GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – JULY 2017

Amazon Now Competes With Banks To Lend Money to Its Suppliers

 Amazon.com will launch its business loan program for small sellers later this year in eight more countries including China, where credit is becoming a key factor in competing for new vendors and grabbing market share.

The countries to benefit from Amazon’s lending are Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom.

Until now, the e-retailer has offered the service only in the United States and Japan. Amazon Lending, founded in 2012, now plans to offer short-term working capital loans in other countries where it operates a third-party, seller-run marketplace business.

The service is on an invite-only basis and is not open to all sellers on Amazon’s platform.  Other large retailers including eBay Inc’s PayPal and Alibaba Group Holdings, which run third-party marketplaces, are also turning to credit to boost their vendor base.

New Blood Test Can Detect Cancer – And Its Location

A blood test which not only detects cancer but identifies where it is in the body, has been developed by scientists at the University of California.

The breakthrough could allow doctors to diagnose specific cancers much earlier, even before signs such as a lump, begin to show. It is simple enough to be included in routine annual health checks alongside other tests such as for high blood pressure or cholesterol.

The test, called CancerLocator works by hunting for the DNA from tumours which circulates in the blood of cancer patients. The team discovered that tumours which arise in different parts of the body hold a distinctive ‘footprint’ which a computer can spot.

Software Can Edit Your Voice Recordings Undetectably

New software developed by researchers at Princeton University and Adobe Systems makes “invisible” editing possible with voice recordings.

Computers can already read text aloud, of course. But in this case, the software, known as VoCo, allows users to insert words into a recording of a person speaking and have those words spoken seamlessly—or close enough to fool most people.

Doing this sort of thing without VoCo can require painstaking work and some training. Doing it with VoCo is so easy that it has raised concerns about the dangers of doctored recordings, just as we worry now about digitally altered photographs.

A Tattoo That Changes Colour With Glucose Levels

Researchers from MIT’s Media Lab have developed a tattoo ink that changes colour according to varying glucose and pH levels inside the body.

The DermalAbyss project is the result of a collaboration between Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) students Katia Vega, Xin Liu, Viirj Kan and Nick Barry and Harvard Medical School students Ali Yetisen and Nan Jian.

Hoping to turn the body into an “interactive display”, they developed a method for replacing tattoo inks with biosensors – liquids that change colour in response to alterations in the bloodstream.

“We developed four biosensors, reacting to three pieces of biochemical information in body fluid and changing colours,” said the group.

“The pH sensor changes between purple and pink, the glucose sensor shifts between blue and brown; the sodium and a second pH sensor fluoresce at a higher intensity under UV light.”

Japanese Virtual Assistant Is A Hologram That Misses You When You’re At Work

A Japanese company called Vinclu (“a company that makes crazy things and supports crazy people”) is now taking pre-orders from Japan and the United States for a new interactive, artificial-intelligence driven home automation system.

Called Gatebox, the new Internet-of-Things product takes Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home, Spike Jonze’s film Her, and the “holographic” anime characters of Vocaloid concerts to their unified natural conclusion.

Gatebox, priced at ¥321,840 (about $2,700 US), is squarely targeted at young lonely salarymen and all brands of anime-obsessed otaku—promising the experience of “living with your favourite character.”

The size of a home coffee-maker, with a footprint no larger than a sheet of A4 printer paper, the device’s main feature is a clear projection tube that displays a computer-animated avatar for the AI’s “character.” Vinclu apparently is planning multiple possible personalities for Gatebox—which, as part of the device’s backstory, is a gateway to the dimension the character lives in.

Gatebox interacts with its owner via its animated persona, responding to voice interactions. It can also send and receive text messages when its “master” is not at home, interacting in some ways like a…domestic partner. And the Gatebox can also control smart-home appliances, such as lights and robotic vacuums—so when you get home from work, your holographic waifu will have the lights on for you and will have done the cleaning.

Is Apple’s Blood-Glucose Watch Band Ready For Launch?

 Apple CEO Tim Cook has been spotted at the Apple campus test-driving a device that tracks blood sugar, which was connected to his Apple Watch.

A CNBC source said that Cook was wearing a prototype glucose-tracker on the Apple Watch, which points to future applications that would make the device a “must have” for millions of people with diabetes — or at risk for the disease.

Apple has a team in Palo Alto working on the “holy grail” for diabetes: Non-invasive and continuous glucose monitoring. The current glucose trackers on the market rely on tiny sensors penetrating the skin. Sources said the company is already conducting feasibility trials in the Bay Area.

Tim Cook also talked about the device to a roomful of students in February at the University of Glasgow, where he received an honorary degree. He didn’t say if it was a medical device from a company like Medtronic or Dexcom, or an Apple prototype.

“I’ve been wearing a continuous glucose monitor for a few weeks,” he said. “I just took it off before coming on this trip.”

 Defibrillator Drones Will Save More Lives

 Defibrillator-carrying drones promise to dramatically boost survival rates for people suffering cardiac arrest after a new study found they could reach patients four times faster than an ambulance.

The fully automated eight-rota machines can fly, unimpeded by traffic at up to 50mph and deliver an easy-to-use heart-starting kit to critically ill patients.

The technology should enable more NHS emergency units to meet the eight-minute response target for the most urgent cases, which has slipped badly in recent years.

 Have We Discovered The Cause of MS?

 British scientists have discovered a potential cause for multiple sclerosis, in a major breakthrough that could pave the way for new treatments for the disease.

Scientists have found a new cellular mechanism which may cause the autoimmune disorder. Multiple sclerosis affects around 2.5 million people around the world.

Typically, people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s, and it is more common in women than men. Although the cause has so far been a mystery, the disease causes the body’s own immune system to attack myelin – the fatty “sheaths” which protect nerves in the brain and spinal cord.  This leads to brain damage, a reduction in blood supply and oxygen and the formation of lesions in the body.

Symptoms can be wide-ranging, and can include muscle spasms, mobility problems, pain, fatigue, and problems with speech.

Scientists have long suspected that mitochondria, the energy-creating “powerhouse” of the cell, plays a link in causing multiple sclerosis.

Using human brain tissue samples, researchers at the Universities of Exeter and Alberta found a protein called Rab32 is present in large quantities in the brains of people with MS – but is virtually absent in healthy brain cells.

Drones That Can See Through Walls

Three years ago, scientists at the University of California, Santa Barbara used Wi-Fi-equipped ground-based robots to obtain two-dimensional images of objects hidden behind brick walls.

Now, using aerial drones, they’ve obtained 3D images of similarly-hidden objects. The technology could ultimately have applications such as search-and-rescue, archaeological discovery and structural monitoring.

Led by Prof. Yasamin Mostofi, the UCSB team utilized a couple of autonomous octocopter drones, both of which were equipped with Wi-Fi transceivers.

As the two aircraft flew in synchronous paths on either side of a four-sided brick structure, one of them continuously transmitted a Wi-Fi signal, while the other measured the strength of that signal as it was received after passing through the bricks.

By analysing variations in the signal strength, it was possible to ascertain the size and shape of objects hidden within the structure, as they disrupted some of the signal.

Low-Energy Desalination Is The Future of Water

Desalination makes saltwater more palatable and potable, but being a bit of an energy guzzler means it isn’t the most practical solution in off-grid situations. A new system makes use of nanoparticles to harness the power of the sun and distil water more efficiently, without needing electricity.

Developed at Rice University’s Center for Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment (NEWT), the new system is built around the membrane distillation method, where heated salty water runs across the top of a porous membrane. Water vapour is drawn through the membrane and collects underneath in the form of purified water, but plenty of energy is lost in the process.

To improve that efficiency, the researchers harnessed the power of the sun in a system they call “nanophotonics-enabled solar membrane distillation” (NESMD). Sunlight-absorbing carbon black nanoparticles are embedded into the membrane, which helps the material harvest up to 80 percent of the sunlight that hits it, evaporating the water faster and reducing the external power that the system needs.

Amazon Will Now Let Customers Try On Clothes Before They Buy

For many people, buying clothing online is not worth the hassle of getting a pair of pants or a shirt that does not fit. Many retailers have sought to eliminate that risk by offering free returns on clothing, but now Amazon is going even further.

On Tuesday morning, the company revealed a new program called Prime Wardrobe that allows people to order clothing — from three to 15 items at a time — without actually buying it. Amazon will charge them only for the items they keep. Customers can return the items they don’t want in a resealable box with the preprinted shipping label that the order came in.

The service will be an option only for members of Amazon Prime, the company’s membership service, which, for $99 a year, gives customers fast shipping at no extra charge, a streaming video service and other benefits. The company did not say when Prime Wardrobe would be available.

It is hard to predict what impact this will have on the company’s clothing sales, but it follows a pattern at Amazon of eliminating so-called friction points to online shopping that have made it surprisingly successful in the apparel category.

 

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