Glimpses of the Future July 2014

Expedia Now Accepting Bitcoin – The Cyber Currency Is Growing Up

The ever-expanding business uptake of bitcoin continues as more companies realize its increasing popularity amongst tech-savvy consumers. As a result, many progressive companies like Virgin Galactic,, and Atomic Mail have embraced the digital currency as a method of payment. Now has added its name to that list by announcing that it, too, will accept bitcoins for payment of hotel accommodation.

Bitcoin is seeing a steady increase in its exchange in businesses worldwide, not just because it has a public ledger that indicates it is set up as a trustworthy and secure technology, but because consumer uptake is increasing. Not the least of which is because Bitcoin is touted as basically inflation-proof. That is, the gradual restriction of supply – rather than a continued production of money like in “quantitative easing” – is part of the Bitcoin protocol. Total supply is topped at a loosely-defined limit of 21 million, and every four years the creation rate of bitcoins is halved.

To help create a Bitcoin payment system, Expedia partnered with Coinbase, a third-party Bitcoin payment processor, to integrate bitcoin payment support on A Bitcoin consumer wallet and merchant payment processing platform, Coinbase claims 1.3 million consumer wallets and the support of 32,000 merchants. Coinbase’s business model includes securely storing bitcoins in the cloud, accepting bitcoins as payment and receiving funds in US dollars.

A Way To Stop Bacteria Becoming Resistant To Antibiotics

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) in England have uncovered an Achilles’ heel in bacterial cell defences that could mean that bacteria wouldn’t develop drug-resistance in the first place.

The UEA researchers have discovered a weakness that opens up the possibility of developing drugs that don’t attack the bacteria itself, but target the defensive barrier that surrounds its cells.

Up until now, very little was known about how the outer membrane, which surrounds the drug-resistant bacterial cells and protects against attacks from the human immune system and antibiotic drugs, is built.

But by examining a class of bacteria called “Gram-negative bacteria“, which has an impermeable lipid-based outer membrane that makes it particularly resistant to antibiotics, the researchers found how lipopolysaccharides – the building blocks of this defensive barrier – are transported to the outer surface.

If the research does indeed lead to the development of a new class of drugs that could effectively kill drug-resistant bacteria, it could be as ground-breaking and prove as important to human health as the development of antibiotics.

“Bruise Trousers” Enable Paraplegic Athletes To See When They’ve Been Hurt

A group of researchers at Imperial College London have invented a set of “bruise trousers” that show such athletes when and where they’ve received a serious impact below the waist.

The trousers were created as part of the Rio Tinto Sports Innovation project, which is aimed at fostering the development of Paralympic sporting equipment.

They’re made of breathable white Lycra, that’s lined with pockets containing strips of a pressure-reactive film – the pockets are strategically located over the thorax, pelvis and leg bones.

Commonly used to measure pressure distribution in industrial applications such as newspaper printing presses, that film releases a magenta dye from embedded microcapsules when it receives a hard impact – the stronger the impact, the more intense the colour of the resulting stain in the film, which can be seen through the Lyrca.

S. Korean Researchers Create “Raptor” Robot Which Can Run Faster Than Any Human

Inspired by dinosaurs, Raptor is a new fast-running biped robot developed by the MSC Lab at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST). It has two under-actuated legs and a tail inspired by velociraptors, providing stability over high obstacles.

The Raptor robot runs at a speed of 46 km/h (28.58 mph) on a treadmill with off-board power. That’s faster than the fastest human, the Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, whose top speed has been estimated at 43.92 km/h — but not as fast as Boston Dynamics’ Cheetah, at 47 km/h (29.2 mph).

Is Supersonic Jet Liner Travel About To Make A Comeback?

At last month’s Aviation 2014, an annual event of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, NASA presented examples of the space agency’s work on new technologies that could lead to a revival of civilian supersonic travel within the next 15 years.

Building a Concorde Mark II is a lot more than just dusting off the old blueprints and updating them. If supersonic passenger service is to succeed, there are major hurdles to be overcome.

The greatest hurdle is taming the sonic boom. These days, unless they spend a lot of time in the middle of the ocean or near military air bases, few people hear sonic booms very often, but they’re still a window-rattling problem as the air in front of the supersonic liner tries to get out of the way, only to form a shock wave on the nose of the aircraft.

New aircraft designs are undergoing wind tunnel tests at NASA with specially constructed models that reproduce the characteristics of the full-size vehicle at supersonic velocities. This allows scientists to measure the boom signatures at various distances while estimating engine performance, with this data then used to validate and tweak computer models.

Leukaemia Drug Found To Boost Immunity Against Many Cancer Types

A class of drug called p110δ inhibitors, currently being used to treat leukaemia, has the unexpected side-effect of boosting immune responses against many different cancers, reports a new study led by scientists at UCL (University College London) and the Babraham Institute, Cambridge.

The drugs have shown such remarkable efficacy against certain leukaemias in recent clinical trials that patients on the placebo were switched to the real drug. Until now, however, they have not been tested in other types of cancer.

The new study provides the first evidence that such drugs can significantly restrict tumour growth and spread and reduce the chances of relapse for a broad range of cancers. The researchers, together with scientists from Genentech, showed that inhibition of the p110δ enzyme helps to boost the body’s immune system to kill tumour cells.

Artificial Human Blood That Can Be Stored For Two Years (And It’s Suitable For All Blood Types)

Scientists at the University of Essex are developing an artificial blood substitute that would provide a benign, virus-free alternative for blood transfusions.

The artificial blood substitute being developed by the University of Essex’s Haem02 project would be able to be stored at room temperatures for up to two years, which would allow it to be distributed worldwide without the need for refrigeration and make it immediately accessible at the site of natural disasters. Best of all, as a claimed universal blood replacement it could be administered to anyone, regardless of blood type.

Effectively, the artificial blood substitute is a human blood oxygen carrier (HBOC) that emulates a red blood cell’s role in the human body by transporting oxygen throughout the tissue.

Chinese Researchers Create Fabric That Serves As A Battery

Scientists at the Fudan University in Shanghai, China, have developed a high-performance Li-ion battery made of carbon nanotube fibre yarns.

Roughly 1mm in diameter, the fibre-shaped lithium-ion batteries are reported lightweight enough to create weavable and wearable textile batteries that could power various devices.

The researchers say that the yarn is capable of delivering nearly 71 mAh/g of power, and can also be woven into existing textiles to create novel electronic fabrics.

To make the fibre batteries, the team had to develop functional cathode and anode composite yarns. Lithium manganate (LMO) particles were deposited on a carbon nanotube (CNT) sheet and scrolled up to create a CNT-LMO composite yarn which functions as the cathode. The anode composite yarns were made by sandwiching a CNT sheet between two silicon-coated CNT sheets and scrolling them up. When the two yarns, which are separated by a gel electrolyte for safety, are wound, it results in a CNT-based fibre-shaped Li-ion battery (LIB).

The Human Brain Has A Processing Power “Equivalent To 75 Billion, 16GB iPads

New research into analysing the human brain concludes we have 85 billion brain cells, with up to 10,000 connections for each one.

The amount of information in the three-dimensional representation of the whole “connectome” at that level of detail would equal a zettabyte, a term only recently invented when the amount of digital data accumulating in the world required new words. It equals about a trillion gigabytes, or as one calculation framed it, 75 billion 16-gigabyte iPads.

Three Positive Ways In Which Animals Are Helping Human Health Care

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has produced guidelines for genetically engineered animals such as pigs, cows, chickens, and fish that could be used to produce pharmaceuticals, and human organs for transplantation. There are three ways in which animals are currently being used to enhance human healthcare.

Synthetic Genomics and United Therapeutics recently announced a collaborative research and development agreement to produce humanized organs in pigs for human transplantation.

A second animal contribution may lie in drugs derived from novel nanobodies designed from antibodies found in the immune system of llamas. Nanobodies are much smaller than current antibodies used for human therapeutics, which could result in deeper tissue penetration, less off-target effects, and cleaner safety and side-effect profiles.

A third animal benefit to human healthcare may lie in cloning excellent agricultural animals rather than breeding freely and using antibiotics to treat less healthy types. This would help in reducing antibiotic use thus reducing resistance to antibiotics in bacteria.

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