Giant 3D Printer Uses Sand to "Print" Buildings

3D printers have been around for a while. They're often used when prototyping consumer products -- you can feed a CAD file (a computer rendering) into the 3D printer and it creates an object (usually made of plastic) that you can feel and fiddle around with. This is handy, because it helps you get an idea of the the "real world" size of an object -- and usually a small object at that. But Italian inventor Encrico Dini has created a printer called D-Shape that uses sand to create very large objects. Like buildings.

A PhysOrg article about D-Shape says this:

The completed material resembles marble, is stronger than concrete, and does not need iron reinforcing. The printing process can successfully create internal curves, partitions, ducting, and hollow columns.

Dini also has lunar plans for the D-shape, and is in discussions with La Scuola Normale Superiore, Norman Foster (a UK architecture firm), and Alta Space, as part of the Aurora program run by the European Space Agency (ESA), to build a modified D-Shape that could use lunar regolith (moon dust) to build a moon base. Dini will carry out trials in a vacuum chamber at Alta Space's facility in Pisa to ensure the process is possible in a low-atmosphere environment such as the moon.

Dini said his ultimate dream is to complete Guidi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, which has been under construction since 1882 and which is not expected to be completed until 2026 at the earliest.

Here's a video of the device in action (warning: in Italian, and with a strange intro, but interesting nonetheless):

(Via Mashable. See more at the D-Shape website.)

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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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Land Cover CCI, ESA
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European Space Agency Releases First High-Res Land Cover Map of Africa
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Land Cover CCI, ESA

This isn’t just any image of Africa. It represents the first of its kind: a high-resolution map of the different types of land cover that are found on the continent, released by The European Space Agency, as Travel + Leisure reports.

Land cover maps depict the different physical materials that cover the Earth, whether that material is vegetation, wetlands, concrete, or sand. They can be used to track the growth of cities, assess flooding, keep tabs on environmental issues like deforestation or desertification, and more.

The newly released land cover map of Africa shows the continent at an extremely detailed resolution. Each pixel represents just 65.6 feet (20 meters) on the ground. It’s designed to help researchers model the extent of climate change across Africa, study biodiversity and natural resources, and see how land use is changing, among other applications.

Developed as part of the Climate Change Initiative (CCI) Land Cover project, the space agency gathered a full year’s worth of data from its Sentinel-2A satellite to create the map. In total, the image is made from 90 terabytes of data—180,000 images—taken between December 2015 and December 2016.

The map is so large and detailed that the space agency created its own online viewer for it. You can dive further into the image here.

And keep watch: A better map might be close at hand. In March, the ESA launched the Sentinal-2B satellite, which it says will make a global map at a 32.8 feet-per-pixel (10 meters) resolution possible.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]


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