NASA adds five novel ideas to its initiative to cut planes' fuel usage in half

Airline passengers will equate to about half of the global population in 2016, as some 3.6 billion passengers are forecast to take to the skies. And these figures are only expected to grow. The future of air travel may be busier, but NASA wants to make it cleaner, and is launching two-year research programs to figure out how.

Is failure an option? It depends on your definition of failure.

The initiative will study five green technology ideas selected during NASA’s Transformative Aeronautics Concepts Program, adding to the six “wild ideas” the agency’s aerospace team selected last year. NASA aims to to cut fuel use in half, decrease harmful emissions by 75 percent, and build quieter aircraft.

“There definitely was an emphasis in our selections on bringing forward activities that addressed a NASA aeronautics goal to reduce the carbon footprint of aviation during the 21st century,” Doug Rohn, program manager, said in a NASA press release.

“Is failure an option?” Rohn asked. “It depends on your definition of failure. We’re going to ask the questions and see if these ideas are feasible or not. A successful feasibility assessment may determine the concept won’t work.”

Here are the five new concepts they’ll begin investigating.

Alternative fuel cells: Since the 1960s, NASA has used hydrogen-oxygen electric fuel cells for large aircraft, which require complex and expensive maintenance and containment. The agency will now explore whether smaller, more energy efficient fuel cells can power an electrically propelled general aviation vehicle.

3D printers to increase electric motor output: In a study focused on electric aircraft, NASA scientists will attempt to increase electrical motors’ power density — their power compared to their size and mass. To aid in this task, the researchers will turn to 3D, printing with the aim to manufacture lighter, smaller parts.

Lithium-air batteries for energy storage: Today’s batteries pose a big problem for electric-powered aircraft, which demand more energy than most batteries can store, but Lithium-Air batteries may offer a possible solution, according to NASA. Theoretically. Lithium-Air batteries have the highest storage capacity but, in reality, they’re virtually useless without the an ultrastable electrolyte material that won’t decompose like standard electrolytes. NASA hopes to fund the creation of this material.

New shape-shifting aircraft wings: Many aircraft can already change the shape of their wings before and after takeoff, but NASA wants to investigate the concept further, designing wings to fold up and down in order to act as rudders during takeoff and landing. However, the agency will need to investigate what materials and mechanisms will be best for the transformation.

Lightweight material for form-fitting antennae: In order to increase how far drones can travel, NASA researchers will look to develop form-fitting antennae that can communicate with satellites, freeing drones and operators from their dependence on radio signals.

Smart Home

Amazon starts crowdsourcing Alexa’s answers. What could go wrong?

Amazon announced a new resource for its Alexa voice assistant. Alexa Answers is an invitation-only program to which select Amazon customers will be invited to supply brief answers to questions that Alexa was asked but couldn't answer.
Home Theater

Still listening on tinny TV speakers? Try one of our favorite soundbars

You no longer have to sacrifice sound for size when selecting home audio equipment. Check out our picks for the best soundbars, whether you're looking for budget options, pure power, smarts, or tons of features.
Cars

Waymo becomes the first company to charge for rides in self-driving cars

Waymo has launched a commercial ridesharing service using self-driving cars in the Phoenix area. It's the first U.S. company to generate revenue by putting passengers in autonomous cars. Waymo One is only available to a select group of…
Gaming

Get the full PS4 Pro experience. Here's every game you can play in 4K HDR

The PlayStation 4 Pro can play any PS4 game, but a select number of titles have been optimized to take advantage of the platform. Here's list of every new and upcoming game that will benefit from the PS4 Pro.
Emerging Tech

This exotic new material somehow gets thicker when stretched

Scientists at the U.K.’s University of Leeds have discovered a synthetic material which actually gets thicker the more it’s stretched. Here are some of the things it could be used for.
Emerging Tech

Early-detection system for wildfires could save many states from big burns

When it comes to dealing with the growing problem of raging wildfires, a new wireless smart sensor system could help spot burgeoning blazes before they rage out of control. Here's how it works.
Emerging Tech

Elon Musk to unveil tunnel elevators and autonomous pods on December 18

We'll soon learn if Elon Musk's high-speed tunnel plan is a serious effort at ending traffic jams or little more than a fancy theme park ride. A big unveiling event is coming on December 18, a week later than originally planned.
Outdoors

Light up the night! Here are the five best headlamps money can buy

Headlamps make all the difference when camping or walking the dog at night, especially when you're in need of both hands. From Black Diamond and Petzl to Coast here are some of the best headlamps on the market.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Emerging Tech

Feast your eyes on the wildest, most elaborate Rube Goldberg machines ever built

Want to see something totally mesmerizing? Check out several of the best Rube Goldberg machines from across the internet, including one that serves cake and other that do ... nothing particularly useful.
Emerging Tech

The 20 best tech toys for kids will make you wish you were 10 again

Looking for the perfect toy or gadget for your child? Thankfully, we've rounded up some of our personal favorite tech toys, including microscopes, computer kits, and a spherical droid from a galaxy far, far away.
Emerging Tech

Scoot your commute! Here are the 9 best electric scooters on the market

Electric scooters are an affordable, convenient way to minimize your carbon footprint and zip around town. Check out 8 of our current favorites, whether you're working with a budget or have some cash to spare.
Emerging Tech

Sick of walking everywhere? Here are the best electric skateboards you can buy

Thanks for Kickstarter and Indiegogo, electric skateboards are carving a bigger niche than you might think. Whether you're into speed, mileage, or something a bit more stylish, here are the best electric skateboards on the market.
Emerging Tech

Hear the sounds of wind on Mars from InSight’s latest audio recording

NASA's InSight craft has captured the sound of the wind blowing on the surface of Mars. The audio file was picked up by the air pressure sensor and the seismometer which detected vibrations from the 10 to 15 mph winds in the area.