Glimpses of the Future – October 2015

The Robot You’re Not Allowed To Have Sex With

It may not have occurred to you to buy a robot for sex purposes, but the manufacturers of “Pepper” are so worried that you might, they have banned all such activity.

With 1,000 units set to go on sale in the U.S. later this month, Japanese telecom giant SoftBank has high hopes for its domestic robot, Pepper.

If the company wants to achieve its dream of a Pepper in every home, however, numerous ethical issues must be considered and overcome, one of which being the thorny matter of owners who attempt to treat their little robot like an altogether different kind of helping hand.

It seems that SoftBank is already trying to keep ahead of the curve, however, by clearly stating in its documentation for Pepper that sexual acts with the cheery robot are strictly prohibited.

Pepper is designed with artificial intelligence to make it the perfect household companion by reading you emotions and providing the appropriate small talk and/or encouragement when needed.

Will it report you if you try to ignore the rules? (Or will it go online to gossip about you?)

First Wearable To Analyse Your Saliva

Your spit says a lot about your health, and now there’s wearable technology being tested to track it.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, have demonstrated a mouth guard with electronic sensors that can detect concentrations of certain chemicals in saliva. Such a gadget could be useful to soldiers, pilots, athletes, and even hospital patients.

The group recently revealed a new sensor that can detect the concentration of uric acid—an elevated concentration of uric acid in the blood and urine has been associated with various metabolic disorders.

This is the second sensor the group has made for the mouth guard. Last year, it showed that it was possible to measure lactate—elevated concentrations of which have been associated with muscle fatigue, among other things.

The device wirelessly transmits the information it collects to a smartphone or computer via Bluetooth Low Energy, a technology that consumes much less power than classic Bluetooth.

Researchers Discover How Genes Leap Between Species

Scientists have discovered a way by which genes from one species can jump directly into another species—nature’s way of creating genetically modified organisms.

The finding is relevant to the debate over genetically modified foods and plants. Opponents have frequently maintained that an interspecies gene transfer done in a laboratory—the insertion of a bacterial gene into corn to make it insect-resistant, for example—would never occur naturally and is therefore unethical and potentially unsafe.

Genes are typically passed on within the same species, from parents to young, a process known as vertical gene transfer. But in recent years, scientists have pinpointed many instances of horizontal gene transfer—genes being ferried from one species into an entirely unrelated species that happens to live in the same environment.

For example, a gene from a species of bacteria has been discovered in the genome of the coffee berry borer beetle, where it enables the beetle to feed exclusively on coffee beans. It is through horizontal gene transfer that bacteria typically develop antibiotic resistance.
Sorry, anti-GM folk.

Patient Receives 3-D-Printed Sternum and Rib Cage

Lab 22 in Australia has added to the growing list of 3D-printed medical implants it produces by designing and printing a replacement titanium sternum and rib cage for a 54-year-old cancer patient in Spain.

The sternum and rib cage features a complex geometry that means the flat and plate implants traditionally used for this part of the chest can come loose over time. For this reason, the surgical team at the Salamanca University Hospital in Spain thought a custom 3D-printed implant would be a better option for a patient suffering from a chest wall sarcoma – a condition that had resulted in a cancerous tumour growing around his rib cage, requiring certain sections to be removed.

Paris Takes Uber To Court While French Restaurants Try To Stop App For Amateur Cooks

Technology and the sharing economy it enables is forcing France’s socialist/statist culture to confront the free market.

As Uber executives appear in a Paris court, French restaurant owners are urging the government to ban “meal-sharing” websites where gourmets can book dinners cooked at home by amateur chefs, in the latest clash between the country’s tradespeople and new online services.

The system is gaining popularity among tourists who see it as a way to meet locals and enjoy an authentic experience at a French home rather than simply dining at restaurants listed in guidebooks, where many foreigners complain about surly waiters and slow service (in Paris? Surely not?).

However, restaurateurs view the websites as a threat to their business in the same way that French hoteliers have challenged Airbnb and taxi drivers have protested against Uber.

Restaurant owners’ concerns have been heightened by the success of Airbnb, which puts visitors in touch with locals willing to rent accommodation by the night or week as an alternative to hotels.

Prototype Wrist Band Uses Light To Read Blood Pressure And Glucose

Blood pressure and blood glucose measurement are the two “Holy Grails” of the health wearable industry. But it is proving very difficult for Apple, Samsung and others to get accurate readings of either from wristbands or smart watches.

Echo Labs, a small start-up from the Stanford-affiliated Start X incubator, may be among the first to take health monitoring to the this important next level.

Their prototype wristband, two years in development, is claimed to be able to measure oxygen, CO2, PH, hydration and blood pressure levels in the blood, by using optical signals.

We can be sure that Jawbone, Fitbit, Samsung and Apple’s Watch team are working on getting similar insights from under the skin, yet Echo Labs is among the first to go public with the details of its own working prototype, a (for now) clunky-looking band that’s packed with sensors.

While it’s not ready for the market yet, founders Pierre-Jean Cobut 32, and Elad Ferber 29 have already been fielding enquiries from companies in pharma, biotech, medtech, insurance and even car manufacturers, most of whom are keen on the ability to continuously monitor blood composition.

Cobut and Ferber had originally intended to pitch their product directly to consumers, but theirs is a team of three, and it’s hard to see them releasing a consumer product any time soon. It may be more likely that, if proven accurate and reliable, their technology will wind up incorporated into other existing health devices.

CCTV System Tracks You Via Your Hairstyle and Clothing

A start-up spun out of MIT is trying to make it easier for store owners to figure out what people tend to do in their shops. Its software examines surveillance footage and tracks customers as they move around based on what they’re wearing or the length of their hair.

Boston-based Netra takes surveillance footage from stores’ Internet-connected video cameras, breaks it down into different components, and extracts characteristics—such as long brown hair, a plaid shirt, blue jeans, and so on—about any person spotted on the video, and stores it in an index.

As that person moves around the store from, say, the produce aisle to the cereal aisle, Netra’s software determines how likely it is that the person spotted in one place is the same person later spotted in another.

The technology is still in its early days; the company says it’s just starting pilots with some retailers, including one fast-food chain.

Google Renames Glass And Hires New Wearables Boss

Google Inc.’s stop-start Glass connected eyewear project is getting a new name, and a new lease on life.

The Glass team, now called Project Aura, has been hiring engineers, software developers and project managers from Lab126,’s hardware-focused research division in the Bay Area. Google swooped in as Lab126 laid off dozens of engineers who worked on its failed Fire smartphone.

Aura is working on the next incarnation of Glass, but the team is also developing other wearable technology, according to job descriptions on business-networking site LinkedIn.

The initial version of Glass, which sold for $1,500, prompted a privacy backlash because users could record video in public places without others noticing.

Night-Vision Augmented Reality Fighter Pilot Visors Now Being Tested Over UK

Night trials have started on the BAE Systems most advanced augmented reality fighter pilot helmet that sees in the dark and tracks the movement of the pilot’s head to improve spatial awareness.

BAE Systems is testing the helmet in night flight trials from its Military Air & Information business in Warton, Lancashire, before commencing test flights with the Eurofighter Typhoon fighter jet later this year.

The Striker II helmet, fitted with a lightweight high-definition night vision camera, translates information and displays them on the helmet’s visor. Its cutting-edge tracking system ensures the pilot’s exact head position and the aircraft computer system are continuously in sync in order to display information in the clearest possible way.

Lab To Build Robotic Help For the Elderly Opens In UK

Bristol Robotics Laboratory in the UK is launching its latest project – the Anchor Robotics Personalised Assisted Living (ARPAL) facility – that will enable robotics researchers, elderly people with assistive needs and those supporting them, to work together to devise and test new robotic solutions in a home environment.

The work that takes place in the facility will focus on enabling elderly people to live safe and independent lives in their own homes for as long as possible with the assistance of personally adaptive robotic systems.

First Fitness Tracker Designed For Swimmers

It had to happen – iHealth has launched Wave, a swimming tracker that aims to help improve performance in the pool.

The wrist-based device is designed to work in and out of the pool, and will count daily steps, activity and active time.

However, it’s in the pool that Wave really comes into its own. It’s capable of recording stroke type, number of strokes and calories burned, and displays the information in iHealth’s MyVitals 3.0 app, before offering a full report on your session.

Magic Leap Files Patent For Augmented Reality Contact Lenses

Wearable and optical trendsetter Magic Leap recently published a stack of 100 patents they’ve recently applied for. In the stack was a contact lens built for augmented reality.

Augmented reality describes technologies that add information to a human being’s normal senses.

The lens described in the patent would fit over the eye like a normal contact lens, and include a patch for data display. Although the actual images would be nearly microscopic, that close to the eye they would be plainly visible and easy to read for whomever was wearing the lens for the same reason that your thumb at arm’s length can obscure a tree on a hill a few hundred yards away.

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