GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – FEBRUARY 2018

Get Ready For Flying Segways

 The new Zapata Ezfly personal flying platform looks for all intents and purposes like a Segway of the sky.

“Pilots” stand on a small platform equipped with a series of jet thrusters, holding two handgrips that come up from the base, then rise up into the air and zoom around, steering with their bodyweight.

It builds on the platform of Franky Zapata’s Flyboard Air, a green goblin-style flying platform with no Segway-style handgrips. The Flyboard Air, like the water-propelled Flyboard that started this whole venture for Zapata, straps pilots in at the boots, and requires an extraordinary amount of core strength and balance to operate – which its inventor most certainly has.

Zapata has frequently been seen zooming around over waterways in Europe and the United States, testing and updating his invention, sometimes with the blessing of the authorities, sometimes without.

The new Ezfly system is a dangerously disruptive idea, because it looks for all the world like it takes very little training to operate, so just about anyone could fly one. You don’t strap your boots in, you just stand on the platform and hang onto the control sticks, pretty much like a three-dimensional Segway.

In A Clear Sign Of The Times, Petrol Stations Go Electric

Royal Dutch Shell has opened its first charging points for electric vehicles at UK filling stations in a further sign of the Anglo-Dutch group’s diversification beyond fossil fuels.

Drivers are now able to recharge EVs at 10 locations, mostly in London and south-east England. The launch follows Shell’s acquisition of NewMotion, one of Europe’s largest EV charging companies with 30,000 private home charging points and 50,000 public sites. While smaller in scale than the NewMotion business, this new service provides the first Shell-branded charging points alongside petrol and diesel pumps at its own filling stations.

Istvan Kapitany, head of retail for Shell, said EV charging would join an increasingly varied “mosaic of options” for drivers at its filling stations around the world, alongside biofuels, LNG, hydrogen and traditional fuels. EVs still account for only about 1 per cent of global car sales and an even smaller fraction of cars on the road but the market is growing rapidly.

Apple Makes Its First “Official” Entry To The Health Monitoring Market

After years of prevarication and dashed hopes, Apple has finally launched a major healthcare project based on the Apple Watch.

The Apple Heart Study app, a first-of-its-kind research study using Apple Watch’s heart rate sensor to collect data on irregular heart rhythms and notify users who may be experiencing atrial fibrillation (AFib) was announced last month.

AFib, the leading cause of stroke, is responsible for approximately 130,000 deaths and 750,000 hospitalizations in the US every year. Many people don’t experience symptoms, so AFib often goes undiagnosed.

To calculate heart rate and rhythm, Apple Watch’s sensor uses green LED lights flashing hundreds of times per second and light-sensitive photodiodes to detect the amount of blood flowing through the wrist. The sensor’s unique optical design gathers signals from four distinct points on the wrist, and when combined with powerful software algorithms, Apple Watch isolates heart rhythms from other noise.

The Apple Heart Study app uses this technology to identify an irregular heart rhythm.

“Every week we receive incredible customer letters about how Apple Watch has affected their lives, including learning that they have AFib. These stories inspire us and we’re determined to do more to help people understand their health,” said Jeff Williams, Apple’s COO. “Working alongside the medical community, not only can we inform people of certain health conditions, we also hope to advance discoveries in heart science.”

Is This The Worst Job In Tech? Who Would Be A Content Moderator?

By her second day on the job, Sarah Katz knew how jarring it can be to work as a content moderator for Facebook Inc.  She says she saw anti-Semitic speech, bestiality photos and video of what seemed to be a girl and boy told by an adult off-screen to have sexual contact with each other.

Ms. Katz, 27 years old, says she reviewed as many as 8,000 posts a day, with little training on how to handle the distress, though she had to sign a waiver warning her about what she would encounter. Coping mechanisms among content moderators included a dark sense of humour and swivelling around in their chairs to commiserate after a particularly disturbing post.

She worked at Facebook’s headquarters campus in Menlo Park, Calif., and ate for free in company cafeterias. But she wasn’t a Facebook employee. Ms. Katz was hired by a staffing company that works for another company that in turn provides thousands of outside workers to the social network.

Facebook employees managed the contractors, held meetings and set policies. The outsiders did the “dirty, busy work,” says Ms. Katz, who earned $24 an hour. She left in October 2016 and now is employed as an information-security analyst by business-software firm ServiceNow Inc.

Deciding what does and doesn’t belong online is one of the fastest-growing jobs in the technology world—and perhaps the most gruelling. The equivalent of 65 years of video are uploaded to YouTube each day. Facebook receives more than a million user reports of potentially objectionable content a day.

Autonomous Air-Tankers Will Fight Bush/Brush Fires

Air tankers are an important part of the fire-fighting arsenal, but their current reliance on human pilots severely limits their potential. With the goal of expanding aerial firefighting capabilities by removing the human pilot from the aircraft, Nevada-based Drone America and Georgia-based Thrush Aircraft have teamed up to develop the world’s first autonomous air tanker.

The recent California wildfires have only highlighted the increased risk many areas face as a result of a changing climate. Although air tankers played a vital role in fighting this and other large fires around the globe, the fact the aircraft are manned restricts them to daylight use, which prevents fire fighters from taking full advantage of cooler night time temperatures.

To allow air tankers to operate tirelessly at all hours of the day or night, Drone America, which specializes in the design and manufacture of UAVs, and Thrush Aircraft, which manufactures a variety of fire-fighting aircraft, have formed a strategic alliance. This is likely to see Drone America drawing on aspects of its Ariel amphibious UAS (pictured above) and Thrush Aircraft supplying its water bombing delivery systems expertise and a large airframe like that used in its 510G aircraft.

Shape-Memory Alloys Will Create The Aircraft Wings Of Tomorrow

 NASA sees folding wings as a key aeronautical technology for the aircraft of tomorrow, and to make it practical, the space agency is looking to a cutting edge, lightweight memory alloy.

Developed for the Spanwise Adaptive Wing(SAW) project, the new alloy allows an aircraft’s wing and control surfaces to change their shape in flight without heavy hydraulic systems.

Aircraft wings have come a long way from the ones made out of spruce wood and duck for the 1903 Wright flyer, but they’ve also become very complicated. They’re also limited in how efficient they can be, because they depend on shifting and tilting rigid control surfaces to work.

If a wing was a bit more “rubbery,” it could reshape itself into a variety of forms to meet different flight conditions while maintaining a smooth, aerodynamic shape to minimize turbulence.

It’s not a new idea. The Wright flyer’s flight controls worked by warping the wings using simple pulleys, and for decades aerospace engineers have explored the concept, including in a modified North American XB-70 Valkyrie in the 1960s.

Making Sure That “Yes” Means “Yes” – Blockchain-Guaranteed

 A new app based on the Blockchain has been created to log and record consent to sex.  Developed by the Dutch company, LegalThings, the app “allows you to request consent from any of your contacts” because “sex should be fun and safe.”

In addition to sending your request for consensual sex to your contact of choice, the app will also send along your “sexual preferences, including your do’s and don’ts.” These include options such as approval for photos and videos to be made, condom use, STD-free guarantee, explicit language use, and BDSM.

According to the creators, LegalFling was created to ensure that explicit sexual consent is granted before participants engage in sexual behaviour. And it isn’t just for one night stands – according to their website, the app is meant to protect all types of sexual relationships, even long-term relationships.

Drones Being Taught How To Fly Through Cities At Street Level

Many of the applications for drones will see them spend most of their time high up in open airspace, but safely moving through denser urban areas at street level would be a handy capability, too. Researchers have come up with a control system for drones that enables them to autonomously navigate these busier settings, by showing them how cyclists and cars do their thing.

The hustle and bustle of a modern-day city requires urbanites to keep a keen eye out for moving obstacles, so how can we train flying robots to do the same? The GPS systems that drones use to navigate open airspace above all those pedestrians, cars, bikes and prams aren’t going to cut it down there, so researchers at University of Zurich and the National Centre of Competence in Research trained drones to follow their lead. This meant developing a deep learning algorithm they’ve dubbed DroNet.

Instead of a suite of fancy sensors to observe the world around it, the algorithm relies only a regular camera similar to that of a smartphone to guide the drone safely around obstacles that might appear in its way.

Trump Scuppers Solar Power’s Future In The USA

 U.S. President Donald Trump has approved a plan to enact tariffs on imported solar cells and modules, committing an unforced policy error that promises to raise the price on one of the most promising renewable energy sources.

The move was precipitated by two struggling solar panel manufacturers who petitioned the International Trade Commission last year to enact the protections. They argued US producers were being unfairly harmed by the influx of cheap photovoltaics, particularly those arriving directly or indirectly from China. In late October, ITC’s commissioners recommended the president impose import limits and tariffs.

The tariffs appear to be a clear-cut case of protectionism, propping up a US industry that Chinese rivals have out-competed in the marketplace. China’s solar sector has been instrumental in driving down the cost of panels, bringing the cost of solar energy neck and neck with fossil fuels (at least before you take into account the inherent intermittency and storage challenges associated with solar).

The Solar Energy Industries Association previously warned the tariffs could double the price of solar panels, and eliminate tens of thousands of jobs. They will kick in after nations exceed certain volumes, and start at 30 percent in the first year, then fall 5 percent per year for the next three years.

Facebook Admits It’s “Bad For Democracy”

Facebook now admits that social media may hurt civic discourse, but it promises to do its “moral duty” by understanding how to mitigate such problems.

Of the thousands of words published in a pair of new essays on the topic, the choicest cut comes from Facebook’s product manager for civic engagement, Samidh Chakrabarti:

If there’s one fundamental truth about social media’s impact on democracy it’s that it amplifies human intent— both good and bad. I wish I could guarantee that the positives are destined to outweigh the negatives, but I can’t.

It’s another sign, along with a commitment to build a “more meaningful” social network, that Facebook is responding to criticism about fake news, Russian meddling, and addictive content.

Chakrabarti says the company has a “moral duty to understand how [its] technologies are being used and what can be done to make … Facebook as representative, civil and trustworthy as possible.”

Drones Fly Flotation Devices Out To Swimmers In Trouble

Two Australian beachgoers have learnt first-hand how life-saving drones can have a big impact. After being swept away by the surf off the coast of New South Wales, the two found themselves safely back on shore after a local lifeguard used a drone to deliver them a lifesaving flotation device. It is believed to be the first real-life use of a drone to rescue swimmers in difficulties.

Lifeguards in the Australian state of New South Wales have been testing out the new lifesaving drone known as the Westpac Little Ripper for the last couple of years, and they have high hopes for it. The aircraft is fitted with cameras and pattern-recognition software that might one day allow it to spot sharks and warn nearby swimmers, though that capability remains a work in progress.

 

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