The Download: reusing heat from computers, and period research

This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

This startup has engineered a clever way to reuse waste heat from cloud computing

The idea of using the wasted heat of computing to do something else has been mooted plenty of times before. Now, UK startup Heata is actually doing it. When you sign up, it places a server in your home, where it connects via your Wi-Fi network to similar servers in other homes—all of which process data from companies that pay it for cloud computing services. 

Each server prevents one ton of carbon dioxide equivalent per year from being emitted and saves homeowners an average of £250 on hot water annually, a considerable discount in a country where many inhabitants struggle to afford heat.

The clever thing is that it provides a way to use electricity twice—providing services to the rapidly growing cloud computing industry and also providing domestic hot water—at a time when energy efficiency matters more than ever. Read the full story.

—Luigi Avantaggiato

Tiny faux organs could crack the mystery of menstruation

A group of scientists are using new tools akin to miniature organs to study a poorly understood—and frequently problematic—part of human physiology: menstruation. 

Heavy, sometimes debilitating periods strike at least a third of people who menstruate at some point in their lives, causing some to regularly miss work or school. Anemia threatens about two-thirds of people with heavy periods. Many people desperately need treatments to make their period more manageable, but it’s difficult for scientists to design medications without understanding how menstruation really works.

That understanding could be in the works, thanks to endometrial organoids—biomedical tools made from bits of the tissue that lines the uterus. The research is still very much in its infancy. But organoids have already provided insights into why menstruation is routine for some people and fraught for others. Some researchers are hopeful that these early results mark the dawn of a new era. Read the full story

—Saima Sidik

Both of the stories featured today are from the new ethics-themed print magazine issue of MIT Technology Review, set to go live on Wednesday. Subscribe to read it, if you don’t already!

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Canadian leaders are calling on Meta to reverse its news ban
They say the block has been preventing people from getting access to crucial information about wildfires. (WP $)
+ 850 people are still missing after the Maui wildfires, its mayor has said. (NBC)
Lahaina’s governor says the state ‘tipped too far’ in trying to preserve water. (NYT $)

2 Stars are inking deals to license their AI doubles 🎬
It creates new ways to make money—but also a hefty dose of anxiety for the future. (The Information $)
People are hiring out their faces to become deepfake-style marketing clones. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Despite early excitement, a lot of companies are struggling to meaningfully deploy AI. (Axios)
 + Most Americans want AI development to go more slowly. (Vox)

3 Russia’s bid to return to the moon failed
Its Luna 25 spacecraft slammed into the moon’s surface yesterday. (The Economist $)

4 Cruise has to halve its robotaxi fleet after two crashes in San Francisco
Just over a week after it gained approval to operate at all hours in the city. (Quartz)
Lidar on a chip will be crucial to the future of fully autonomous driving. (IEEE Spectrum)

5 Why some ships are getting back their sails
Shipping accounts for 2.1% of global CO2 emissions—using wind instead of fuel could help to cut that. (BBC)
How ammonia could help clean up global shipping. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Musk says X will no longer have a block function
Though it will remain for direct messages. (CNBC)
+ A glitch broke links from before 2014 on X. (The Verge)
+ Musk’s antics are starting to wear thin among some of his fans. (WSJ $)
+ Tesla is suing two former employees for allegedly leaking data. (Quartz $)

7 Here’s the trouble with getting your news from influencers
If you’re relying on a single creator, what happens when they’re wrong? (The Verge)

8 Can video games help people with ADHD?
As stimulant shortages drag on, people are starting to seek out help wherever they can. (Wired $)
We may never fully know how video games affect our wellbeing. (MIT Technology Review)

9 Haptic suits let you feel music through your skin
Groovy! (NYT $)

10 How Apple won US teens over
A recent survey found 87% have iPhones, and they’re unlikely to switch. (WSJ $)
Switching on subtitles is all the rage too. (Axios)

Quote of the day

“I used to think, ‘I’m concerned for my children and grandchildren.’ Now it’s to the point where I’m concerned about myself.”

—Mike Flannigan, a professor of wildland fire at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, Canada, tells the LA Times how he feels about scientists’ most dire climate predictions coming true.

The big story

This fuel plant will use agricultural waste to combat climate change

Photograph of orchard


February 2022

A startup called Mote plans to build a new type of fuel-producing plant in California’s fertile Central Valley that would, if it works as hoped, continually capture and bury carbon dioxide, starting from 2024. 

It’s among a growing number of efforts to commercialize a concept first proposed two decades ago as a means of combating climate change, known as bioenergy with carbon capture and sequestration, or BECCS.

It’s an ambitious plan. However, there are serious challenges to doing BECCS affordably and in ways that reliably suck down significant levels of carbon dioxide. Read the full story.

—James Temple

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ Amused by a 2001 BBC news report that refers to camera phones as a “gimmick.”
+ It won’t be to everyone’s taste, but this drink sounds delicious to me. 
+ Fan of Dave Grohl? I thoroughly recommend reading his autobiography
+ Today I discovered you can deter seagulls from stealing your food by staring them down.

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