Glimpses of the Future – November 2015

Report Says Apple Car Due In 2019

Traditional car makers (and their suppliers) are seriously rattled by the idea that the likes of Apple and Google will soon be making cars. Now, a new report puts a date on when you can buy an Apple car: 2019.

The company already has a few thousand employees working on the Apple Car, including engineers from Tesla and GM, team managers. Test tracks have been created at former military bases.

It seems as though the Apple Car is ready to go from concept or project to prototype, seeing as test sites are being prepared and government discussion meetings are already on the way.

That Apple is discussing specifics about the Apple Car and its compliance with legislation certainly suggests the Cupertino-based company is further along with the development process than has been previously thought.

EU Rules That bitcoin Is A Currency, Not A Commodity

Virtual currency bitcoin took another step toward legitimacy when Europe’s top court ruled recently that it must be treated like a currency—not a commodity—for tax purposes.

The European Union’s Court of Justice ruled that bitcoin exchanges that transfer conventional currencies such as euros or Swedish krona into bitcoin for a fee are exempt from value-added taxes because of EU rules barring such taxes on transfers of “currency, bank notes and coins used as legal tender.”

The ruling is a significant boost for bitcoin in one of the world’s largest trading areas, removing the threat of taxes that would have raised the cost of buying or using the virtual currency in Europe.

New App Provides Vision For The Blind

A smartphone app for iOS and Android called NavCog helps blind people navigate their surroundings by whispering into their ears through earbuds or by creating subtle vibrations on their smartphones. (Users have the option of either setting the app to “voice mode” or “vibration mode.”)

Similar to the turn-by-turn directions offered by car GPS systems, the app offers its own version of turn-by-turn directions for the visually impaired. The app analyses signals from Bluetooth beacons located along walkways and from smartphone sensors to help enable users to move without human assistance, whether inside campus buildings or outdoors.

The magic happens when algorithms are able to help the blind identify in near real-time where they are, which direction they are facing and additional surrounding environmental information. The computer vision navigation application tool turns smartphone images of the surrounding environment into a 3-D space model that can be used to issue turn-by-turn navigation guidance.

GM Plants No Longer Need To Contain “Foreign” DNA

A twist on a revolutionary gene-editing technique may make it possible to modify plant genomes while avoiding regulations that prohibit the introduction of foreign DNA.

Plant scientists have been quick to experiment with the popular CRISPR/Cas9 technique, which uses an enzyme called Cas9, guided by two RNA strands, to precisely cut segments of DNA in a genome. By disabling specific genes in wheat and rice, for example, researchers hope to make disease-resistant strains of the crops.

But normally the process can introduce bits of foreign DNA into plant genomes. And some jurisdictions, such as the European Union, could decide to classify such plants as genetically modified organisms (GMOs) — making their acceptance by regulatory bodies contentious.

Now a Korean research team has managed to tweak the technique so that it can delete specific plant genes without introducing foreign DNA, creating plants that should be exempt from current GMO regulations.

Micro-Lab Allows In-Field Blood Tests

Scientists have come up with a self-contained lab in a needle-like device which is claimed capable of delivering results to common lab tests instantly.

The device could potentially allow doctors to diagnose and treat conditions faster and make it easier to conduct diagnostic tests anywhere.

To create their device, scientists at Houston Methodist, in collaboration with researchers in Singapore, made use of the concept of a lab on a chip; a small microfluidic chip capable of carrying out the functions of a routine laboratory diagnostic test. The goal was to create one medical device capable of collecting and evaluating patient samples, testing them and then displaying the results.

The device uses liver samples from a biopsy. The samples are ground up, and the DNA components refined and extracted. These are sent to a separate part of the device, divided into test wells and toxicity tests performed. A camera records an image of each test well and the technician looks for evidence of toxic concentrations.

Philips Partners With Amazon Cloud On Health Monitoring

Philips has announced that it is strengthening its collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) as part of its strategy to enable a digital health Internet of Things (IoT) for new types of connected and personalised health monitoring devices. The company stresses that the security of health-related data is its primary focus.

AWS IoT, a new platform that makes it easy for devices to connect to AWS services, will expand the connectivity, capabilities and services of Philips’ HealthSuite digital platform, an open IT infrastructure that supports the secure management of data related to a person’s health and lifestyle, as well as large scale clinical data.

Secure is good when it comes to health data.

DNA Study Suggests Environment Can “Cause Male Homosexuality”

Homosexuality may be triggered by environmental factors during childhood after scientists found that genetic changes which happen after birth can determine whether a man is straight or gay.

The finding is highly controversial because it suggests that some men are not born gay, but are turned homosexual by their surroundings. It also raises privacy concerns that medical records could reveal sexuality.

Scientists at the University of California studied 37 sets of identical male twins, who were born with the same genetic blueprint, to tease out which genes were associated with homosexuality. In each pair, one of the twins was gay.

Only 20 percent of identical twins are both gay leading researchers to believe that there must be causes which are not inherited.

They found that it was possible to tell whether a man was gay or straight by monitoring tiny changes in how his DNA functions after birth – a field known as epigenetics. Where DNA works as an overall instruction manual, epigenetics act as another layer of information highlighting which parts of the text are important and which can be ignored.

Genetically-Modified Pig Embryos May Provide Organs For Humans

Researchers have created what they believe to be a suitable non-human organ donor by modifying more than 60 genes in pig embryos, according to Nature. The modifications represent a new world record – previously, only six genes have ever been modified in pig embryos.

Prior to the research, scientists failed to create a steady supply of human transplant organs in pigs due to concerns about the human immune system and potential viruses in the pig genome.

The next step for researchers is to grow the modified pig embryos into actual pigs, harvest their organs and then test out their suitability for transplantation into humans. If the efforts are successful, pigs could become organ donors for humans in the near future.

Designer Dogs Have Now Been Created – How Long Until Designer Babies?

Large jets have long been able to land entirely automatically at major airports but now new sensing technology is about to help pilots land manually at smaller airfields even in the worst weather.

Scientists in China say they are the first to use gene editing to produce customised dogs. They created beagles with double the amount of muscle mass by deleting a gene called myostatin.

The dogs have “more muscles and are expected to have stronger running ability, which is good for hunting, police (military) applications,” Liangxue Lai, a researcher with the Key Laboratory of Regenerative Biology at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, said.

Passenger Planes To Get Tech To Help Pilots Land In Very Bad Weather

Large jets have long been able to land entirely automatically at major airports but now new sensing technology is about to help pilots land manually at smaller airfields even in the worst weather.

“Enhanced vision systems,” enabling pilots to manually to complete landings feature infrared cameras able to peer through fog or rain. The aim is to avoid cancelling or diverting flights due to poor visibility at scheduled destinations. The cameras are likely to be combined in the future with other sensors and computer-generated runway images.

Within a few years, according to cockpit-equipment makers, business jets and airliners outfitted with cutting-edge hardware will be able to do things aviators have only dreamed about: eventually touch down at virtually any airport without pilots first having to see the physical runway.

Currently, only the most advanced jets using the latest automated landing systems come close to that goal. Such arrivals typically occur at major hubs with extensive ground-based landing aids.

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