In May 2012, the International Space Station's robotic claw, the Canadarm2, caught and secured the first commercial spacecraft to ever dock with the ISS: SpaceX's Dragon capsule. The bullet-shaped vehicle flew to the ISS carrying cargo for its crew, making history for the private space sector in the process. SpaceX has grown leaps and bounds since then, signing contracts with NASA and other government agencies and developing more advanced technologies for space travel. It's even in the midst of designing Dragon version 2, which, unlike its unmanned predecessor, will be able to fit up to seven passengers. While Elon Musk's company is the most well-known commercial spaceflight firm today, it's hardly the only one. The private space industry is huge and it continues to grow; read on to know more about it.

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Let's face it, the Robot Apocalypse is near. Just a few days ago, we met A.L.O Botlr, a robot from the high-tech Aloft Hotel in Cupertino, California that acts as a butler. Naturally, the food industry, as important as it is, couldn't stay behind, so here's where a new restaurant in China comes in. Simply called Robot Restaurant, the place, located in Kunshan, China, has over a dozen androids in its staff. Some of them are waiters, others cook and a couple greet customers as they come in -- sorry, everyone, no booze-carting servers here. Robot Restaurant's owner and founder, Song Yugang, that his peculiar staff members can understand about 40 "everyday sentences," making them smart enough to interact with human customers. Most importantly, he adds, "They can't get sick or ask for vacation. After charging up for two hours they can work for five hours."

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Blade Runner

Sometimes you just need to clear your mind from all distractions and tune out the rest of the world. Sure, you could rely on a playlist or a regular ol' white noise machine, but that doesn't do much to boost your geek cred. Thanks to YouTuber crysknife007, you can now zone out with ambient sounds from Blade Runner, Battlestar Galactica and more. Whether its the hum of the engines from the Millennium Falcon or Nostromo, there are plenty of options to choose from with all of them providing a 12-hour loop that's sure to last a workday. Of course, you turn off all the lights and pretend your soaring through space, too.

[Photo credit: Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images]

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GoPro footage is great when well-shot, but the jittery results from less-talented individuals can induce nausea or seizures. If you're interested in doing sped-up time lapse shots, however, Microsoft researchers have created an algorithm that makes them video game-smooth. Their technique is not like regular video stabilization, however. Instead, the "Hyperlapse" method first calculates a 3D camera path and rough geometry of the scene. Then it creates a smooth new optimized camera path, which is used to stitch and blend existing frames to create new output frames. The team has created several sample videos as shown below, and we've got to hand it to them -- despite some artifacts, the final results feel like nearly like flying.

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Printing in three dimensions allows for a ton of really cool (and life-saving) stuff, but one area it apparently hasn't conquered just yet is realistically reproducing human hair. The masterminds at Disney Research think they have a solution for that conundrum. Instead of trying to capture individual strands of someone's coif, the team is taking a similar approach to that of Michelangelo, and attempting to capture an overall "essence" of a person's hairstyle by fitting it on a bust like a helmet. And while the applications for most of what Walt's science department cooks up are a bit ambiguous, it seems pretty likely this tech'll be found in the myriad souvenir shops lining The Magic Kingdom. Disney says that the ultimate goal is to make more realistic (and possibly nightmare-inducing) figurines that accurately capture the subject's personality. What's more, the outfit has pointed out that it's even capable of accurately capturing facial hair. I might be a tad biased, but here's to hoping that means sideburns too.

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We've been following NASA's Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator (LDSD) program for awhile now, and finally have some HD video of it to share. The footage chronicles the LDSD's recent balloon-and-parachute-enabled test-flight and was captured with a number of high-def and high-speed cameras placed on and around the spacecraft. While it isn't a full, unedited clip, this two-minute video gives us the best look at how the contraption actually works and a different perspective of Earth from outer space. The aeronautics outfit says that the test flight provided it with valuable new datasets that can be applied to next year's hypersonic dry-runs ahead of the LDSD's trip to Mars.

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Researchers at the University of Michigan have developed an iridescent material that reveals hidden words or images in the right setting. What exactly causes the message to show? A single breath. That's right, breathing on the plastic sheets makes whatever has been inscribed on it visible -- thanks to a little instant humidity -- but otherwise hidden from view. Images are created using a custom ink-jet printer to output a water-repellant coating in the desired shape. When breathed on, water condenses to show the image -- similar to the manner in which a peacock's feathers lose their glimmer when they're wet. The group aims for the material to be used to combat counterfeiters, replacing holograms on passports and more.

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Small, eco-friendly optical supercomputers may soon be crunching quadrillions of calculations per second (exaflops) if a company called Optalysys has its way. It claims to be months away from demonstrating a prototype optical computer that will run at 346 gigaflops to start with -- not as fast as the best supercomputers, but pretty good for a proof-of-concept. Here's how it works: low-intensity lasers are beamed through layers of liquid crystal grids, which change the light intensity based on user inputted data. The resulting interference patterns can be used to solve mathematical equations and perform other tasks. By splitting the beam through multiple grids, the system can compute in parallel much more efficiently than standard multi-processing supercomputers (as shown in the charming Heinz Wolff-hosted video below).

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Sipa feed for Time

Earth's view from the International Space Station always makes for interesting imagery, and the latest to come from up there is no exception. Recently shared by European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst, a telling picture shows what Gaza and Israel looked like as the ISS traveled over the troubled region. Gerst wrote in a blog post that, although he could see "explosions occur several times" while this was being snapped, the photo doesn't actually depict any blasts. Originally, previous reports suggested it did, but as PetaPixel pointed out, something like that would be extremely difficult "to capture effectively from space." Either way, Gerst described it as his "saddest photo yet."

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Macaroni and cheese

It's safe to say food is one of the greatest things life has to offer. However, sometimes not everyone has the right ingredients on hand to prepare every dish of interest, particularly those that, for whatever reason (read: they looked good), randomly stood out while surfing the web. Here's where Popcart hopes to come in. The newly developed tool, which is the result of a partnership between online grocer FreshDirect and recipe-indexing site Foodily, can pretty much transform any recipe on the internet into goods that can be delivered right to your door. It's simple really -- all you have to do is install the service's bookmarklet on your desktop browser and the rest is a piece of cake (not literally). Once you've done this, just highlight the ingredients from your recipe of choice, then click "Popcart it" on the bookmarks bar and, voilà, everything gets added to your FreshDirect cart. The only minor letdown is that Popcart's only available in places where FreshDirect operates, which includes areas around New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia, to mention a few.

[Image credit: Shutterstock/Elena Shashkina]

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Want to be inspired by the next generation's ingenuity, while simultaneously feeling like you've underachieved? Here are the global finalists for Google's Science Fair 2014! As with previous years, the entries are high-minded and often brilliant, as the young teams try to solve problems like cyberbullying, food scarcity and just waking up. The students, aged 13 to 18 years, come from across the world: For instance, Russia's Anastasia Korovyanskaya (aged 17-18) came up with an ultrasonic burner, while Pranav Sivakumar (US) in the 13- to 14-year-old category has proposed a method for spotting gravitationally lensed quasars. Judged by a panel of academic and industry leaders, competitors are vying for prestigious awards including a $50,000 scholarship from Google, a National Geographic expedition and a behind-the-scenes visit of Virgin's Galactic Spaceport. The winners will be announced on September 22nd, but meanwhile take a closer look at the finalists right here.

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After ten years in space and many complex maneuvers later, the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft is finally in position to rendezvous with the 2.5-mile diameter comet 67P. Starting at 4AM EST today (8AM GMT), ESA will broadcast a live webcast discussing the science and history of Rosetta. Around 5AM EST (9AM GMT) Rosetta will begin its close approach and start transmitting the first signals from the comet's orbit. Once in position, Rosetta will execute a final "close approach trajectory insertion," a six minute thruster burn that will bring it near enough to the comet to be captured by its gravity. Later in the year, a 62-pound lander called Philae will leave the mothership and lock itself down to the comet with harpoons. Using onboard instruments, it'll examine its composition and relay the information to earth. In November, Rosetta will tag along with the comet as does a close orbit around the sun, examining how it changes when heated. Meanwhile, enjoy the show (below) as it approaches the giant rock.

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What happens when a physicist decides to become a chef? If they're anything like Manuel Linares, then you can expect a fusion of food and science to come out of their kitchen. For instance, one of the Spaniard's masterpieces is an ice cream that changes colors when you lick it. He calls it the Xamaleón, a play on the Spanish word for chameleon, and it originally starts as a periwinkle blue frozen treat until it's spritzed with Linares' "love elixir," a super secret mixture he concocted himself. This mixture reacts to changes in temperature and saliva, causing the tutti-frutti-flavored ice cream to turn into purple, then into pink as you lick.

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Thanks to Princess Leia's famous Star Wars plea, true holograms rank just behind flying cars as tech we want, nay deserve to have in our lifetimes -- and Tupac-style flimflam won't cut it. Now, an exhibition from artists Chris Helson and Sarah Jackets whimsically called "Help Me Obi" projects objects as large as 30cm (12-inches) in space. Visible from any angle in the room, the subjects include a newborn baby and NASA's Voyager 1 space probe. The creators are quick to point out that the machine doesn't create a true hologram, but rather a "360-degree video object." We take that to mean that it's more like a floating 3D movie that looks the same from any angle, rather than a true holographic object you can study from all sides. Since they're seeking a patent, Helson and Jackets are coy about exactly how it works, but say that there's nothing else quite like it (that they know of). If you're in the Edinburgh, Scotland area between July 31st and August 30th, you can judge for yourself at the Alt-W exhibition.

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