GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – DECEMBER 2020

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 Boston Dynamics’ Spot is a versatile little robot. Able to pull trucks, work on oil rigs, and even herd sheep, the dog-like bot has now learned a new trick and has been helping Foster + Partners with its ongoing Battersea Roof Gardens project in London, England.

Foster + Partners’ Applied Research + Development group (ARD) collaborated with Boston Dynamics to task Spot with roaming around the Battersea project and it sounds like the robot has been genuinely useful, rather than just a novelty.

Spot used 3D laser scanning tech to capture and monitor construction progress. The robot made regular precision scans of the site, checking that the building work done matches the architectural plans and that everything is going smoothly. The usual scanning and processing times required for this sort of project have been reduced from weeks to just days, says Foster + Partners, freeing up significant staff resources.

Additionally, though building sites are very hazardous places, the robot can navigate stairs and other obstacles using its four legs without issue, and either work semi-autonomously or be controlled by a remote (it’s also worth mentioning that Spot has been used on a Japanese building site, so it’s not as if it’s totally new to construction uses).

 How City Pedestrianisation Saves Lives

 In 2019, Oslo, Norway recorded zero pedestrian or cyclist deaths. There was only a single traffic fatality, which involved someone driving into a fence. (For comparison, preliminary figures in London show 73 pedestrian and six cyclist fatalities in 2019; New York recorded 218 total traffic fatalities, including 121 pedestrian and 28 cyclist deaths.)

Oslo’s achievement means that it is just one step away from “Vision Zero”, an undertaking to eliminate all deaths on public roads. The foundation for reaching Vision Zero is to significantly reduce the number of cars on the road. Oslo officials have removed more than a thousand street-side central parking spots, encouraging people to lean on an affordable and flexible public transport network, and added more bike lanes and footpaths.

Significant areas are closed off to cars entirely, including “heart zones” around primary schools. “The wish to pedestrianise the city isn’t a new policy, but it has accelerated now,” Rune Gjøs, a director at Oslo’s Department of Mobility, says. “The car became the owner of our cities, but we’re resetting the order again.”

Despite its success, Oslo’s initiatives have faced opposition from some people who don’t know life without private cars. There’s also a misconception that pedestrianisation hurts local trade, because the data has always been “patchy,” says Harriet Tregoning, director of the New Urban Mobility Alliance, a global group helping cities to integrate more sustainable transportation.

But Oslo’s success contributes to a growing body of evidence that pedestrianisation not only saves lives; it’s also good for business. After reducing cars, footfall in the centre increased by ten per cent.

The FBI Hires A Team Of Robots To Sort Through Its Paper Files

Imagine the headache of physically retrieving a paper file from a large records room stuffed full of files. Now expand the problem by imagining a 250,000 square foot facility full of 360,000 filing bins stuffed with paper records.

Not interesting enough? Well, these aren’t just any files, but sensitive law enforcement records that could be crucial in stopping crimes and vindicating innocent people.

That’s the scenario facing administrators of a Winchester, Virginia, retrieval warehouse for FBI files built to consolidate records previously contained within more than 250 FBI field offices around the world. The FBI is famous for its record keeping and has collected billions of pages over its more than a century in existence. The job of building the facility to house about 2 billion of those pages falls to the government’s General Services Administration, and it quickly became evident that manual retrieval for all the files in the new facility simply wasn’t an option.

Enter the robots – 140 of them, to be exact. After vetting various solutions, the GSA  chose an automated record filing and retrieval system from robotics technology company AutoStore, which not only streamlines retrieval via radio-controlled robots but also optimizes space by allowing files to be stored in a way that eliminates aisle space. Within the facility, the robots manoeuvre on an overhead steel grid system to identify, access, and retrieve requested items from any of the 360,000 bins.

New “Sound Beaming” Technology Eliminates Headphones

Ever wanted sci-fi speakers that shoot sound straight into your head so that you can privately listen to your games and music without the need for headphones? Well, sound beaming technology can do just that. Rather like a wireless headset, without a headset.

Noveto, an Israeli start-up company, has just announced the SoundBeamer 1.0—supposedly the world’s first branded consumer product to use sound beaming technology. Though, companies like Hypersound (associates of Turtle Beach) have been using similar technology for a while now, so what’s so special about this device?

Well, where the alternatives broadcast audio in one general direction, the SoundBeamer 1.0 can actually beam the ultrasonic sound waves straight to your ears as you move around. The company’s CEO, Christophe Ramstein, offers this amazing titbit: “The brain doesn’t understand what it doesn’t know,” which sounds all very mysterious, but how does it actually work?

According to the Associated Press, who were granted an exclusive interview with Noveto, the SoundBeamer utilises a “3D sensing module” that, at the touch of a button, can seek out the users ears and pump sound waves directly to them.

The device is able to forge and maintain pockets of sound either side of the user’s head, tracking their ear positioning so they can move about freely, without the sound being interrupted.

The SoundBeamer 1.0 works in either stereo or spatial 3D mode, meaning it can totally immerse the listener into a world of three-dimensional sound, without blocking any sound from the rest of the world. So, not only can you privately listen to your heavy metal, or play your games without disturbing your housemate, there are also no more awkward moments of pulling off your headphones to ask them to repeat what they just said.

World’s First VTOL Business Jet Now In Design

Drone-like VTOL capabilities with a long-range, high-speed turboshaft cruise mode: South Africa’s Pegasus Vertical Business Jet hopes to deliver the best of both worlds in a futuristic transitioning aircraft for high flyers.

The company sees convenience and utility in the touchdown-anywhere eVTOL model, but wants to offer helicopter and business jet owners a faster, longer range alternative than electric powertrains will be able to match for some time.

So, instead of dealing with the foibles of large, heavy, low-density battery packs, the VBJ will carry a pair of turboshaft engines and a maximum of 2,040 kg (4,500 lb) of fuel. If you take off and land via a runway, that fuel can take you up to 4,400 km (2,730 miles) with an endurance of around 6.6 hours. But if you route the power instead to the four vertical lift fans embedded in its fat wings to take off and land vertically, you’ll burn so much gas that you’ll get slightly less than half those figures.

The trade off for range is the ability to put the VBJ down on a rooftop heliport, or in the middle of nowhere, or on an oil rig, or a golf course or a superyacht. With cruise speeds up to 480 mph (772 km/h), it’ll run rings around helicopters and eVTOLs, with a quieter cabin in which six passengers and a pilot can hear themselves think.

Google Is Developing An Improved COVID Overlay For Google Maps

 Google has announced a handful of improvements coming to Google Maps including updates to its COVID overlay, takeout ordering features, and real-time crowdedness information for public transport. Alongside them, the company says the Google Assistant driving mode, which gives you access to features like voice controls for music while you’re driving, is launching in preview in the US.

The Google Assistant driving mode was first announced back at Google I/O 2019 and was spotted rolling out on some Android devices last month. The mode offers voice controls for features like phone calls and media playback from inside the Maps navigation screen, so you can access them while keeping your eyes on the road.

These include being able to read out new messages from different messaging apps, answer phone calls, and play media from services like Spotify, YouTube Music, and Google Podcasts. Google says users will have the option of enabling the mode via a pop up in Maps, or else from the Google Assistant settings.

Next up are improvements to the COVID-19 overlay for Google Maps which launched back in September. In the coming weeks it’s adding more information to it across Android and iOS, including details about the amount of cases detected in total in an area, as well as links to COVID information provided by local authorities. Google says this could help you find information about local rules and regulations when you’re travelling.

China Launches Experimental 6G Satellite

 China has leap-frogged the world in satellite communication. Not only had China sent 13 more satellites into orbit this month, it also successfully completed a world’s first, sending up a sixth-generation communications test satellite.

The devices were put into space by a Long March-6 carrier rocket that blasted off from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center, China Central Television (CCTV) reported.

The 6G satellite was among three Chinese satellites successfully launched into orbit, along with 10 commercial remote sensing satellites developed by Argentinian company Satellogic, media reports said.

Named after the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China, the satellite was jointly developed by Chengdu Guoxing Aerospace Technology, UESTC, and Beijing MinoSpace Technology.

It will be used to verify the performance of 6G technology in space as the 6G frequency band will expand from the 5G millimeter wave frequency to the terahertz frequency, Yicai reported.

The satellite is the first technical test of terahertz communication’s application in space, said Xu Yangsheng, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

The technology is expected to be over 100 times faster than 5G, enabling lossless transmission in space to achieve long-distance communications with a smaller power output

More Evidence That Alzheimer’s Is Caused By Gut Bacteria

Research into the relationship between the brain and the bacteria in our bellies is uncovering links to an increasing number of neurological conditions, with Alzheimer’s among them.

A new study is throwing further weight behind the theory that an imbalance in the gut microbiome may be related to the onset of the disease, showing how shifts in bacterial diversity are associated with inflammation and heightened numbers of amyloid plaques in the brain, one of the hallmarks of the condition.

The community of bacteria that lives in our gut has become the focus of much medical research of late, with scientists uncovering evidence that it can play a role in depressionautismmultiple sclerosis and heart disease, to name just a few examples. Likewise, connections have begun to emerge between the gut microbiome and Alzheimer’s disease, with one 2017 study revealing decreases in microbiome diversity among those diagnosed with the condition.

Last year, Chinese authorities even approved a novel drug designed to treat the disease by modulating a person’s gut microbiome that became the first Alzheimer’s drug to reach the market in almost 20 years.

Another recent study found that fecal transplants in mice can affect age-related cognitive decline by altering the gut microbiome.

The international team of scientists behind the new study claim that it has confirmed this correlation. Study author Giovanni Frisoni from the University Hospitals of Geneva has been investigating these links for several years and previously uncovered evidence of reduced microbiome diversity among Alzheimer’s patients, and suspects that one of the flow-on effects of this, inflammation, may also have an important part to play.

 

 

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