Glimpses Of The Future – October 2016

Apple’s AirPods Are The Future Of Personal Computing

Many commentators were underwhelmed by Apple’s launch of the iPhone 7. It seemed just an incremental improvement on what had gone before

But the really big news was not the new iPhone, but the side announcement of the new wireless earphones, called AirPods.

These earphones have their own processors and built-in noise-cancelling microphones. As well as listening to music, etc., a double tap brings Siri into your ear and he/she can hear your voice above all of the ambient sound. Expect many new services such as real-time translation of foreign languages in the near future.

For over two decades I’ve been telling audiences that our software assistants of the future will live in our ears. Now, Apple’s increasingly capable Siri is arriving in our ears – and at our command at all times.

The current limitation of the AirPods is their five-hour battery life, but I’m betting that once users start to realise the value of the AirPods, they’ll be buying several pairs.

I have seen the future of computing, and it’s just beginning to work.

Now A Single Human Hair Can Identify You

U.S. Energy Department scientists say a new method of analyzing genetic mutations in proteins in human hair could lead to the first forensic technique other than DNA profiling that could reliably match biological evidence to a single person with scientific precision.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have said their early study — using hairs recovered from 76 living people and six sets of skeletal remains from London dating to the 1750s — shows the promise of hair “proteomics,” or the study of proteins that genes produce.

“We are in a very similar place with protein-based identification to where DNA profiling was during the early days of its development,” said Brad Hart, director of the national laboratory’s Forensic Science Center and co-author of the study with lead researcher Glendon Parker. “This method will be a game-changer for forensics,” Hart said, while cautioning that many steps remain before it is validated.

Downwind Turbines Can Generate Energy From Even The Lightest Winds

Hitachi has developed a new offshore wind turbine designed to milk more power from light-wind locations by facing away from the direction the wind is blowing.

The 5 MW turbine features a rotor sweep diameter of 136 meters (446 ft), 15 percent greater than the previous model from the company, ideally suited for areas with average annual wind speeds under 7.5 m/sec (16.7 mph).

The turbine uses a downwind rotor configuration, meaning the wind passes the tower structure before hitting the blades. This configuration is designed to reduce wind loads and avoid crosswinds, even when generation is stopped due to high winds; an important feature for locations with frequent typhoons or hurricanes. A sensor can also be installed ahead of the rotor for disturbance-free data, allowing for greater yaw control (and thus energy output).

Hitachi will test run the system starting in October at the onshore Fukashiba Wind Power Station in the port of Kashima, with a tentative release date of early 2017. The company previously developed 2MW and 2.5MW wind turbines for light-wind regions.

DARPA’s Dragnet For Drone Detection

U.S. defence agency DARPA has launched Aerial Dragnet, a project which is tasked with detecting and tracking drones flying below 1,000ft (300m) in urban settings.

According to the agency, this will require new technologies as well as a study of existing systems. However, if it succeeds, Aerial Dragnet will not only help with troop protection, but could ultimately also find civilian applications protecting metropolitan areas in the US from terrorist threats.

Current attempts at developing an urban UAV tracking system are based on tracking systems designed to monitor drones in open areas using large line-of-sight buffers, but DARPA says that these are impractical in cities. What Aerial Dragnet plans to do is exploit the physics of slow, low-flying UAVs in urban settings to track them without the need of a clear line of sight.

The initial idea is to monitor neighborhood-sized areas using something like a tethered or long endurance UAV equipped with sensors to keep watch from above obstructions. Several of these would act as surveillance nodes to track drone traffic through what the agency calls a continually updated Common Operational Picture (COP) of the airspace, which would be available to authorized users through secure data links.

DARPA says that the project will focus on the use of low-cost UAVs and sensor technology combined with off-the-shelf software-defined signal processing to develop a system that is not only inexpensive, but scalable and easily upgraded as technology advances.

Work-Place Identity Badges Which Spy On Employees

A Boston company has taken technology developed at MIT and turned it into special “spy” badges that hang around your neck on a lanyard.

Each has two microphones doing real-time voice analysis, and each comes with sensors that follow where you are in the office, with motion detectors to record how much you move. The beacons tracking your movements are omitted from bathroom locations, to give you some privacy.

“Within three or four years, every single ID badge is going to have these sensors,” predicted Ben Waber, chief executive of Humanyze, a Boston-based employee analytics company. “We are only scratching the surface right now.”

Those concerned about their privacy might be alarmed by the arrival of such badges. But Humanyze says it doesn’t record the content of what people say, just how they say it. And the boss doesn’t get to look at individuals’ personal data. It is also up to the employee to decide whether they want to participate.

Britain’s NHS Will Offer “Diagnosis By App”

All NHS patients will be offered diagnosis by smartphone in a bid to modernise the service’s approach to the public, and lift pressures on ailing services, the UK government has announced.

Unveiling a series of pledges to allow the public to access healthcare online, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the health service must “embrace the age of the smartphone”.

Under the plans, the 111 service will offer a new service allowing patients to key in their symptoms on their smartphone, and receive instant advice, or a callback from clinical advisers, by the end of next year.

And a central NHS website will allow every person in the country to register with a GP, make appointments, order prescriptions and download their own medical record.

The same site will host new league tables which allow the public to track performance of their local health services  online – starting now with ratings for services for diabetes, dementia and learning disabilities.

Every part of the country will receive ratings on a four-point scale from best to worst.

UK Now Generates 24% Of Electricity From Renewables

The share of electricity that the world’s 20 major economies are generating from the sun and the wind has jumped by more than 70 per cent in the space of five years, new figures show.

In a sign of the shift away from fossil fuels that is starting to take hold in some regions, G20 countries collectively produced 8 per cent of their electricity from solar farms, wind parks and other green power stations in 2015, up from 4.6 per cent in 2010.

This growth has been especially striking in the UK, which generated 24 per cent of its electricity from such renewables last year compared with just 6 per cent in 2010.

The UK, Italy and France all generated more than 19 per cent of their electricity from renewables while Australia and Brazil reached 11 per cent and 13 per cent respectively. For the 28 members of the EU, the number was 18 per cent.

The figures do not include hydropower, one of the oldest sources of renewable electricity.

An App That Allows You To “Walk People Home”

Tens of thousands of people around the world are now using a free personal-safety mobile app that allows friends to virtually walk you home at night.

The Companion app, created by five students from the University of Michigan, enables users to request a friend or family member to keep them company virtually and track their journey home via GPS on an online map.

Although they can do so, the friend or family member does not need to have installed the Companion app, which is available for both Android and iOS.

The user can send out several requests to different phone contacts in case people are not available to be a companion or not with their phones at the time.

Those contacted then receive an SMS text message with a hyperlink in it that sends them to a web page with an interactive map showing the user walking to their destination. If the user strays off their path, falls, is pushed, starts running, or has their headphones yanked out of their phone, the app detects these changes in movement and asks the user if they’re OK.

If the user is fine, they press a button on the app to confirm within 15 seconds. If they do not press the button, or a real emergency is occurring, the Companion app transforms the user’s phone into a personal alarm system that projects loud noises to scare criminals from the scene, and gives you the option to instantly call the police.

How Augmented/Virtual Realities Will Transform Retail

Virtual reality (VR), along with its sister technology augmented reality (AR), is offering retailers the opportunity to transform how people shop. One customer might try on shirts without having to travel to the store. Another might order furniture on the spot, confident that it’s right for the house.

Applications using either technology stand to eliminate customer pain points, elevate customer service, and create a differentiated, personalized customer experience. The successful incorporation of VR and AR into retail models also has the potential to vastly change the way retailers are thinking about stores of the future.

Retailers looking to develop a virtual commerce strategy should consider breaking it down along the following dimensions.

First, decide which technology to use for each application. VR immerses the consumer in a simulated world. It requires stand-alone technologies such as headsets and, typically, a controller. By comparison, AR overlays virtual elements onto the real world as seen through a smartphone or tablet.

VR is more exciting, but right now it faces a higher barrier. That’s because consumers aren’t yet accustomed to wearing VR devices (even at home) or to doing anything with it beyond playing games. On the other hand, as Pokémon Go’s success signals, any smartphone can be a platform for AR.

This Van Dispatches Drones To Deliver The Last Mile

Mercedes-Benz has teamed up with drone company Matternet to create a concept vehicle dubbed the Vision Van which would deploy drones from its rooftop to carry packages over the final leg of their journey.

Matternet has been in the drone delivery game for a little while now. Its cargo-carrying aircraft have been used in trials by Swiss Post and also by UNICEF to deliver HIV tests and results to remote regions in Africa. Its partnership with Mercedes-Benz also brings a multi-million dollar investment from the German carmaker, and coincides with the announcement of its second generation drone, the Matternet M2.

The M2 quadcopter is completely autonomous, can carry cargo weighing up to 2 kg (4.4 lb) and fly up to 20 km (12 mi) on a single charge. It also has the ability to drop and pickup both packages and fresh batteries autonomously and carries its payload inside a box that transmits data about the contents and destination.