Glimpses of the Future March 2015

Nano-Coating Produces Steel That Is 10x Stronger

An inexpensive new process can increase the strength of metals such as steel by as much as 10 times, and make them much more resistant to corrosion – it is claimed.

If the modified metals pass field testing, the new process could go on to make bridges and other infrastructure last far longer; it could also make cars lighter and therefore more fuel-efficient.

The Seattle-based startup that developed the process, Modumetal is commercialising it in part with collaboration with the oil companies Chevron, Conoco-Philips, and Hess.

Parts made using the technology are being tested in oil fields now. Some oil contains highly corrosive chemicals such as hydrogen sulfide that quickly damage production equipment. The new technology could make those parts last much longer and thus lower the cost of pursuing unconventional sources of oil. That could be just the first of a wide range of applications.

NASA Test-Launching Satellites With Gliders

DARPA recently unveiled its ALASA system for launching satellites from fighter planes. Now NASA is upping the ante with its Towed Glider Air-Launch System (TGALS), which is designed to launch satellites from a twin-fuselage towed glider.

Under development by NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center at Edwards Air Force Base, California, the glider launch is designed as an economical method for putting spacecraft into low-Earth orbit with the first test flight of a scale prototype having already been conducted.

Telescopic Contact Lenses For Those With Sight Problems

Scientists are developing new contact lenses that could give wearers superhero-like vision. The revolutionary lenses would allow individuals to zoom in and out, but they may also offer hope to thousands of elderly people suffering from vision loss.

The prototype lenses contain tiny aluminium telescopes that interact with a pair of specially designed glasses to allow wearers to toggle between normal and ‘zoomed in’ viewing.
The operating instructions tell users to wink the right eye to zoom and the left to zoom out.

The lenses, which were first developed by DARPA as super-thin cameras for aerial drones, have been retooled as a possible solution for those with age-related macular degeneration.

Multiple Announcements In Alzheimer’s Research Brings Hope

Alzheimer’s disease is universally feared because, at present, there is no cure for the condition and treatment only delays the onset of the worst symptoms.

In the last month two announcements from the Alzheimer’s research community have brought real hope.

The first is the discovery of a molecule that appears to stop the disease in its tracks.

A team at Cambridge University, working with partners in Sweden and Estonia, has identified a molecule which can block the progress of Alzheimer’s at a crucial stage in its development.

Not only is it the first time that experts have identified a means of breaking the cycle leading to the development of Alzheimer’s but they believe the technique could be used to identify other molecules as future treatments to curb the growth of the condition.

The second announcement was that an ultrasound technique has been found by Toronto researchers that reverses the effect of Alzheimer’s disease in mice.

Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging-guided ultrasound, a technology that involves highly-targeted ultrasound beams and monitoring their effects through imaging, has shown to help treat symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease in mice.

The treatment was found to improve brain performance in the animals and has the researchers hopeful that the technique may prove effective in improving cognitive behaviour in humans.

New Font Technology Makes SmartWatch Screens Legible

Spark is a new software program from Monotype that is meant to make fonts on tiny screens, such as those on smartwatches and digital dashboards in cars, as intuitive and legible as the ones on your computer.

The problem with fonts on small screens has to do with bitmap fonts, which get pre-coded into devices because they require less computational power. Unfortunately, those bitmap fonts are pixelated, so they won’t allow for the beauty and flexibility of rendered fonts—likeTimes New Roman or Helvetica. This where Monotype’s new Spark software comes in to produce clean, elegant displays.

The Smartphone Device That Will Be Able To Detect Cancer In Your Breath

A device developed in Israel called the “NaNose” is claimed to be able to detect cancer and other illness simply by sampling human breath.

NaNose is now being ported to be available on a smartphone as an add-on called “The Sniff Phone”.

By identifying the special “odour” emitted by cancer cells, it is claimed the NaNose system can detect the presence of tumours, both benign and malignant, more quickly, efficiently and cheaply than previously possible.

It is claimed the system is 90 per cent accurate.

Hotel Staffed By Robots To Open In Japan

At a new Japanese hotel named Henn-na the hotel staff welcoming you and guiding your way to your room doors won’t be the usual smiling, sometimes boring, human faces. Instead, you will be welcomed by robots.

Henn-na hotels, which will be opening its doors to the public this July, is one of its kind and the first to have a robotic staff on-board. Located inside the Huis Ten Bosch theme park in Nagasaki, the Henn-a Hotel will have almost its entire staff in the form of robots to make your day.

These robots will offer almost all the services that are carried out by humans; ranging from room cleaning to attending the reception desk and even to carrying your luggage to your rooms.

Salvia Test Claimed To Detect Autism

A team of scientists has identified biomarkers in the saliva of children with autism, potentially paving the way for earlier, and more reliable, diagnoses.

The scientists from Clarkson University and the State University of New York studied the saliva of six children with autism, alongside six children without, all aged between six and 16. Using a technique known as mass spectrometry, the team examined the protein levels in the saliva of each subject, observing notable differences between the two groups.

While still in its very early stages, the research offers hope that a simpler diagnostic test may one day become available. If larger trials prove the biomarker reliable it will lead to a new, much faster method of diagnosing the condition.

Expect it to be attached to a smartphone.

NASA Predicts USA To Be Hit By Mega-Droughts Later In Century – Caused By Climate Change

A new NASA study is predicting the occurrence of severe “megadroughts” across the United States in the second half of this century, that are set to be more extreme and prolonged than any droughts that have taken place in the region for the past 1,000 years.

According to the study, one of the key driving forces behind the devastating droughts will be the prolific creation of human-produced greenhouse gasses.

The study made use of several climate models including one spearheaded by NASA, and is the first of its kind to use historical data stretching back as far as 1,000 years. Most modern drought indicators only use data from around 100 years in the past, however NASA’s most recent study was able to draw on environmental conditions prevailing in the distant past by making use of a well-established tree-ring database.

Taking Selfies To Assess The Mental Health Of People Using Social Media

A team of researchers at the University of Rochester has developed a computer program that can help health professionals monitor a person`s mental health through the images from selfie videos the patient records while engaging in social media activity.

The method is a variation of existing health monitoring programs. The novelty here is that the user’s behaviour can be monitored quietly and unobtrusively while they routinely use their computer or smartphone. No extra information about how the user is feeling needs to be provided. No special accessories are required, either. The user just needs to go about their computer routine as usual.

During its experiments, the team, successfully measured a user’s heart rate simply by monitoring small changes in the patient’s forehead colour. Other visual signals could be extracted, such as blinking rate, eye pupil radius and head movement rate, from the video data, all of this using modern computer vision and signal processing techniques.

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