Glimpses of the Future – September 2015

Boeing Patents Amphibious Drone

Boeing has been given a patent for a new kind of amphibious drone that’s like something straight out of a classic spy movie.

The aeronautics giant has a novel design for an unmanned flying drone that can spontaneously convert into an unmanned submarine and go for a dive.

Boeing’s take on this real world “transformer” begins with a drone that is launched aboard a large carrier aircraft and then separated near its target spot for entering the water. When the craft hits the water, a combination of its rear wings, stabilizer and one of its sets of propelling blades folds away to make it more manoeuvrable underwater.

A buoyancy tank controls the depth of the craft underwater, while a second set of propellers are used for it to manoeuvre, allowing it to function essentially as other robotic submersibles at use today making payload deliveries or for reconnaissance missions.

When the amphibious drone surfaces, it can then transmit data back to its mission control.

Stem-cell Cancer Treatment Fast-Tracked For Human Trials

America’s FDA has approved a trial in children of a stem-cell treatment for cancer that has proved successful in treating dogs. This is the latest advancement in animal research that is making its way into human medicine.

As dogs and cats become to be regarded as more like family members to pet owners, veterinary medicine has become increasingly like human medicine. Vet schools offer specialty training like oncology, nutrition and orthopaedics; cutting-edge therapeutic treatments like 3D-printed bones and stem cell therapy were developed to help ensure our pets have long and healthy lives.

An added bonus to this advance is that some remedies developed for our pets are likely to be safe and useful to people.

Found: Cellular Switch That Turns Off Cancer Cells

Cancer cells have been programmed back to normal by scientists in a breakthrough which could lead to new treatments and even reverse tumour growth.

For the first time aggressive breast, lung and bladder cancer cells have been turned back into harmless benign cells by restoring the function which prevents them from multiplying excessively and forming dangerous growths.

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic in Florida, US, said it was like applying the brakes to a speeding car.

So far it has only been tested on human cells in the lab, but the researchers are hopeful that the technique could one day be used to target tumours so that cancer could be ‘switched off’ without the need for harsh chemotherapy or surgery.

UK Government’s Digital Strategy “Close To Collapse”

The UK’s new Conservative government started its term with an ambitious digital strategy in place. The aim was to develop a common digital platform that could be rolled out across the entire public sector to deliver public services.

Now the strategy is in serious trouble following the sudden and unexpected resignation of the leading IT guru and key members of his team who were tasked to deliver this service.

Reports say No. 10 “is furious” and insiders say the problems are due to tribal politicking between senior civil servants, Whitehall and departments and politicians.

It seems that, once again, democratic politics and IT initiatives do not mix. Poor old British taxpayer.

New Slow-Dissolving Polymer Gel Gets Slow Release Drugs To Where They’re Needed

Researchers at MIT have developed a new material that shows promise for use in ultra-long drug delivery systems, as well as electronic monitoring of the stomach and weight-loss intervention.

A type of polymer gel, the new material is flexible and pH-responsive, allowing it to reside in the stomach for long periods of time before safety dissolving in the small intestine.

The benefit of a single-use, long-term drug delivery method is significant, particularly for the patient, who doesn’t have to deal with an ongoing routine of treatment.

Has The Genetic “Fat Switch” Been Found?

A team of MIT and Harvard researchers found a genetic pathway that controls metabolism by prompting fat cells to store or burn fat, which may lead to the prevention or cure of obesity.

Obesity is one of the biggest public health challenges of the 21st century. Affecting more than 500 million people worldwide, obesity costs at least $200 billion each year in the United States and £27 billion in the UK and contributes to potentially fatal disorders such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer.

Rumour That Apple Will Launch Health Band For Apple Watch

A rumour surfaced briefly on the net this month that Apple is about to produce a health wrist band as an add-on for its AppleWatch.

The rumour suggests the band will include sensors that take blood-pressure measurements, records blood oxygen levels, body temperature and more.

If true, this is precisely what Apple needs to turn its smart watch into a serious wearable health device and kick start sales.

But it will all depend on FDA approval. Watch out for autumn announcements.

CCTV System Recognises Objects And Incidents

A start-up company is making home video monitoring smart enough to figure out whether a dog, cat, or package is heading up your walkway.

Camio, which offers an app that lets a smartphone or tablet act as a surveillance camera and also works with some individual cameras, already uses machine learning to point out the most significant events captured by a user’s camera that day and to let users search for vehicles and passers-by as they come and go.

Camio is expanding its use of artificial neural networks—a machine-learning technique that draws on the way networks of neurons in the brain adapt to new information—to enable users to search their recordings for several trickier-to-identify objects like cats, dogs, bikes, trucks, and packages.

Users can also set up alerts to know when these things have been captured on film.

Patent Granted For Inflatable Space Elevator

In case you missed it, a Canadian firm has been granted a U.S. patent on the design for a 20Km high, inflatable space elevator.

The elevator is designed to take spacecraft and astronauts at least part way into space. If it’s ever built, the 20 km-high (12.4 mile) Thothx inflatable space tower holds the promise of reducing launch costs by 30 percent in terms of fuel, and may even replace some classes of satellites.

Going up!

Facial-Pattern-Recognition Software Is Now Working In The Field

Facial recognition software, which American military and intelligence agencies used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify potential terrorists, is being eagerly adopted by dozens of police departments around the USA to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects.

But because it is being used with few guidelines and with little oversight or public disclosure, it is raising questions of privacy and concerns about potential misuse.

Law enforcement officers say the technology is much faster than fingerprinting at identifying suspects, although it is unclear to what extent it is helping the police make arrests.

Bill Gates And Others Invest $120 Million In CRISPR Gene Editing Start-up

Bill Gates and other investors have contributed to a second-round, $120 million funding of a Boston-based started-up called Editas Medicine. The company is one of the first to be applying CRISPR gene editing techniques to commercial products.

Called “The Genesis Engine”, the CRISPR gene-editing technique enables researchers to “cut and paste” sections of DNA. Among the first products of the new technique is expected to be a cell therapy for treating cancer.

UK Cuts Spending For Old Peoples’ Care As Need Is Growing

Over the next 15 years the number of British old people requiring places in nursing homes will rise by 61%. Yet funding for it is shrinking.

Between 2010-11 and 2014-15, 15% was sliced off local-authority spending on social care. Pressure is building as the government seeks a further £20 billion ($31 billion) in departmental cuts ahead of a spending review in November.

This is called storing up problems for the future.

Google Re-Launches Glass As “Glass 2” – Aimed At Professionals

I thought Google Glass was fantastic, but the general public found the concept spooky (a little too early, perhaps).

Now Google has re-launched the augmented reality spectacles as devices to be used by health professionals, engineers, and other professionals. In this iteration Glass is a product which clips to your own spectacles.

Google hasn’t given up on making a consumer version of Glass, but a new consumer product is not expected for at least a year.

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