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MaCall ManorMay 31, 2021 6:46:00 AM5 min read

The Wonder - Sail Drones & Shape-shifting Computer Chips | SF AppWorks

A Monthly Snapshot of Life-Changing Technology

May 31st, 2021

 Happy Memorial Day!


1. Shape and Secure


Researchers have developed and tested a shape-shifting computer processor designed to foil hackers.

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Hot Take

What'd you do over the pandemic?


(Don't) Enter the Matrix

A team at the University of Michigan first began working on Morpheus, the secure processor that protects itself from attacks by randomly changing its own structure, in 2019. Now, hundreds of security researchers have spent months attempting to hack the computer chip, and all attempts have failed. The program was sponsored by the U.S Defense Advanced Research Program Agency (DARPA), which released the results of the program early this year. 


Defense Against the Dark Arts

Morpheus works by randomizing implementation details of the chip's microarchitecture––the part of the chip that facilitates execution of its core instruction set and regulates its power consumption. The process developed by the program researchers essentially turns the system into a nearly impossible puzzle (which hackers would need to solve before proceeding with security exploits). Because all of this occurs at the deepest level of the processor, software running on the chip is unaffected. Morpheus engineers even developed a counter defense to reverse-engineering (another method a hacker might use) by programming the change in the chip's microarchitecture to occur every few hundred milliseconds, meaning hackers would have to work at surely impossible speeds to breach the chip's security.


What's Next?

Program participants are now exploring how Morpheus' design might cross over into applications for individual users, i.e. to protect sensitive data on handheld devices or in the cloud. They are looking for answers to questions like, "how can we randomize data in a way that maintains privacy while not being a burden to software programmers?"


2. Call-ographic


Google’s "Project Starline" introduces ‘eerily realistic’ holographic video calls. 

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Hot Take:

If you thought Zoom put your coworkers right in your home...


Technically Speaking

Depth-sensing cameras, computer vision, machine learning, spatial audio, advanced compression, and a large light-field display come together in this novel technology that allows viewers a multi-angular view of their subject, designed to closely mimic a real life encounter.


We'll Meet Again

Sundar Pichai has revealed the technology is still in development, although an early version is already being used in offices in the Bay Area, New York, and Seattle.


See the demo for yourself!


3. Saildrones


100 AI-equipped drone sailboats have been deployed in the Pacific Ocean. 

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Hot Take:

If the idea of man-made robots being sprinkled over the ocean makes you cringe slightly (it does me), you might take some comfort in knowing these drones are here to benefit our oceans—and they're actually pretty cool to look at.


Winds of [Climate] Change?

In the name of learning more about the ocean to fight climate change, the Alameda based company is outfitting these sun-powered, wind-directed drones with numerous data sensors, high-res cameras, and radar equipment to collect data on ocean currents, sunlight radiation, wind speeds, relative humidity, sea and air temperatures, and carbon dioxide emissions. The drones use AI to self-maneuver anywhere in the world without needing to refuel or engage with humans for months at a time, relaying information back to Saildrone headquarters via satellite. Saildrone's progress can be followed online with real time images and analytics.



With the ability to measure the atmosphere's carbon flux at the sea's surface, the drones seek answers to compelling questions like: "is carbon dioxide being ingested by the ocean, or is it being exhaled by the ocean?" And, since the drones are built with sonar technology able to record information at the bottom of the ocean, they're purportedly useful for gathering intelligence about fish populations, which can be used to combat overfishing. Saildrone will provide governments with statistics on fish that can be sustainably caught each season, says Brian Connon (Saildrone's VP of Ocean Mapping). 

Related: Electric Steps & Turning Air into Water


4. Bat Behavior


An algorithm from Glasgow University that generates images from sounds could be used to catch burglars. 

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Hot Take: 

This technique emulates the hunting behavior of bats—another example of how technology can draw inspiration from nature with stunning efficacy. 


Right off the Bat

By analyzing sound emitted by speakers or radio waves, the algorithm measures the length of time it takes for signals to bounce off the walls in the room and then back to the sensor. This enables it to analyze the layout, size, and shape of the room, detect the presence of its inhabitants, and convert that data into 3D images displayed as a video feed––a process that mimics the way bats navigate their prey with echolocation. The algorithm's developers believe it could use any device with either a microphone or antenna as an echolocation device, meaning even a laptop or smartphone running the algorithm could theoretically detect intruders or monitor a loved one in care-home. 


5. Blood Type


A new rapid blood-typing device is sure to save lives.



Hot Take

PSA: This technology is not a Theranos affiliate. 😅


Not In Vein

This newly patented, tiny device invented by Steven Day and Majed Refaai can discern human blood types in just minutes with only a fractional blood sample (obtainable by a finger pinprick). The pair is now working on a variety of blood-retrieval mechanisms to facilitate the blood draw as efficiently as possible in emergency situations. They believe the immediate use case will involve trauma patients being transported to the ER.


No Blood Pressure

Prior to traditional blood transfusions, medical professionals needed to conduct a 10-20 minute test to identify the patient’s blood type, as well as other factors, before the patient could be matched with a compatible blood donor. If the wrong blood type is used, or if time runs out, the patient could die. The portable device solves for those 10 to 20 minutes, a margin that could mean the difference between life and death for many critical victims––making the rapid blood-typing device a very meaningful advancement. 



Thanks for reading! If you enjoy the Wonder, please consider sharing it with a friend. We'll see you next month! 

-MaCall Manor, on behalf of SF AppWorks 


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MaCall Manor

MaCall Manor is an editor and writer based in San Francisco. She has always been a storyteller by trade, seeking to inspire with the work and content she creates. Brilliantly imaginative in filling out the details of the innovation processes and design thinking, she's passionate about all things creative, dancing, nature, and books/movies.