R&D Roundup: soft 3D printing, backscatter Wi-Fi and other bleeding-edge tech

I see far more research articles than I could possibly write up. This column collects the most interesting of those papers and advances along with notes on why they may prove important in the world of tech and startups.

This week: advances in rocketry, machine learning, wireless transmission and more.

Firing up new rockets

In some ways, rocketry is not so different from its beginnings around WWII, but as other bottlenecks give way it is becoming feasible to experiment with truly innovative types of rocket engines. One such type is the rotating detonation engine, an alternative to the standard means of controlling and directing the combustion that creates thrust. The process is highly chaotic, however, and not well understood enough to control properly.

University of Washington researchers set up a test rotating detonation engine and studied the combustion patterns inside using an ultra-high-speed camera. The footage was analyzed to produce the first mathematical model simulating the process. It’s still at a very early stage but understanding the mechanism of a new technology like this is necessary before putting it into practice. When packaged in software, this type of simulation can also be licensed to aerospace firms. You can read the full paper here.