Glimpses Of The Future – September 2016

How Hedge Funds Are Spying On The World To Increase Their Profitability

The latest technological innovation for data-hungry hedge funds is a fleet of five dozen shoebox-sized satellites.

A company called Planet Labs Inc. has launched a small constellation of what it calls “cubesats” that can deliver much more frequent imagery of economically sensitive spots than traditional satellites. Those spots include retailers’ parking lots, oil-storage tanks or farmland.

The company, founded by three former NASA scientists, has now signed an agreement to supply data to Orbital Insight Inc., which mines satellite imagery for trading tips for hedge funds.

Until now, Orbital has relied on monthly or bimonthly imagery for its analysis. The deal with Planet Labs will give them access to weekly images at first. Next year, if Planet Labs succeeds in a plan to launch another 40 or so cubesats, Orbital will have access to daily images of every piece of land on earth.

How long before the video streams become real-time forms of market intelligence and surveillance?

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.

Google And GSK Make Huge Bet On Bioelectric Treatments

GlaxoSmithKline PLC and Google parent Alphabet Inc. have teamed up to develop what they call bioelectronic medicines, or treatments that use miniature implanted electronic devices to modify how electrical impulses are transmitted around the nervous system.

The U.K. pharmaceutical company said it had signed an agreement with Verily Life Sciences LLC, formerly Google Life Sciences, to create Galvani Bioelectronics. It said the pair would spend as much as £540 million ($714 million) over seven years on the venture, provided they succeeded in hitting various milestones along the way.  Glaxo will control 55% of the new company and Verily will hold the rest.

Many biological processes are controlled by electrical signals transmitted from the nervous system to the body’s organs. Glaxo said early-stage research in its laboratories suggested that distortions of those signaling pathways were involved in several long-term diseases including diabetes, asthma and arthritis.

Start-Up Working On Artificial Pancreas For Diabetics Raises New Type Of On-Line Capital

A company creating an “artificial pancreas” for diabetics this week became the first startup to raise $1 million using a new type of online stock sale open to the public at large.

Beta Bionics, a startup created by Boston University biomedical engineer Ed Damiano, hit the benchmark after 775 members of the public put up an average of $1,300 each to back its idea for a new kind of pacemaker for diabetics.

The company sold shares on the crowdfunding portal Wefunder, which along with sites like StartEngine and Flashfunders, is taking advantage of securities regulations that since May have let private companies easily sell shares directly to the public, not only professional investors.

Beta Bionics could become a test case for crowdfunding and the tech industry’s position that the public should be able to invest in risky startups. Companies raising funds using the new rules include Legion M, “the first Hollywood studio owned by fans,” a brewery in Texas, and a company developing novelty genetically modified organisms.

The Sponge That Can Boil Water In The Sun

A team of engineers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has created a unique device that uses a bubble-wrap-encased sponge to boil water fueled by nothing but sunlight.

The inexpensive nature of the device makes it an ideal candidate for use in applications such as wastewater treatment, residential water heating and medical tool sterilization, and continues to pave the way for the utilization of sponge-like materials for steam creation.

Also referred to as a “solar vapor generator,” the device is extremely cost-efficient due to the lack of any mirrors or lenses, instead using its sponge-like design to utilize ambient sunlight to heat water to the boiling point of 100° C (212°F).

The device in the current study used a solar-absorbing structure that the same MIT team created back in 2014 as a guideline for the new design. In the 2014 study, the sponge-like material was made from graphite and foam and was also able to heat water to temperatures of 100° C. To achieve this, they exposed the device to sunlight that was approximately 10 times more intense than natural sunlight. The new device achieves the same thing using ambient sunlight.

Gadget Batteries Set To Double In Performance

Another MIT spinout is preparing to commercialize a novel rechargeable lithium metal battery that offers double the energy capacity of the lithium ion batteries that power many of today’s consumer electronics.

Founded in 2012 by MIT alumnus and former postdoc Qichao Hu ’07, SolidEnergy Systems has developed an “anode-free” lithium metal battery with several material advances that make it twice as energy-dense, yet just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries used in smartphones, electric cars, wearables, drones, and other devices.

The battery essentially swaps out a common battery anode material, graphite, for very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which can hold more ions — and, therefore, provide more energy capacity. Chemical modifications to the electrolyte also make the typically short-lived and volatile lithium metal batteries rechargeable and safer to use. Moreover, the batteries are made using existing lithium ion manufacturing equipment, which makes them scalable.

In October 2015, SolidEnergy demonstrated the first-ever working prototype of a rechargeable lithium metal smartphone battery with double energy density, which earned them more than $12 million from investors. At half the size of the lithium ion battery used in an iPhone 6, it offers 2.0 amp hours, compared with the lithium ion battery’s 1.8 amp hours

Droneports In African Towns Can Leapfrog Old Infrastructure

In Rwanda, where most of the population live in cut-off villages, the government wants to skip straight to drones.

Encouraged by Paul Kagame, the president and a darling of the development industry (if not of human-rights activists), some of Silicon Valley’s most prominent venture-capital firms, including Sequoia Capital and the investment arm of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, have bet that tiny, unmanned aircraft carrying medical supplies can simply hop over the rolling green hills and the mud tracks that barely connect people now.

It is the latest example of what businesspeople working across Africa call “leapfrogging”. Usually married to an almost evangelical belief in the power of startups, this is the notion that, having failed to adopt now-outdated technology, Africa can simply jump straight over it and go right to the latest thing. Just as drones can make up for poor roads, the theory goes, mobile phones can overcome a lack of well-functioning banks, portable solar panels can stand in for missing power stations and free learning apps can substitute for patchy education.

Now the hope is that drones could take over from mobile phones as the way to transform Africa. The project under way in Rwanda is courtesy of a startup based in Silicon Valley called Zipline. Its idea is to use small, fixed-wing drones to drop off packets of blood with parachutes from Rwanda’s five blood banks to hospitals and health-care centres, under a contract with the government. A lot of women die in childbirth because they cannot get blood quickly enough.

Smart Tattoo Becomes Jewellery Keyboard

Microsoft Research and MIT are exploring the potential for functional temporary tattoos made from gold leaf that offer input, display and wireless communications capabilities, while looking fabulous.

Although a lot of time has been dedicated to investigating medical on-skin technologies, Microsoft Research and MIT were more interested in creating cost-effective on-skin user interfaces for those with an eye for fashion. With this in mind, they developed the DuoSkin fabrication process that makes use of cheap materials and doesn’t rely on any complex manufacturing procedures so designs can be easily customized.

Making a piece of DuoSkin “jewellery” is a fairly simple process. The conductive gold leaf circuits can be designed using regular 2D graphic design tools, and can be applied to a piece of store-bought tattoo paper. Although gold leaf might not be something we see every day, it’s also not very expensive, so making use of its conductive properties won’t break the bank.

New Batteries The Key To Practical Renewable Energy

The world’s next energy revolution is probably no more than five or ten years away. Cutting-edge research into cheap and clean forms of electricity storage is moving so fast that we may never again need to build 20th Century power plants in this country, let alone a nuclear white elephant such as Hinkley Point.

The US Energy Department is funding 75 projects developing electricity storage, mobilizing teams of scientists at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the elite Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge labs in a bid for what it calls the ‘Holy Grail’ of energy policy.

You can track what they are doing at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). There are plans for hydrogen bromide, or zinc-air batteries, or storage in molten glass, or next-generation flywheels, many claiming “drastic improvements” that can slash storage costs by 80pc to 90pc and reach the magical figure of $100 per kilowatt hour in relatively short order.

Cars Are Going 48-Volt For Good Reason

Voltage is to electricity what pressure is to water: the more you have of it the more oomph you get. That is why electrical power lines work at high voltage.

In the 1950s carmakers needed extra oomph of this sort to start the powerful high-compression engines then being introduced, so they increased the voltage of their vehicles’ electrical systems from six to 12. Now voltages are going up again—to 48.

One reason is that cars are packed with more and more components, demanding more and more electrical power.

A modern vehicle may have as many as 150 electric motors. But there is a second reason for the increase, too. Extra voltage lets engineers design cars in novel ways that boost engine output and efficiency. This can be used to make hybrids on the cheap (some people call them “mild hybrids”). These employ a combination of electric motors and combustion engines to cut both fuel consumption and polluting emissions.

Most carmakers and their suppliers are now working on 48-volt systems. Delphi, a Michigan-based group that is one of the world’s largest suppliers of automotive parts, thinks mild hybrids could cut CO2 emissions by 15-20%

Tesla Car Does 315 Miles On One Charge

Tesla Motors Inc. said it is now offering its electric vehicles with a battery capable of going up to 315 miles on a charge, the first time a major auto maker has provided that much electric range in a vehicle.

The company has unveiled new versions of its Model S sedan and Model X sport-utility vehicle with 100 kilowatt-hour batteries; previously the largest battery size was 90 kwh.

The upgrade—which Tesla executives said was made possible by increasing the energy density of its battery packs—will allow the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company to sell a P100 version of those two vehicles with Tesla’s well-known “Ludicrous Mode.”

The 315-mile range sets a new benchmark for automotive engineers looking to lessen fears about so-called range anxiety, which drivers encounter when traveling longer distances in an electric car. Because electric cars must be plugged into charging ports that aren’t as readily available as gas stations, nor as fast, many car buyers have refused to even consider one.

Tesla’s Model S sedan will get the 315-mile range. The heavier SUV won’t be able to travel as far on a charge.

The Blockchain Will Transform Finance

Four of the world’s biggest banks have teamed up to develop a new form of digital cash that they believe will become an industry standard to clear and settle financial trades over blockchain, the technology underpinning bitcoin.

UBS, the Swiss bank, pioneered the “utility settlement coin” and has now joined forces with Deutsche Bank, Santander and BNY Mellon — as well as the broker ICAP — to pitch the idea to central banks, aiming for its first commercial launch by early 2018.

Blockchain technology is a complex set of algorithms that allows so-called cryptocurrencies — including bitcoin — to be traded and verified electronically over a network of computers without a central ledger.

Having initially been sceptical about it because of worries over fraud, banks are now exploring how they can exploit the technology to speed up back-office settlement systems and free billions in capital tied up supporting trades on global markets.

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