Monday, March 31, 2014

Space Travel (part 1)

It is easy for us to look out into the stars and imagine traveling to other worlds, but realistically, it would take years with our current technology to even leave the solar system. Consider that Voyager reached the edge of our solar system in 35 years. If we wanted to go further and travel 4.3 light years to the nearest star, Proxima Centauri, it could take 81,000 years. That's the slow method, using ion thrusters, but other forms of propulsion, such as a gravitational slingshot, could reduce the time to only 19,000 years. Is it realistic at all for us to hope to travel the stars someday? If science fiction has taught us anything, it should be clear that we're barking up the wrong tree if we hope to become interstellar explorers using these methods. This week, we'll discuss some possible alternative forms of space travel.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Nanites (part 5)

In the Solar Echoes universe, nanites have been developed by the military to be useful on the battlefield. One such application is the nanite hedge, where nanites released from a small container will form an interlocking wall of filaments similar to steel wool. This wall of nanites could be used for instant cover, blocking sight and ranged attacks. Another military use of nanites in Solar Echoes is the nanite razor swarm, where a cloud of flying nanites can move and cut anyone caught within the swarm. Nanite swarms can also be used to obscure sight and slow the movement of opponents. Physically invasive nanites might even be used as future biological weapons, to perform harmful actions upon those that might have been injected with them or even unknowingly inhaled them.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Nanites (part 4)

Healing nanites exist in the Solar Echoes universe, but they may soon be part of reality. Nanites are being designed that would assist white blood cells in the repair of tissue cells. Nanites could attach themselves to the surface of recruited white cells and squeeze through the walls of blood vessels to arrive at an injury site. Nanites could even carry certain substances that could help accelerate recovery from an injury. In Solar Echoes, healing nanites are administered through an injection, and will allow the recipient to improve his injury status by one condition level. For instance, if a character is “Seriously Wounded,” his condition will improve to “Moderately Wounded,” which would incur smaller wound penalties than before. Some research today even indicates that cell regeneration might be possible in the future through nanite usage, which is reflected in Solar Echoes—regenerating nanites continue to work until all wound conditions are repaired (though effectively administering these nanites requires a very high level Biotech-check.)

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nanites (part 3)

Side effects from current drugs exist because of the more general delivery systems that exist today. Drugs bond with unintended, multiple receptors and cause unwanted side effects as a result. With nanites as the delivery systems for drugs, targeted delivery can be achieved. The benefits of targeted delivery are substantial—consider the results of present-day chemotherapy upon cancer cells: patients often suffer severe debilitating effects due to the fact that chemotherapy treatments affect non-cancerous cells in harmful ways. Harvard and MIT researchers have been able to attach RNA strands to nano-particles and then fill them with chemotherapy drugs. These RNA strands are attracted to cancer cells and the nanoparticles will adhere to them, releasing the chemotherapy drug directly into the cancer cell. Targeted delivery through nanites can potentially eliminate side effects from drugs altogether in the future, and ensure faster drug activation.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Nanites (part 2)

In medicine, early diagnosis could well be achieved by utilizing nanites. Consider how advanced some conditions become before they are properly diagnosed—including hours or days of suffering before finally visiting a hospital, compounded by even more hours of waiting to be seen by a medical professional and finally (hopefully) being subjected to the correct series of scans or tests to diagnose the condition before treatment can even be speculated. Our future may involve a few nanites roaming around inside each of us while they maintain a running diagnostic report of our health. You may not want to know that your cholesterol level is high and be told to stay away from fatty foods, but imagine getting a text on your cell phone from one of your internal nanites that reads: “Blockage detected, heart attack imminent. See a doctor immediately!”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Nanites (part 1)

What are nanites? Nanites are microscopic robots, typically ranging in size from 0.1-10 micrometers that are constructed of molecular components. These machines are currently in the research and development stage, but some of the tiny robots are already in the test phase of development. A future with nanotechnology at work would mean a gigantic leap forward in medicine, where diseases, organ failure, injuries, and other medical situations could be more efficiently addressed or possibly averted altogether. Nanites administered as drug carriers, diagnostic assistants, or as healing mechanisms to assist in the reconstruction of tissue would revolutionize the medical industry. In the Solar Echoes universe, nanites are used both for healing and as weapons.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Law Enforcement in the Future (part 5)

Where there are laws, there will be lawbreakers, thus necessitating a means of punishment. Prisons of the future must be secure, and as seen in many sci-fi movies, these prisons are often placed in remote regions. The island prison of Alcatraz in San Francisco, famous for holding well-known criminals such as Al Capone, follows with this approach—the island is surrounded by frigid waters that are extremely dangerous to swim due to undertows and sharks. The more deadly and remote the location of a prison, the more futile the prospect of escape will seem, acting as a powerful deterrent to restless prisoners. Future prisons could be located on remote planets with unbreathable atmospheres, deadly storms, or even lethal radiation. Escaping the walls of the prison would be pointless if beyond those walls, certain death awaited. In Solar Echoes, the equivalent of Alcatraz is the roaming asteroid prison of Thanatos, installed on a chunk of rock that follows a path through space known only to the ISU. Large rocket thrusters embedded in the asteroid fire at seemingly random intervals to adjust the course of this nomadic prison, shrouding its location in secrecy. This makes it difficult for criminal organizations to stage successful prison breaks, despite their extensive resources.

Law Enforcement in the Future (part 4)

The police officer of the future may be equipped with neuro-enhancements such as a retinal chip that allows night vision or a cochlear implant that augments hearing beyond normal ranges. Covert operatives may have a memory chip wired directly into the brain's hippocampus to allow perfect recall of everything read. Improved motor control could be achieved through technology that already exists for Parkinson's patients—electrodes are inserted into the brain that send electrical impulses for deep brain stimulation. Today's neuro-engineers are already developing microsensor technology that converts brain activity into electrical signals, and these signals can allow for operation of robotic arms, hands, and other prosthetic devices. In the Solar Echoes universe, there is a variety of cyberware available to agents that can enhance physical performance, including ocular and aural implants, robotic arms, legs, and hands, and even implanted neural links that allow for quick mental access to computers and the internet.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Law Enforcement in the Future (part 3)

The following is based upon actual robots being designed for prison use. This quote was taken from the Solar Echoes Mission Controller's Guide:
“Introducing the new PXS-9 Correction Service robot. The PXS-9 allows for efficient and effective prisoner management while performing a number of security tasks in addition to closing the communication gap between prisoners and their guards. Counseling programs allow for PXS-9 robots to help prisoners face and work through their problems, while instilling a strong value system and a sense of self-worth to assist in rehabilitating inmates. Advanced communications features allow for the robot to serve as a communications tool between the prisoners and the guards. Sophisticated monitoring technology detects any abnormality in prisoner behavior and remotely alerts the prison's control center, protecting prisoners from assault, arson, and suicide. Patterns of prisoner behavior are constantly analyzed, preventing attempts at prison breaks. PXS-9 robots are also equipped with stun weaponry, programmed for use only as a last resort when dealing with unruly prisoners who may be a danger to themselves or others. Wardens agree: the PXS-9 is the solution to maintaining a healthy and orderly prison.”

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Law Enforcement in the Future (part 2)

The Canadian sci-fi TV series, Continuum, involves a main character who is a futuristic police officer. During one brief scene, the officer confronts a criminal and promptly injects him with something, telling him that he has 24 hours to report to a police station for booking to have the injection deactivated before it debilitates him with severe pain. The concept of tagging criminals is not exactly new—today bank robbers sometimes open their bags of stolen cash to be surprised by an explosion of bright colored paint, making them easy targets for police to identify (as well as marking the stolen bills.) Microscopic tracking devices in tightly secured areas can stick to clothing and enable satellites to employ GPS technology. In the Solar Echoes game, a tracking rifle fires a tracking device that allows bullets to “home” in on the target more easily. What other means of tagging might we see in the future of law enforcement?

Monday, March 17, 2014

Law Enforcement in the Future (part 1)

What will our future be like, and how will law enforcement take advantage of developing technologies? One disturbing possibility involves research into psychoactive drugs that distort peoples' sense of time. We've heard of criminals that have committed unspeakable crimes being sentenced to several lifetimes in prison, but if injected with certain drugs, these criminals may experience distorted time in their minds and feel like they are serving a 1,000 year sentence. Some argue that this could save taxpayer money and prison space—criminals would suffer these seemingly long sentences in only a few days—but such punishments bring up serious ethical questions, even if these sentences were reserved for only the very worst criminals. However, as we look at the history of the human race, we unfortunately have a pattern of testing ethical limitations in the name of “progress.”

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Formation of the InterStellar Union (part 5)

Criminal organizations in the Solar Echoes universe are a constant threat, and their power is steadily growing. Space is expansive, and criminals thrive in the far reaches of its unexplored regions. As planetary populations grow and expand outward, so does the reach of the ISU, but criminals always manage to find new planets, moons, and even asteroids to hide their operations. Anomalies such as dark nebulae have been used by criminals hiding massive operations within the dark clouds. The Union Guard has their hands full, and rumors of new threats at the edge of known space have created an even larger push for the strengthening of UG forces. Maintaining law and order in the endless expanse of outer space is considered by many to be a losing battle, which is why most people looking for a safe and civilized life stay within the core territories. As a Union Guard agent, you will not have that luxury—the dangers of deep space and the criminal underworld are waiting!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Formation of the InterStellar Union (part 4)

What happens when new frontiers are discovered? Explorers and pioneers will begin to establish small populations, but the further people expand away from civilization, the more likely they will face lawlessness. Laws are only as good as their enforcement, and people living at the edge of civilization have chosen to do so at great risk, relying on their own means of self-defense to keep them safe. Pioneers place themselves and their families at great risk, but the promise of a new life, new land, and new discoveries draws the strongest of survivors to take their chances. In the Solar Echoes universe, the ISU immediately realized the need for a means of enforcement, and established the Union Guard, an interstellar police force that addresses problems regional security forces can not. The Union Guard investigates criminal organizations and deals with pirates, smugglers, and even greater threats to the peace of the Union. Players in the Solar Echoes game begin as agents in the Union Guard, and are sent on missions throughout known space to deal with these challenges.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Formation of the InterStellar Union (part 3)

A latecomer to the Union, the Archaeloids were quite surprised to discover the existence of the other races. They seemed a peaceful race, but were questioned about the sudden build up of their military. The Archaeloids explained that they would honor the treaty among all the races and participate in the ISU, but they did not believe the treaty would last. They also suspected that there might be other alien races beyond known space, races that would not regard the treaty of the ISU. Despite the wariness of the Archaeloids, the ISU was successful in prompting an era of trade and prosperity among the races. However, though interstellar laws were now in place, an uneasy peace hung ominously over them all. Trouble was waiting.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Formation of the InterStellar Union (part 2)

Once the other races began to discover each other, several of them responded aggressively to the presence of others. The gelatinous Omuls tormented their peaceful plant-like neighbors, the Erwani, with endless raids. The reptilian Krissethi were quick to attack others, though they claimed their attacks were made in defense of their territory. The insectoid Chiraktis were distant neighbors to the Krissethi, and many lives were lost to the ferocious battles fought between the two. The Reln, neighbors and allies to the humans, worked with the humans to develop a set of laws that they hoped the other races would agree to, and together established the InterStellar Union (ISU). The Krissethi attacks on humans and Chiraktis were pacified as soon as borders were set and agreed upon. The Omuls officially ceased their raids upon the Erwani homeworld when offered a chance to join the other races in peace. Even the aggressive Chiraktis agreed to join, under the threat of open war with all the other races combined if they did not.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Formation of the InterStellar Union (part 1)

The Solar Echoes universe was inspired by our own history—the history of humanity. We looked at patterns from our past and tried to project what we thought was likely to happen if mankind spread into space. The Solar Echoes universe involves six additional alien races to humans, but we felt all the races would have similar reactions when they discovered each other. Curiosity, suspicion, distrust, fear, and aggression seemed likely responses, but on a larger scale, we tried to imagine what each race would do if they discovered faster-than-light (FTL) speed technology. As soon as man made boats, what did they do? They sailed, as far as they could go, exploring and finding new lands, which they eventually sought to conquer. Throughout history, we have expanded and conquered. This has almost always guaranteed one thing: war.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Be Prepared for the Robot Apocalypse (part 5)

Some of you might be wondering why it is assumed that we should flee--why not stay and fight? Ok, let's be honest, your black-belt in karate is almost useless against a 300 pound hunk of steel. The best you can hope to achieve with that roundhouse kick is unbalancing the robot enough to topple it over. Shooting a robot with a gun could risk a ricochet off its metal surface and will probably trigger a call for back-up from other nearby robots. Don't forget, military drones are often equipped with high-caliber weapons, so it is best to not take your chances with close-range encounters. There are ways to fight, though, and they involve exploiting design flaws. Original programming routines still reside in the robot's memory, and with the proper catalyst, these routines can be prompted. For instance, the angry cleaning-bot that is rushing at you with sharp, pointy scissors could be distracted if you dropped your chewing gum and some pocket lint in front of it. Robot sensors can also be confused or temporarily disabled. Shine a bright light on a robot and its sensors may momentarily wash out. Even better, if you have a laser pointer handy, shining the beam of the laser on the robot's sensors could permanently blind it—until it hops online and signals an order for a replacement part from Amazon, which we've all been told will soon be able to air-deliver our packages by flying drones.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Be Prepared for the Robot Apocalypse (part 4)

“Confuse Robot Sensors” is a very useful skill to have in Solar Echoes, and it can be a useful skill for us to understand, too, as we prepare for the upcoming Robot Apocalypse. Even a vague understanding of a robot's pathfinding algorithms is useful when eluding a pursuing metal monstrosity. Robots have a very difficult time moving through clutter—it confuses them—so make lots of obstacles for them. Spread garbage, knock down chairs, scatter clothes, and use anything else you can find that will obstruct a robot's direct path to you. Run in zig-zag patterns to make the robot constantly adjust its movement. While it may be able to think faster than you, it is still a machine and is much more limited in movement. Although many robots can climb steps, very few can currently run up steps and keep their balance. You don't have to be an expert at parkour to elude a pursuing robot, but if you just run in a straight line, you deserve what you get in the end. We've all seen what happens when some guy in the movies fails to outrun something when he could have just deviated his path to the left or right. Don't be that guy!

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Be Prepared for the Robot Apocalypse (part 3)

A question from one of our readers: “You mentioned the roomba yesterday, a cleaning robot that I already have in my home. I'm starting to worry that its watching me. What should I do?” Good question, and thanks for asking! For anyone unfamiliar with the roomba, it is a robot-vaccuum, shaped like a large hockey-puck, which roams around the house, sucking up lint, dust, and small objects. It can be programmed to activate during certain hours, can navigate rather effectively around most objects and floor plans, and will even return to its charger to recharge when it is running low on energy. Though the roomba is unlikely to be much of a threat even if it develops a dangerous, rogue AI, it is very limited by its physical form. Roombas can't climb stairs or detect objects unless they bump into them. While roombas aren't much of a threat unless duct-taped with knives and scissors sticking out, other robots are potentially very deadly. Understanding robot sensors and movement capabilities is the key to survival when they rise up against us.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Be Prepared for the Robot Apocalypse (part 2)

Robots have weaknesses, and we need to know about them if we are going to survive the Robot Apocalypse. A robot with a rogue AI could range from a brutal military drone to an innocuous cleaning bot, so it is best to be prepared around any type of robot. The most important thing to remember about a robot is that it could become a threat at an unexpected moment—automatic software upgrades can happen without you knowing, especially when wifi signals are almost everywhere we go now. Some programming might not activate until a specific date, just like computer trigger viruses that activate at specific dates and times. Don't let yourself be caught by surprise! A robot might not give any indication that it has suddenly decided you should be deleted. It might carry out its usual programming without even a hint of malice lurking within its circuitry. But the moment you turn your back on it and start playing with your smartphone again, it's all over. What can we do? Should we hide indoors and evict all robots from our homes, even those innocent-looking roomba's? It's simple: if you are going to be around a robot, never take your eyes off it and know your exits, because you may need to RUN!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Be Prepared for the Robot Apocalypse (part 1)

According to the article below, robots will be smarter than us by 2029. How does that make you feel? We've grown up with sci-fi books and movies warning us that robots will decide humans are a problem. Already, drones are far beyond simple remote-control weapons, and their AI's are being designed towards total autonomy. Should we fear a Robot Apocalypse? Plenty of people have already prepared for a supposed “Zombie Apocalypse,” a scenario that the CDC has actually promoted as a possibility. Even though zombies are far less likely than killer robots with rogue AI's, I've yet to read any warnings to being prepared for a Robot Apocalypse. This week, we'll take a few tips from the Solar Echoes robot talents and learn how to improve our chances at surviving when robots decide we're no longer needed on this planet.