GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – DECEMBER 2021

“Fantastic Voyage” Becomes Science Fact With Robots That Swim In Your Blood

 Delivering chemotherapy drugs directly to cancers could help reduce side effects, and soon that job could be done by tiny 3D-printed robotic animals – just like in the 1960s sci-fi pic “Fantastic Voyage”. These microrobots are steered by magnets, and only release their drug payload when they encounter the acidic environment around a tumour.

The new microrobots are made of hydrogel 3D printed in the shape of different animals, like a fish, a crab and a butterfly, with voids that can carry particles. The development team adjusted the printing density in specific areas, like the edges of the crab’s claws or the fish’s mouth, so that they can open or close in response to changes in acidity. Finally, the microrobots were placed in a solution containing iron oxide nanoparticles to make them magnetic.

The result was microrobots that could be loaded up with drug nanoparticles and steered towards a target location using magnets, where they would release their payload automatically due to changes in pH levels.

In lab tests, the researchers used magnets to guide a fish microrobot through simulated blood vessels, towards a cluster of cancer cells at one end. In that area, the team made the solution slightly more acidic and the fish opened its mouth and spat out the drugs on cue, killing the cancer cells. In other tests, crab microrobots could be made to clasp drug nanoparticles with their claws, scuttle to a target location, and release them.

Nasal Vaccine For Alzheimer’s Trialled In Boston

Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston will test the safety and efficacy of a nasal vaccine aimed at preventing and slowing Alzheimer’s disease, the Boston hospital has announced. The start of the small, Phase I clinical trial comes after nearly 20 years of research led by Howard L. Weiner, MD, co-director of the Ann Romney Center for Neurologic Diseases at the hospital.

The trial will include 16 participants between the ages of 60 and 85, all with early symptomatic Alzheimer’s but otherwise generally healthy. They will receive two doses of the vaccine one week apart, the hospital said in a press release. The participants will enrol from the Ann Romney Center.

A Phase I clinical trial is designed to establish the safety and dosage for a potential new medication. If it goes well, a much larger trial would be needed to test its effectiveness.

 You Will Be Able To Feel Things In The Metaverse

 You cannot yet pet a dog in Meta’s new, high-tech virtual reality gloves. But researchers are getting closer to making that possible.

Meta (formerly Facebook) is known for its high-profile moves into virtual and augmented reality. For seven years, though, it’s been quietly working on one of its most ambitious projects yet: a haptic glove that reproduces sensations like grasping an object or running your hand along a surface. While Meta’s not yet letting the glove out of its Reality Labs research division, the company is showing it off for the first time and it sees the device — alongside other wearable tech — as the future of VR and AR interaction.

At a simplified level, Meta’s haptics prototype is a glove lined with around 15 ridged and inflatable plastic pads known as actuators. The pads are arranged to fit along the wearer’s palm, the underside of their fingers, and their fingertips. The glove also acts as a VR controller. The back features small white markers that let cameras track how the fingers move through space, and it’s got internal sensors that capture how the wearer’s fingers are bending.

World’s First Offshore Fish Farm Arrives In Norway

 Salmar’s giant Ocean Farm 1 fish farm has arrived in Norwegian waters following an 11-week journey from China.

It is 110 metres wide, 68 metres high, can contain 250,000 cubic metres in volume and withstand magnitude 12 earthquakes. About 20,000 sensors allow the marine site to achieve complete automation in monitoring and feeding the fish. The farm can mature up to 1.5 million fish in 14 months. It is also equipped with a 360 degree revolving gate for cleaning fish nets and driving fish shoals.

Salmar, which owns 50 per cent of Scottish Sea Farms, was awarded the first development licences for the Ocean Farm 1 concept on February 28. The eight permits the company were granted are limited to 780 tonnes of salmon/trout each for a period of seven years.

LVMH Reveals The Shape And Feel Of Future Luxury Retail

 LVMH wants its emblematic Paris department store La Samaritaine, which reopens on 23 June 2022, to be perceived as a game-changer for luxury retail in the city and a beacon of hope for the post-pandemic era.

The luxury conglomerate bought 55 per cent of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco landmark in 2001 and the remaining share in 2010. But it was forced to close the building in 2005 for safety reasons, investing an extraordinary €750 million in its renovation and (to quote LVMH) “much-anticipated renaissance”. The store was formally inaugurated by French President Emmanuel Macron and LVMH chairman and chief executive Bernard Arnault in early November.

LVMH-owned travel retailer DFS has been entrusted with operating the 20,000-square-metre retail space, placing a huge emphasis on experiential retail. “It was important to make a store that would be differentiating, given the competitive environment in Paris, so we conceived it as a place for living and strolling,” says Eléonore de Boysson, president of DFS, Europe and the Middle East.

La Samaritaine is the smallest Parisian department store but, de Boysson says, the largest concept store. It has similar floor space to Le Bon Marché, LVMH’s department store on the Left Bank (if you exclude that store’s La Grande Épicerie).

Google’s First Robots Go To Work – At Google

 Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has revealed that its Everyday Robots Project — a team within its experimental X labs dedicated to creating “a general-purpose learning robot” — has moved some of its prototype machines out of the lab and into Google’s Bay Area campuses to carry out some light custodial tasks.

“We are now operating a fleet of more than 100 robot prototypes that are autonomously performing a range of useful tasks around our offices,” said Everyday Robot’s chief robot officer Hans Peter Brøndmo in a blog post.

“The same robot that sorts trash can now be equipped with a squeegee to wipe tables and use the same gripper that grasps cups can learn to open doors.”

These robots in question are essentially arms on wheels, with a multipurpose gripper on the end of a flexible arm attached to a central tower. There’s a “head” on top of the tower with cameras and sensors for machine vision and what looks like a spinning lidar unit on the side, presumably for navigation.

 New Battery Design Promises Ten Times Faster Charging

 Research into next-generation batteries involves continuous experimentation with alternative materials that might unlock significant performance gains, and a new breakthrough offers a compelling example of what this could look like.

Scientists at the University of Twente in the Netherlands have produced an experimental lithium-ion cell that features a novel electrode design with an “open and regular” crystal structure, which they say allows for charging at 10 times the speed of today’s devices.

The lithium-ion batteries that power today’s electric vehicles, smartphones and countless other devices feature two electrodes, the cathode and the anode, and this new study focuses on the latter. Currently these anodes are made from graphite, which serves them well in many ways but are unable to accommodate ultra-fast charging rates without breaking down.

One place scientists are looking to for new and improved anodes is in materials featuring nano-scale porous structures. Anodes of this nature promise greater contact area with the liquid electrolyte that transports the lithium ions, while enabling the ions to diffuse more easily into the solid electrode material, ultimately making for a device that charges much, much faster.

This Water Generator Pulls H2O From The Air

 For over a decade, Israeli atmospheric water generator (AWG) company Watergen has been one of the players working to refine and grow air-to-water technology that can efficiently pull water vapor out of the air and collect it as fresh, filtered drinking water.

Its previous work has focused heavily on large installations to supply communities, businesses and households, and its latest innovations shrink the water-harvesting tech into a form portable enough for overlanders, RVers, tiny home dwellers and other off-grid explorers.

The last time the company showed its technology was at CES 2019, where it showed the Automotive AWG system. The centre-console-integrated system was one of the wondrous highlights of the show, but it seemed an odd, limited use for a technology with such potential, a strange detour on a larger journey. Does the average passenger car driver really need a water tap over the cupholders?

If a mobile air-to-water generator is to find a following amongst drivers, it would be a far better fit for vehicles that spend long hours traveling through places without much access to water – motorhomes and camping trailers, specialised remote-work trucks and vans, and perhaps long-haul tractor-trailers, to name a few examples.

Retrofitting Dams To Produce Hydro-Electricity

Rather than building more dams, why doesn’t humankind figure out a way to get more out of the ones that already exist? The majority of them aren’t generating electricity at all—they’re used for irrigation, water supply, flood control, or for fishing and boating. If we can figure out a way to put turbines into those dams so they also produce hydropower—a process known as retrofitting—we could unlock a huge renewable energy potential that isn’t being tapped.

In a retrofitted system, water falling through the dam would spin newly installed turbine blades connected to a generator—and that spinning would generate electricity that could be distributed to local homes or connected to a larger power grid.

“How much more can we get out of revitalizing existing infrastructure, rather than expanding and building new infrastructure?” asks Ryan McManamay, an ecologist at Baylor University in Texas and co-author of a paper exploring the untapped potential of non-powered dams.

McManamay and his colleagues estimated that retrofitting dams and upgrading existing hydroelectric plants could boost their maximum output by an extra 78 gigawatts. That’s roughly the power generated by seven Belo Monte Dams, or more than double the average electricity demand in the whole of the United Kingdom.

Will You Allow Your Baby’s DNA To Be Sequenced?

 In October, the UK government announced that Genomics England, a government-owned company, would receive funding to run a research pilot in the UK that aims to sequence the genomes of between 100,000 and 200,000 babies.

Dubbed the Newborn Genomes Programme, the plan will be embedded within the UK’s National Health Service and will specifically look for “actionable” genetic conditions—meaning those for which there are existing treatments or interventions—and which manifest in early life, such as pyridoxine-dependent epilepsy and congenital adrenal hyperplasia.

The babies’ genomes will also be de-identified and added to the UK’s National Genomic Research Library, where the data can be mined by researchers and commercial health companies to study, with the goal of developing new treatments and diagnostics. The aims of the research pilot, according to Genomics England, are to expand the number of rare genetic diseases screened for in early life to enable research into new therapies, and to explore the potential of having a person’s genome be part of their medical record that can be used at later stages of life.

Whole genome sequencing, the mapping of the 3 billion base pairs that make up your genetic code, can return illuminating insights into your health. By comparing a genome to a reference database, scientists can identify gene variants, some of which are associated with certain diseases.

As the cost of whole genome sequencing has taken a nosedive (it now costs just a few hundred bucks and can return results within the day), its promises to revolutionize health care have become all the more enticing—and ethically murky. Unraveling a bounty of genetic knowledge from millions of people requires keeping it safe from abuse. But advocates have argued that sequencing the genomes of newborns could help diagnose rare diseases earlier, improve health later in life, and further the field of genetics as a whole.