In a suburb of Bristol, in western England, not far from the Welsh border, a band of engineers are building a machine that they hope will make the biggest jump in the century-long history of the official world land-speed record, taking it from a smidgen above the speed of sound to 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) per hour. That’s roughly the cruising speed of a fighter aircraft, but it’s considerably harder to achieve at ground level, where the atmosphere is far thicker. And there’s the not-insignificant danger that the vehicle will end up plowing into the ground. ... Even in the complicated business of breaking such speed records, Bloodhound represents a remarkable array of firsts in terms of technology, engineering techniques, and propulsion systems, all set to send the missile-shaped car down a nearly 20-km-long racetrack in the South African desert toward the end of this year. Perhaps the most striking of those firsts is the project’s method of verifying the safety of the design. To a degree that would be unthinkable today, earlier record attempts relied on overengineering, best-guess estimates, intuition, and sheer luck. Earlier generations of engineers would often discover a car’s limits with destructive testing—running it until it broke. Now modeling and data acquisition, the preferred tools for designing both aircraft and cars, are making headway in this most extreme of sports. Bloodhound is the first project of its kind to apply them. By the time the car makes its great bid for the record in South Africa, it will have done the run 1,000 times in silico. ... Take the wheels, for example. They will be the fastest-turning wheels in the world. And when the car is traveling at 1,600 km/h, material on the rim of a wheel will experience about 50,000 g’s.
Immune Engineering: Genetically engineered immune cells are saving the lives of cancer patients. That may be just the start.
Precise Gene Editing in Plants: CRISPR offers an easy, exact way to alter genes to create traits such as disease resistance and drought tolerance.
Conversational Interfaces: Powerful speech technology from China’s leading Internet company makes it much easier to use a smartphone.
Reusable Rockets: Rockets typically are destroyed on their maiden voyage. But now they can make an upright landing and be refueled for another trip, setting the stage for a new era in spaceflight.
Robots That Teach Each Other: What if robots could figure out more things on their own and share that knowledge among themselves?
DNA App Store: An online store for information about your genes will make it cheap and easy to learn more about your health risks and predispositions.
SolarCity’s Gigafactory: A $750 million solar facility in Buffalo will produce a gigawatt of high-efficiency solar panels per year and make the technology far more attractive to homeowners.
Slack: A service built for the era of mobile phones and short text messages is changing the workplace.
Tesla Autopilot: The electric-vehicle maker sent its cars a software update that suddenly made autonomous driving a reality.
Power from the Air: Internet devices powered by Wi-Fi and other telecommunications signals will make small computers and sensors more pervasive.