find it surprising but this robot is not really a high-tech one and is made of airtight, ripstop nylon fabric. Naclerio said that the team drew inspiration directly from plant roots that grow from their tips to extend deep into the soil. So, when the robot extends from its tip, it avoids friction along its sides, and can then take any direction.

Besides plants, Naclerio said that the team also took inspiration from the southern sand octopus, which expels a jet of water to help burrow into the seafloor. Our robot blows air from its tip to fluidise the sand near its tip, which reduces the force it needs to burrow into the ground, he said. And a sandfish lizard, which uses its wedge-shaped head to burrow into sand, was the inspiration behind it.


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NASA is Reportedly Launching a Satellite That Will Mimic a Real Star

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NASA is Reportedly Launching a Satellite That Will Mimic a Real Star

NASA is preparing for a new mission, dubbed Landolt Space Mission, by the end of the decade, that will place a satellite which will function just like an artificial star. The main objective of the mission is to improve the precision of ground-based telescopes, increasing our knowledge of the Universe. The satellite will launch in early 2029 and will be about the size of a loaf of bread. 

The lab will house eight lasers that will provide everything from the light of stars to that of a supernova. This satellite will function as a new calibration technique for astronomers to fine-tune their telescopes and other instruments in observatories. This will enable them to take more accurate measurements of real celestial objects.

The artificial star satellite will be placed 35,785 kilometres above Earth. This distance will allow it to sit in a geosynchronous orbit, which will be stationary when viewed from the Earth. According to a newsroom post by George Mason University, the principal investigator for the mission, Peter Plavchan said that the distance is intended to make the satellite appear like a real star. Further, the geosynchronous positioning will keep placed over the US in the first year, enabling better observation by NASA and other independent observatories in the country.

The artificial star will be invisible to the naked eye but will be easily detectable by typical telescopes that use digital cameras to capture images. If adopted, such a setup could help astronomers hone in on changes in stellar luminosity and related attributes with increased precision. Named after Arlo Landolt, a key player in creating stellar brightness catalogs, the mission was approved by NASA in February and disclosed to the public on June 10. The effort, the company says, would require 30 people and have an approximate price tag of $19,500,000 (roughly Rs. 162.8 crore).

The Landolt Space Mission is a breakthrough in space exploration. As a more constant and well-known sky ‘landmark’ it will allow scientists to better calibrate their methods and secure more exact data with every observation — effectively revealing more of the mystery of the cosmos.


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NASA to Provide Training to Indian Astronauts for Joint Mission to ISS

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NASA to Provide Training to Indian Astronauts for Joint Mission to ISS

NASA will soon provide advanced training to Indian astronauts to send a joint mission to the International Space Station this year or shortly thereafter, US envoy to India Eric Garcetti has said. Garcetti made these remarks while speaking at the “US-India Commercial Space Conference: Unlocking Opportunities for US & Indian Space Startups,” hosted by the US-India Business Council (USIBC) and the US Commercial Service (USCS) in Bengaluru on Friday.

“NASA will soon provide advanced training to Indian astronauts, with the goal of mounting a joint effort to the International Space Station, hopefully, this year or shortly thereafter, which was one of the promises of our leaders’ visit together,” Garcetti said.

“And soon we will launch the NISAR satellite from ISRO’s Satish Dhawan Space Center to monitor all resources, including ecosystems, the Earth’s surface, natural hazards, sea level rise, and the cryosphere,” Garcetti said, according to a USIBC press statement issued here.

NISAR is a joint Earth-observing mission between NASA and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

“You see whether it’s the pursuit of peace and the peaceful use of space, things like the Artemis Accord, we are hand in hand, arm in arm. When it comes to prosperity and jobs, which is a big part of this conference today, it can be produced by startups in this sector, good-paying, high-tech jobs for Indians and for Americans. Space is right there,” Garcetti said.

The Artemis Accords lay out a framework for collaborating nations’ safe exploration of the moon and beyond.

The day-long event in Bengaluru saw the participation from senior officials from both the US and Indian governments, including Garcetti, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman Dr. S Somanath, representatives from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the Government of India, as well as prominent leaders from the commercial space industry, industry stakeholders, venture capitalists, and market analysts.

“I must salute the visionary leadership that we have in both nations in India and the US for engaging in such an accord which looks at the moon as a sustainable place for all of us to come and work together,” Somnath said in his remarks.

“The connection between the Indian partners and also the US partners in critical technologies and specifically in the space sector is really becoming stronger. And I’m very happy about that type of engagement and the options available to the industries and the US business indigenous to connect with India in the emerging space sector as well,” he said.

Expressing optimism about the prospects of US-India collaboration in space, USIBC president Atul Keshap described it as a new chapter in the US-India space partnership. This week has been particularly fruitful, with USIBC and USCS joining forces to champion these two iCET space deliverables, he said.

“The conference highlights the deepening synergy between our two free nations in pioneering space exploration and innovation by the leading democracies. Through strategic alliances and collaborative efforts, we’re on the brink of achieving extraordinary milestones and expanding the horizons of space exploration beyond what we once imagined,” Keshap said.

The US-India Commercial Space Conference underscores the importance of fostering strategic partnerships to drive innovation and propel the space industry forward,” said USIBC managing director Alexander Slater.

“This is the next step in USIBC’s continued commitment to fostering bilateral cooperation among leading companies and startups from both countries to unlock new opportunities for economic growth, job creation and technological leadership. It builds on our work in February when we hosted the second edition of INDUS-X in New Delhi, which promoted similar opportunities for innovation and cooperation in new and emerging defence technologies,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior defence officials from India and the US have met in Washington to discuss opportunities to strengthen space cooperation and identified potential areas for collaboration with the American industry.

Meeting for the second annual US-India Advanced Domains Defence Dialogue (AD3), the officials discussed a wide range of bilateral cooperation.

The American team was led by Vipin Narang, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defence for Space Policy, and the visiting Indian delegation was led by Vishwesh Negi, India’s Joint Secretary for International Cooperation.

During this year’s Dialogue, Narang and Negi discussed opportunities to strengthen space cooperation and identified potential areas for collaboration with US industry, said Department of Defence Spokesperson Cmdr. Jessica Anderson.

Among a group of US and Indian defence officials, the two co-chaired the first US-India principal-level tabletop discussion that explored areas to enhance cooperation in the space domain.

They agreed to advance AD3 through regular working group discussions.

The visiting Indian Government delegation also engaged with the US Space Command, the Joint Commercial Operations Cell, and artificial intelligence experts from across the US Department of Defence, Anderson said.

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Profluent Unveils AI DNA Editor Generator OpenCRISPR to Cure Diseases

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Profluent Unveils AI DNA Editor Generator OpenCRISPR to Cure Diseases

Profluent, a California-based artificial intelligence (AI)-first protein design company, announced its AI model that can generate CRISPR-like proteins that do not occur in nature on Tuesday. CRISPR or Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats is a complex containing important proteins that scientists can use for precise gene editing in organisms. The company claims the usage of AI can create a vast number of such proteins that can help in creating bespoke cures for diseases which, at present, remain incurable.

Ali Madani, the founder and CEO of Profluent announced the AI model in a series of posts on X (formerly known as Twitter). The company has also made a blog post detailing the initiative and a pre-print version of its research paper has been published on bioRxiv. Besides announcing the DNA editor-generating AI model, the company also launched OpenCRISPR-1, one of the AI-created gene editors, as an initial open-source release licencing it for both ethical research and commercial uses.

Why OpenCRISPR AI Model matters

While CRISPR is a major focus of scientists, the research is limited due to the protein Cas9, which acts as a gene editor, and its equivalent being only available in nature. As a result, scientists spend a significant amount of time discovering different types of gene editors and their impact. Profluent claims its AI model, which is powered by an in-house large language model (LLM) trained on “massive scale sequence and biological context”, can now generate millions of diverse CRISPR-like proteins that do not occur in nature. In theory, these synthetic gene editors can play a pivotal role in finding cures for diseases previously thought to be incurable.

In its blog post, the company said, “OpenCRISPR-1 gene editor maintains the prototypical architecture of a Type II Cas9 nuclease but is more than 400 mutations away from SpCas9 and nearly 200 mutations away from any other known natural CRISPR-associated protein.”

What is CRISPR

CRISPR, put simply, is a complex or system found in bacteria and some other unicellular organisms. This complex contains the Cas9 (or similar proteins like Cas12 and Cas13) proteins that have a specific ability to make precise cuts in gene strands of DNA to enable editing. It was first discovered in 1987, and ever since scientists have been researching it extensively. The technology has vast applications and has already been used to artificially create crop variants that have a higher yield, are resistant to diseases, and are drought tolerant.

It is also used to change the DNA of mosquitoes so that they cannot spread diseases like malaria. Experiments are being conducted to cure patients suffering from diseases such as sickle-cell anaemia. It is also theorised that the technology can be used to edit the DNA of the embryo to create babies who are naturally resistant to diseases and possess genes that promote higher physical and mental abilities.


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