Glimpses of the Future December 2014

The 3-D Ultrasound Medical Scanner That Runs On Your Smartphone

Imagine that every doctor’s office – perhaps even every pharmacy – had a low cost imaging device running on a smartphone. The scanner would be able to provide instant, real-time pictures inside damaged limbs and inside other parts of the body, significantly reducing the time taken for diagnosis. No referrals, no hospital visits and faster treatments.
Several low-cost medical imaging devices driven by smartphones are now arriving. One of the most interesting approaches is from the Butterfly Network which proposes to make a small ultrasound scanner able to run on a variety of smartphones.

One issue with low-cost portable scanners is that family doctors and pharmacists will need training to interpret scan results. But scanner makers are also likely to offer a real-time on-line interpretation service to assist. And for a fee.

Autonomous Cars “Could Save $624 Billion A Year”

So significant will be the impact of autonomous cars that Forbes magazine estimates an initial $276 billion will be saved by these types of cars every year in terms of lives saved alone.

Furthermore, the savings figure expands when the estimated $41 billion in medical and work loss cost, a figure the CDC estimated to be linked to deadly car crashes in 2005, is added. This brings the total to $317 billion of potential savings if autonomous cars would ever be successful at preventing car crashes on our roads.

Aside from the savings in lives, non-fatal crash savings and time savings are estimated to be as big as $226 billion and $99 billion respectively. This adds up to a total of $642 billion every single year.

Theoretical “White Smell” Could Wipe Out Bad Odours

In a way similar to that in which “white noise” cancels out other sounds, a “while smell” device has been proposed that could eliminate the sense of unwanted odours.
Researchers at IBM and the University of Illinois set out to develop a framework that could be used to bring the sense of smell into everyday technology.

While the electromagnetic waves that reach our eyes and ears can be characterized by only three parameters (amplitude, phase and frequency), olfactory signals tend to be much more complex. Smells aren’t waves, but rather collections of molecules: an attempt to break them down to their fundamental components results in a huge, messy and hard-to-manage catalogue of thousands upon thousands of different chemical compounds.

There is however some good news. Recent studies suggest that while the molecules involved in smell are many, the space of human olfactory perception is fairly limited and can be predicted from the chemical properties of the molecules. Also, other findings show that it is possible to create a neutral “olfactory white” (the smell equivalent of white light and white noise) for any given smell.

This means that it is theoretically possible to build a machine that analyses the chemical composition of the surrounding air and then releases the appropriate cocktail of chemicals that neutralizes the detected smell, whatever it might be – a sort of noise-cancelling headphones for your nose. Moreover, because our sense of smell is relatively unsophisticated, we could achieve this using only a small number of chemical compounds.

Unlock Your PC, Or Gain Access To A Website With A Glance

A company called EyeLock will soon release a $280 device for home and work PCs that lets you glance into a camera to log in to websites and desktop software or to unlock your computer.

The device, called Myris, uses the unique pattern of your irises to verify your identity. Its record of what your irises look like is stored in encrypted form in secure hardware inside the device, which can store credentials for up to five people.

At first the Myris will be sold as a stand-alone device in retail stores, but the technology will also be built into future laptops through a deal with a Taiwanese company that manufactures PCs for HP, Acer, and other major brands.

Gene-Therapy Cure For Haemophilia B Now “Ready For Prime Time”

Ten patients with severe haemophilia B have remained cured of the inherited bleeding disorder for as long as three years thanks to gene therapy, according to a new report on the technique in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study updates an earlier report from 2011, in which six volunteers were successfully treated with various doses of the treatment that uses a virus to insert genetic material into the liver. The four additional patients received the highest dose.

“I believe that, scientifically, this is ready for prime time,” said the chief author, Dr. Andrew Davidoff of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

China And A Few Other Nations Capable Of Shutting Down U.S. National Grid

China and “one or two others” can shut down the U.S. electric grids and other critical infrastructure and is performing electronic reconnaissance on a regular basis, said NSA director Admiral Michael Rogers, testifying recently at a House Select Intelligence Committee hearing on U.S. efforts to combat cybersecurity.

“All of that leads me to believe it is only a matter of when, not if, we are going to see something dramatic,” he said. In cyberspace, “you can literally do almost anything you want, and there is not a price to pay for it.

“China’s economic cyber espionage … has grown exponentially in terms of volume and damage done to our nation’s economic future,” he added. “The Chinese intelligence services that conduct these attacks have little to fear because we have no practical deterrents to that theft. This problem is not going away until that changes.”

Superconducting Cable Passes Practical Trails

Last month I reported that Prof Stephen Hawking predicted fusion power and superconductivity will become practical within 10 years.

Now, the news is that for over 180 days the AmpaCity superconducting cable in Essen, Germany, has been conducting power successfully to 10,000 homes.

The superconductor transports five times more electricity than conventional copper cables with hardly any losses. Since its commissioning on April 30 this year, the cable of one kilometre in length has distributed about 20 million kilowatt hours.

Qualcomm To Roll Out Robot Platform

Qualcomm has announced that in the spring of 2015 it will roll out a new robotics development platform.

Aimed at small start-ups that want to create robotic apps for their particular industries, the bigger hope is that this hardware and software-based platform will bring some unity – and a bit of presence for Qualcomm – to what is a very fragmented industry still in its early days.

Last month the company announced the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator – a four-month mentor-based program focusing on robotics and intelligent machines via a partnership with Techstars.

Healthcare Next Sector To Undergo Disruption”

At Exponential Medicine, a conference organised recently by the Singularity University, healthcare was identified as the next industry sector to undergo exponential change over the next decade.

Sensor technology, of course, is at the front and centre of the revolution. A profusion of body sensors are poised to be strung throughout the environment and in and on our bodies. These sensors are tiny, cheap, energy efficient, and most importantly, connected.

Sensors stand to collect information, not once every year or two, but every day, hour, or minute. They can open a window on disease before it becomes critical, before symptoms drive us to seek help, making diagnoses early and more accurate (assuming health services are geared up to cope with this data).

The best known health devices adapt smartphone motion sensors to detect movement (e.g., step trackers). But these are just the beginning. The next wave of sensors will measure a range of vital signs connected to the heart, blood, and brain.

The SmartWatch That Predicts Epileptic Seizures

A new SmartWatch called “Embrace” can spot the warning signs of an epileptic seizure in its wearers.

Embrace was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, through a spin-off company called Empatica. It measures the skin’s electrical activity as a proxy for changes deep in the brain, and uses a model built on years of clinical data to tell which changes portend a seizure.

It also gathers the usual temperature and motion data that smartwatches collect, allowing the wearer to measure physical activity and sleep quality.

Japan Deregulates To Boost and Protect Its Lead In Robots

Japan, with the world’s largest robot population, is now awakening to a crisis as its lead in robotics – one of its last areas of technological prominence – comes under threat from better-coordinated efforts in the United States and Germany, as well as Asian rivals South Korea and China.

As robots advance from the factory floor into homes, hospitals, shops and even war zones, officials hope to spur a new “robotics revolution” by deregulating and rewriting rules that researchers say have stifled Japanese innovation.

“We think robotics can make Japan competitive again,” said Atsushi Mano, director of robotic technology at the trade ministry’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization.

The agency has recruited Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Panasonic Corp to make a new robot surgeon that could perform intricate tasks, such as removing pancreatic tumours, while a surgeon manipulates its controls.

The Trainer That (Almost) Laces Itself

Auto-lacing shoes are here, finally. And pretty well right on schedule. Thirty years after Back to the Future II sold the world on the concept in a fictional 2015, a startup called Powerlace in St Hubert, Canada has created a shoe that’s claimed will pave the way for a paradigm shift in the shoe industry.

The company’s system uses a pressure plate in the heel to tighten shoes and a level at the lower rear end to release them, with an adjustment puller near the tongue.

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