GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – AUGUST 2022

Google Is Determined To Make Smart Glasses Work

Seven years after the death knell was sounded for Google Glass, the tech giant is returning to the well of augmented reality to produce another set of smart eyewear. Promising that “it’s early, and we want to get this right, so we’re taking it slow,” the company is now preparing its new prototype AR glasses for public trials to ascertain their real-world potential.

Google has actually been developing this new set of AR glasses for a little while, and back in May offered a glimpse of its progress so far. A video shared by the company showed the eyewear being used to translate voice-to-text in real time and projecting that onto the wearer’s view, helping them understand speech in other languages.

The scope of the new AR glasses may extend well beyond that, however. Google says there are limits to what it can learn from testing the glasses in a laboratory setting, and to offer functionality such as AR-guided navigation it needs real-world factors like weather and traffic to be taken into account.

The move will also help Google understand how they might be used in the real world. The glasses will feature in-lens displays, microphones and cameras, but won’t be used to collect photos and videos, the company insists. Rather, that onboard hardware will be used for things like menu translations or to offer directions to a cafe nearby.

To begin with, these glasses will be publicly trialled by a handful of Google staff and selected testers, with the programme to kick off next month.

Temperature-Controlled Mattress Touted As A Cure For Insomnia

As part of the circadian rhythms that act as our 24-hour body clock and govern many aspects of our physical and mental states, our body temperature begins to decline when bedtime approaches. Scientists have designed a smart mattress designed to tap into this phenomenon and coax you into a deep slumber, with some promising results from an early trial.

Engineered by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, the mattress is designed to trigger sleepy sensations in users through carefully placed cooling and heating elements. It is based on the idea that lowering the internal body temperature at night can signal to the body that it is sleep time, but this does need to be done in a carefully orchestrated way, as the team demonstrates.

The dual-zone mattress and warming pillow are designed to cool central areas of the body, while at the same time actually heating up the hands, feet and the neck, which is an important bodily thermostat for humans. This has the effect of boosting blood flow and improving the dissipation of body heat, therefore more effectively regulating body temperature.

Understanding Why Elephants Rarely Get Cancer – And How That Can Help Humans

 An exciting new study from an international team of scientists has shed some light on exactly why elephants, one of the biggest animals on the planet, paradoxically experience unusually low rates of cancer. The research found these remarkable mammals carry unique genetic variants that reduce their risk of tumours, and the findings could help develop new cancer therapies for humans.

As an organism grows older, and its cells continue to replicate, the chances of cancerous mutations increase. And the bigger the organism, the more cells it has, so the more chances for mutations, and the higher risk for cancer as it ages. Right?

Within individual species this observation has held true. From taller humans to bigger dogs, cancer risk has been found to positively correlate with body size. So in theory big animals that live long lives should experience higher rates of cancer than smaller, short-lived organisms.

But this hasn’t been found to be the case, and the discordancy is known as “Peto’s Paradox” after epidemiologist Richard Peto, who discovered per-cell carcinogenesis rates were not consistent between species. In fact, in some larger species such as whales and elephants there seemed to be very little evidence of cancer at all, despite being massive and living long lives.

While it is generally understood that each species has evolved its own unique abilities for suppressing cancer, elephants have been of particular interest to researchers. These animals have similar lifespans to humans yet, despite their size, show little signs of cancer, even in very old age. It has been estimated as little as five percent of elephants ultimately succumb to cancer, compared to 25 percent of humans.

A landmark study a few years ago homed in on one of the key ways these massive mammals may be avoiding cancer. Elephants seem to have 20 different copies of a tumour-suppressing gene known as p53.

This gene encodes a protein, also known as p53, which serves as a crucial cell protector. This protein acts a bit like a guard whose job is to stop a cell dividing when it detects any DNA damage or mutation.

Would You Allow Tiny Robots To Brush Your Teeth?

Like many menial tasks, there may soon be a way to outsource brushing your teeth to robots. Engineers at the University of Pennsylvania have developed a system of microrobots that can change shape to form bristles or floss. They don’t just brush plaque away, but release antimicrobials to kill bad bacteria.

Brushing and flossing every day can be annoying, and even people who stick to the routine can miss areas and wind up with trouble. Part of the problem is that toothbrushes don’t account for differences in the shape or spacing of different people’s teeth.

The new system solves that issue by effectively shapeshifting. It’s made up of iron oxide nanoparticles, which can be assembled into different formations and controlled using magnetic fields. This way, the particles can be arranged into the shape of bristles to brush plaque from tooth surfaces, or thinner floss-like strands to scrub between teeth.

But these microrobots don’t just clean teeth mechanically. Iron oxide is known to activate hydrogen peroxide, triggering a reaction that produces free radicals that kill bacteria and the sticky biofilms they form on teeth.

 Trials Of Flying Taxis To Begin At UK Airports. Virgin To Operate.

Trials of zero-emission flying taxis travelling from city centres and across country to international airports are to begin in Britain within two years.

A consortium including a consulting engineer, air-traffic control, airports, academics, technology funds and aviation start-ups has come together to launch the first test runs of flying air taxis, aircraft known as eVTOLs, or electric vertical take-off and landing vehicles.

They are seen as replacing small helicopters but with much lower carbon and noise footprints, lower operating costs and lower fares for the travelling public or commercial organisations.

Heathrow, London City and Bristol airports are to work with Nats, the air-traffic controller, and two start-ups — Vertical Aerospace, which is building prototypes of a VX4, four-passenger flying taxi; and Skyports, which is developing plans to construct so-called vertiports, helipad-like stations capable of recharging the vehicles.

Vertiports for the initial trials will be located at private aerodromes. The VX4 aircraft will be operated by Virgin Atlantic.

Ford Builds Robot To Plug In Your Electric Car

As part of a research effort looking into automated and hands-free charging solutions for electric vehicle drivers and autonomous EVs, Ford has started testing a prototype robot charging station aimed at making the top-up process easier for folks with limited mobility

Robots capable of plugging a cable into an electric vehicle’s charging port and removing it again once the battery is full have been in development for some time, and would allow drivers the luxury of remaining in the car during inclement or cold weather and watch a movie on the infotainment screen or catch up with friends on social media while the car is being juiced up.

Such systems would also make an often challenging process for those with reduced mobility or older drivers a whole lot easier, with a recent UK survey identifying improved accessibility as an important consideration for disabled drivers looking to buy into electric mobility solutions.

Ford has been working on just such a system, and has now started real-world trials of a robot charging station prototype built by engineers at Germany’s Dortmund University following successful tests in the lab.

The Electric Car That Scrubs CO2 From The Air As It Travels

A student team from the Eindhoven University of Technology has built a prototype electric passenger car that removes and stores carbon dioxide from the air as it rolls down the road, with the aim of capturing more CO2 than is emitted during the full lifecycle of the vehicle.

The project is the seventh for the TU/ecomotive students, following 2018’s Noah concept and the Luca from 2020. The challenge for the Zem (EM-07) team was to build a carbon net-zero electric vehicle.

“The team created a monocoque and body panels using additive manufacturing techniques to reduce material waste and produce “as little CO2 emissions as possible” while also making use of recycled plastics, which can be shredded and re-used for other projects.

The use of recycled plastics continues inside, along with sustainable materials like pineapple leather. Polycarbonate is the material of choice for the windows instead of glass, which the team says is better for the environment. And a modular infotainment system, modular electronics and modular lighting were installed as well, which can all be reused in other products.

Gene-Editing Human Livers To Produce Less Cholesterol

 A team of researchers from US biotech company Verve Therapeutics have injected a gene-editing serum into a live patient’s liver with the goal of lowering their cholesterol, a watershed moment in the history of gene editing that could potentially save millions from cardiovascular disease and heart attacks, MIT Technology Review reports.

The clinical trial kicked off with a patient in New Zealand receiving the unusual injection dubbed VERVE-101. Early experiments on monkeys have already yielded hopeful results.

The company claims that these genetic edits will be able to permanently lower levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol, a fatty molecule that at excessive levels can lead to clogged arteries.

And that could be a gamechanger as other interventions such as hard-to-follow diets, exercise, and other prescribed medicine have only been able to make a small dent LDL levels. Many drugs have also remained wildly expensive, with insurers refusing to pay for them, according to MIT Tech.