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Bottom of the barrel: Worst crowdfunding campaigns of 2020

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The bottom of the crowdfunding barrel never seems to dry up. So once again, New Atlas pulls on its thickest gloves and boots and wades into that murky world of ideas and innovations that are somehow both half-baked and completely cooked at the same time.

Power on Demand App

The Power App claims to let you download energy to charge your phone
The Power App claims to let you download energy to charge your phone

Power On Demand LLC

Wouldn’t it be nice if you never had to plug your phone in again? Well as the ancient adage says, “There’s an app for that!”

The Power App lets you download unlimited clean energy from the cloud to your phone, laptop or even your Tesla! Except, obviously, that’s not how apps, energy, the cloud, phones, laptops or Teslas work in the slightest.

The campaign doesn’t even pretend to offer an explanation. The best you get is a series of stock photos of lightning bolts and people on phones and laptops, overlaid with corporate buzzword bingo that borders on parody. Which honestly, it almost certainly is – it’s too cringey to even be a scam.

Either way, Indiegogo shut it down before they attracted a single taker towards their humble US$27 million goal.

Area 51 investigator robot

An "undetectable" drone built to check Area 51 for aliens? Sure why not
An “undetectable” drone built to check Area 51 for aliens? Sure why not

Jorge Diaz Crespo Valdes

Even the most hardened of skeptics has wondered what kind of shenanigans are going on in Area 51 – but wondering isn’t enough for the internet’s kookiest kooks, who last year tried to organize the world’s illest-advised raid. With that unsurprisingly a bust, a bunch of them are now crowdfunding a robot to casually peek over the fence to check for aliens.

The team set out to develop “a robot capable of flying over Area 51 and taking aerial images of the place without being detected.” So … a drone then. And how, you may ask, is a team of plucky conspiracy YouTubers with zero robotics experience going to build a drone that can slip through the defenses of one of the most heavily guarded site in the US? “It is secret, but we can guarantee that we can fly over the area without being detected.” Well that settles it – although maybe making a Kickstarter publicly declaring your plan isn’t a smart first move.

But hey, let’s give them the most generous benefit of the doubt ever, and say they pull it off – we hope backers like pictures of dust, because it’s not likely the US military keeps its aliens free range or leaves classified documents lying out in the open.

If this exercise in futility somehow paid off, the next plans were to send the robot to solve other mysteries of the most braindead corners of YouTube and Reddit – it would go look for the edge of the Flat Earth, and the big hole at the North Pole that apparently leads to the inside of the Hollow Earth.

It looks like we’ll never know whether Earth can be both flat and hollow at the same time, though – the campaign ended after raking in less than $20. On the plus side, that’s enough money to pop down to Walmart and pick up a drone of the exact same usefulness.

Robotic bedroom buddy

Bedbotix is a set of robot arms that can apparently do everything – and we mean everything
Bedbotix is a set of robot arms that can apparently do everything – and we mean everything

Björn Johnsson

Tired of the minor hassle of making the bed every morning? Why not throw a few grand at a robot arm to do it for you? According to a series of hastily produced renders and a seven-second campaign video, Bedbotix is a set of robot arms that perch above your bed, ready to help out however they can.

Apparently they can make the bed, hold out a tray for your book or brunch, nudge you awake in the morning, give you a massage, read the kids a bedtime story, hand you a glass of water off the night stand, and even, against everyone’s better judgement, use a fire extinguisher if it needs to.

Oh yeah, and before you make the joke you’re already smirking about – yep, it’ll do that too. “Adult bed users” can take advantage of its “interchangeable tools” “in any way the adult user desires.”

In all honesty, Bedbotix doesn’t sound like too bad an idea – but at this point, an idea is all you’re getting for your minimum two grand pledge. The team gives no indication that they’ve done anything beyond a few Photoshop mock-ups, nor have the background to do anything more than that.

LiveTorch

The creators of the LiveTorch reckon it can save your actual life in a blackout
The creators of the LiveTorch reckon it can save your actual life in a blackout

Livetorch

The award for Most Oddly Ominous Campaign Video for a Fairly Pointless Gadget goes to the LiveTorch. Special kudos to the marketing team for trying to paint a power outage as the most terrifying moment an unsuspecting family could experience.

If you don’t want to be left in the dark for the 2.7 seconds it would take to pull your phone out of your pocket, the LiveTorch may be for you. Admittedly it’s a somewhat clever idea – a plug-in torch that only lights up when it stops receiving power – but it falls into that trap of a solution looking for a problem.

Hence the “you could literally DIE without this” angle. Come on, the LiveTorch doesn’t need to “change your fate.” That’s way too much responsibility for any gadget to handle, let alone a night light.

Rejuvenation BodyHealth

The BodyHealth is a high school science experiment that claims to cure what ails ya – whatever that may be
The BodyHealth is a high school science experiment that claims to cure what ails ya – whatever that may be

Fedir Shumakov

Gone are the days of buying bottles of Patterson’s Cure-All Oil from a shouty guy in a pinstripe suit on a street corner, but don’t worry – as with everything, the health shysters have just moved online.

The BodyHealth appears to be some kind of device that a high school student got a C+ for in an electronics class. What it actually does is anyone’s guess – the video is just three silent minutes of a hand poking at buttons and screens, and holding up random components.

But don’t let that stop you! Whatever this thing is, it can apparently cure everything from arthritis to allergies, headaches to hernias, the flu to full-blown diabetes.

Despite only asking for US$500 – ie, one single backer – the campaign didn’t manage to get there before Kickstarter kicked it to the curb.

Want to dig deeper into the bottom of the barrel? Check out our previous roundups of the most bizarre crowdfunding campaigns out there.

Source: https://newatlas.com/good-thinking/2020-worst-crowdfunding-campaigns/

NEWATLAS

Glaciers on Mars likely didn’t form during a single ice age event

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Mars may have experienced up to 20 ice ages in the past 300 to 800 million years, according to the results of a new study. Glaciers that formed during the cooling periods represent fascinating targets for future exploration missions, due to the abundance of water ice, and their potential to preserve ancient material.

In the present day, the Red Planet bears little resemblance to Earth, yet the Martian surface is dotted with evidence of large-scale weather processes that have shaped the alien landscape. One such process is the formation of huge glaciers.

During the periodic ice ages that are known to have occurred on Earth, glaciers covered vast regions of Earth’s surface. When the planet subsequently warmed, the glaciers melted, retreating to the poles. However, on Mars, the relative lack of atmosphere, and therefore heat meant that the glaciers never degraded.

Because of their longevity, these glaciers stand as a time capsule containing a record of Mars’ geological history. However, up until now scientists had been unable to deduce whether the glaciers seen on Mars today are a result of a single massive ice age, or the accumulation of multiple cooling events.

A newly published study has shed light on this question by examining high-resolution satellite footage of multiple Martian glaciers captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO). More specifically, a research team sought to analyze the distribution of boulders that are dredged up as the glacier travels outward.

If the Martian glaciers had formed during a single ice age, the team would have expected to find larger boulders embedded nearer to the source of the ice flow, getting smaller as they moved farther out. This is because, over time, rocks exposed to the surface would have been weathered by the elements, and rocks farther away from the source would have been exposed for longer by the disruptive influence of the glaciers.

MRO images of 45 glaciers were studied as part of the new study. The high-resolution data harvested by the LRO had a resolution of 25 cm (9.8 in) per pixel. The time-consuming process of analyzing the boulders embedded in the alien rivers of ice fell to Asst. Prof. Joe Levy of New York’s Colgate University, and 10 of his students.

Over the course of two summers, the team identified and characterized around 60,000 glacier boulders.

Their analysis didn’t reveal the gradation of boulder sizes that would be expected from glaciers formed during a single large event. Instead, the rocks found in the rivers of ice occurred in all sizes throughout the glaciers, and seemed to be clustered together in bands stretching across the ice.

The distribution of the rocks suggests that the glaciers are comprised of multiple ice flows and sediments that occurred over the course of many ice age events. Furthermore, the presence of larger boulders far downhill could be explained if the rocks are embedded within the ice rather than being carried along the surface where they could be eroded over time.

According to the authors of the study, Mars has likely experienced 6 to 20 ice ages, that have contributed to the formation of the glaciers over the past 300 to 800 million years.

Along with providing insight on major geological features on the Martian surface, the results of the new paper could also help fill in some of the blanks surrounding the Red Planet’s orbital history, as each of the ice ages is thought to have occurred following a major shift in the orientation of the planet’s axis.

Furthermore, the glaciers represent a promising source of samples for future missions looking for evidence of past microbial life on Mars.

“These glaciers are little time capsules, capturing snapshots of what was blowing around in the Martian atmosphere,” explains Levy. “Now we know that we have access to hundreds of millions of years of Martian history without having to drill down deep through the crust – we can just take a hike along the surface.”

The paper has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences.

Source: Colgate University

Source: https://newatlas.com/space/nasa-mars-ice-age-glacier/

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NEWATLAS

Porpoise-sized mosasaur sported specialized shark-like teeth

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Tyrannosaurus rex may have ruled the land in the time of the dinosaurs, but the mosasaur was likely the most ferocious reptile in the sea. A new species of the creature was recently classified, which distinguished itself with teeth like those of a shark.

Named Xenodens calminechari, the animal lived off the coast of what is now Morocco during the Cretaceous period, approximately 66 million years ago. And while some mosasaurs were up to 10 meters long (33 ft), it was only about the size of a small porpoise. That said, its unique teeth likely allowed it to “punch above its weight.”

Whereas the teeth of other mosasaurs were conical, not unlike the teeth of present-day orcas, Xenodens’ were flat and serrated like a shark’s. As a result, it could not only slice and dice small fish, but was probably also able to bite chunks out of much bigger prey – it may also have scavenged the carcasses of large marine reptiles.

In other words, it was not limited by a specialized feeding strategy, but was instead able to take advantage of a wide variety of opportunities.

A reconstruction of Xenodens' skull
A reconstruction of Xenodens’ skull

Dr. Nick Longrich

“A mosasaur with shark teeth is a novel adaptation of mosasaurs so surprising that it looked like a fantastic creature out of an artist’s imagination,” says Dr. Nour-Eddine Jalil of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and Universite Cadi Ayyad in Marrakech. “It is as if nature is struggling to find all the combinations for an ever finer exploitation of food sources.”

A paper on the study of the creature’s fossilized remains, which is being led by Dr. Nick Longrich of Britain’s University of Bath, was recently published in the journal Cretaceous Research.

Source: University of Bath

Source: https://newatlas.com/biology/xenodens-calminechari-mosasaur-shark-teeth/

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NEWATLAS

Scientists take a step closer to growing wood in a lab

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While lab-grown meat shows promise for sparing animals from slaughter, wood still comes entirely from trees that are cut down. That may not always be the case, though, as scientists are now working on growing it in a lab, too.

Led by PhD student Ashley Beckwith, researchers at MIT started by extracting live cells from the leaves of a zinnia plant. These were placed in a liquid growth medium, where they started reproducing. The resulting batch of cells was then transferred to a three-dimensional gel matrix, where they continued to proliferate.

The addition of the plant hormones auxin and cytokinin triggered the cells to produce lignin, which is an organic polymer that gives wood its firm consistency. This process allowed the scientists to ultimately grow a small wood-like rigid structure, in the shape of the gel matrix.

Additionally, by varying the levels of the two hormones, it was possible to control how much lignin the cells produced, thus letting the researchers tweak the structural characteristics of the “wood.”

A diagram of the process
A diagram of the process

MIT

Although the experiments conducted so far have been quite small-scale, it is hoped that the technology may one day allow wooden products such as tables to simply be grown as needed. Not only would no trees need to be cut down, transported or processed, but there would also be no need to saw pieces of lumber to length and then screw or glue them together.

The researchers are now investigating the feasibility of scaling the system up for practical use … and there are a lot of factors to be considered.

“One pending question is: How do we translate this success to other plant species?” says Dr. Luis Fernando Velásquez-García, who is overseeing the research. “It would be naive to think we can do the same thing for each species. Maybe they have different control knobs.”

A paper on the study was recently published in the Journal of Cleaner Production.

Source: MIT

Source: https://newatlas.com/science/lab-grown-wood/

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NEWATLAS

EZRaider stands at the intersection of scooter and quad bike

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Israel’s EZRaider takes the electric scooter into new territory – indeed, just about any territory – with a series of offroad-ready four-wheel beasts making up to 18 kW (24 hp). Rugged and fast with long-travel suspension, they look like 4×4 Segways. EZRaider’s top model is the HD4, which puts 4.5 kilowatts’ worth of motor in each of its four wheel hubs, along with hydraulic disc brakes all round. The top speed is limited to 45 km/h (28 mph) out of the box, and its 60-V, 3-kWh lithium battery pack gives it a range up to 75 km (45 miles).

Each wheel has its own chunky all-terrain tire, as well as a huge 50 cm (19.6 in) of suspension travel, letting riders fling these things down some seriously rocky paths, hopefully with minimal flinging of the riders themselves. The suspension is also notable for its claimed six axes of movement, allowing the wheels to tilt and move independently in 360 degrees. Ground clearance is listed at 24.4 cm (9.6 in), and it can carry beefy riders up to 200 kg (441 lb) on its back, or even pull an accessory trailer.

A trailer accessory allows these beasts to be trate
A trailer accessory allows these beasts to be treated as stand-up utility vehicles

EZRaider

The steering post turns the front two wheels, and offers a throttle as well as independent brakes for the front and rear wheels. It also gives you something to hang onto, which looks very necessary, as you can augment the steering by moving your weight around as on a skateboard. A small bicycle seat also telescopes out of the rear of the board, giving you the ability to sit down on the smooth stuff. The EZRaider folds up like most kick scooters, to a 170x74x75-cm (67x29x30-in) package – although you’re unlikely to be heaving this 130-kg (280-lb) behemoth into the trunk of your car.

At this stage, they seem to be seeing action with off-road tour experience companies, but they’re also being offered as agricultural and military tools. Municipal police and security guards are dipping a toe in the water as well, and the company makes a version equipped with sirens and a loudspeaker, so you might be looking at the next generation of Paul Blart-mobile here too.

They appear to stunt significantly better than a Segway, with wheelies clearly on the menu, along with the ability to perform small jumps and get sideways. Would we be willing to get silly on one? Well, the EZRaiders have a much narrower track than a quad bike, so they’re certainly more prone to tipping over. On the other hand, they’re slower and lighter, and the fact that you’re standing up gives you the chance to jump off. A lot of serious quad bike injuries happen when they tip over and crush the rider – ask Ozzy Osborne, if you think you’ll be able to pick any words out of his answer – and while the EZRaider can likely hurl your face into a boulder with alacrity, you’re much more likely to separate from the vehicle and leave your spine intact. So yeah, why not?

Does it wheelie? That's a yes.
Does it wheelie? That’s a yes.

EZRaider

They’re not cheap; the HD4 starts at US$19,200. There’s a lower-spec LW “lightweight” model for $8,500, with just two driven wheels, a lower top speed and a smaller battery. But we mainly highlight this thing as yet another example of the proliferation and cross-breeding of vehicle types that’s characterized the dawn of the EV age.

Check it out being ridden with considerable elan and panache over some gnarly rocks in the video below.

EZ Raider group

Source: EZRaider

Source: https://newatlas.com/outdoors/ezraider-4-wheel-scooter/

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