A dozen intriguing tech projects to look for in the coming year
Moonward Ho!In December 1968, Apollo 8 became the first manned mission to orbit the moon. A half-century on, SpaceX, Elon Musk’s spaceflight company, is vying to do the same thing, offering to send two private customers on a lunar flyby aboard its Dragon 2 capsule. Meanwhile, German startup Part-Time Scientists aims to land the first 4G LTE base station on the moon this year. The base station will relay signals between the company’s yet-to-be-launched rovers and mission control back on Earth, but it could also be used by future lunar explorers. Further-out moon ventures include an inflatable orbiting habitat being developed by Bigelow Aerospace. If all goes according to plan—admittedly, a big “if”—2018 could mark the beginning of the return of humans to the moon. And this time it’ll be for a good long stay. [For more on lunar plans in 2018, see “China Promises the Moon.”]
EU Doubles Down on Data PrivacyOn 25 May, the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will take effect, with tough rules aimed at protecting the privacy of people living in the EU. Europeans already have many more privacy protections than, say, U.S. citizens, including the “right to be forgotten.” But the GDPR goes much further: It protects virtually every kind of data pertaining to individuals, including medical records, online transactions, and social media posts. It also gives EU residents the right to opt out of automated decision making—via a machine-learning algorithm, for example—and to demand an explanation when an automated decision involves them in some significant way. The GDPR applies to companies doing business in Europe as well as companies that handle the data of Europeans. Unsurprisingly, firms far and wide are scrambling to comply.
Blimp Cell Towers Head SkywardThis year, Altaeros Energies plans to launch the first of its tethered-blimp cell SuperTowers. Each aerostat, floating up to 600 meters above the ground, will provide coverage equal to 30 traditional cell towers. The blimps are intended for remote locations where broadband service is too difficult or costly to supply by conventional means. Several other companies aim to do similar things, including Google, with its Project Loon balloons, and Facebook, with its solar-powered Internet drone, Aquila. Altaeros’s other big push is in high-altitude wind turbines. Who knew you could build a diversified business around lofting tech-laden tethered balloons?
Related: Yesterday's "IEEE Spectrum Top Tech 2018"