Best Tech Stories around the web #149

On the program this week: Google Earth VR now lets you explore Street View imagery, SpaceX plans to begin Mars colonization by 2022, synthetic muscle for robots, Microsoft acquires VR social network AltspaceVR and an augmented reality art project.

Google Earth VR now lets you explore Street View imagery from 85 countries by digitaltrends.com

Google has just enhanced its already impressive Earth VR experience, adding Street View imagery to make the virtual reality app even more immersive. Up to now, you could fly around the planet like Superman, exploring locations from above using an Oculus Rift or HTC Vive headset. But now you can drop down to ground level to explore Street View imagery from 85 countries using the Google Earth VR app. The content comes from the Street View team as well as regular folks who’ve been contributing 360 photos to the online tool. Read more

Elon Musk Announces SpaceX Plans to Begin Mars Colonization by 2022 by archdaily.com

At this morning’s International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, SpaceX founder and Lead Designer Elon Musk announced the most ambitious plans yet for the colonization of planets and satellites beyond Earth, including the establishment of a lunar base and a permanent Mars colony by 2022. “The future is vastly more exciting and interesting if we’re a space-faring species than if we’re not,” said Musk during his keynote. “It’s about believing in the future and thinking the future will be better than the past.” Read more

Synthetic muscle breakthrough could lead to 'lifelike' robots by engadget.com

A breakthrough in soft robotics means scientists are now one step closer to creating lifelike machines. Researchers at Columbia Engineering have developed a 3D printed synthetic tissue that can act as active muscle. The material, which can push, pull, bend, and twist (thanks to its use of silicone rubber and ethanol-dispensing micro-bubbles) is also capable of carrying 1,000 times its own weight. Not only could the invention result in super-strong machines (like a Terminator that works in manufacturing), but it will also release soft robots from their current shackles. Read more

Microsoft acquires VR social network AltspaceVR by theverge.com

AltspaceVR, the virtual reality social network that hosts events like stand-up comedy or presidential debate-watching parties, is now part of Microsoft. After a sudden shutdown due to a drop in funding in July, the free VR community was in “deep discussions” with unknown parties to keep it online. It originally looked like Oculus co-founder Palmer Luckey might step in and save the community, but Microsoft has now come to the rescue. Read more

Snapchat and Jeff Koons Collaborate on Augmented Reality Art Project by nytimes.com

Wait, when did they put that giant metal rabbit under the Eiffel Tower? If you receive photos of the provocative artist Jeff Koons’s sculptures looming under and over international landmarks, don’t be alarmed: It’s just augmented reality. Snapchat has partnered with Mr. Koons to allow users to project his sculptures in specific sites around the world — including in Central Park in New York, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, and on the Champ de Mars in Paris. Read more