GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – FEBRUARY 2019

Basketball Sneakers You Can Tighten With Your Smartphone

Nike is preparing to launch a new self-lacing basketball shoefor the masses (that’s us) that can also accommodate prescribed tightness settings.

Just before Christmas Nike revealed its redesigned self-lacing shoes would arrive in 2019, following an initial run of 1,500 in 2011 and another special edition in 2015. The Nike HyperAdapt 1.0 sneakers then arrived in 2016, though they came with a hefty price tag of US$720 a pair.

The newly named Nike Adapt BB shoes are built for basketballers and incorporate the company’s latest power-lacing system. When the user slips into the shoes, a motor and gear train take over and automatically adjust the tightness of the shoe until a snug fit is found.

But Nike imagines its Adapt BB basketball shoes doing more than help during the pre-game. It says that either through manual touch or a companion smartphone app, users will be able to enter different tightness settings depending on the scenario. For example, they might enjoy a looser fit in the warmup, a tighter fit in between buzzers and then a looser fit again during a timeout or break in play.

Useful or useless tech?

Geneticist Who Gene-Edited Human Children Now Under Arrest

 The Chinese scientist who shocked the world by claiming that he had created the first genetically edited babies is sequestered in a small university guesthousein the southern city of Shenzhen, where he remains under guard by a dozen unidentified men.

The recent sighting of the scientist, He Jiankui was the first since he appeared at a conference in Hong Kong in late November and defended his actions. For the past few weeks, rumours had swirled about whether Dr. He was under house arrest. His university and the Chinese government, which has put Dr. He under investigation, have been silent about his fate.

Dr. He now lives in a fourth-floor apartment at a university guesthouse, a hotel run by the school for visiting teachers, on the sprawling campus of the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen’s Nanshan District, where many of China’s best-known tech companies, like Tencent, have their offices.

Huawei Creates App To Help Blind People “See” Emotions

 Controversial Chinese mobile technology giant Huawei, has developed a “face-reading” appto help visually impaired users to sense the emotions of people they talk to.

Created in partnership with the Polish Blind Association, the Android app is designed specifically for use on Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro smartphone.

As the blind user speaks to another person, the phone’s rear cameras scan that person’s face. Utilizing artificial intelligence-based algorithms, the app pays particular attention to features such as the eyes, nose, eyebrows and mouth, and their positions relative to one another.

Based on this data, the program is reportedly able to discern seven basic emotions. It proceeds to let the user know which of these the other person is displaying, representing that emotion as one of seven corresponding musical cues. These short tunes were created by blind composer Tomasz Bilecki, with blind test subjects claiming that they are easy to remember and understand — they can be heard either through the phone’s speakers, or (more discretely) via an attached earbud.

U.S. Police Using “Instant” DNA Sequencing To Fight Crime

A police station in Bensalem, a suburb in Bucks County, near Philadelphia, is on the leading edge of a revolution in how crimes are solved.

For years, when police wanted to learn whether a suspect’s DNA matched previously collected crime-scene DNA, they sent a sample to an outside lab, then waited a month or more for results.

But in early 2017, the police booking station in Bensalem became the first in the country to install a Rapid DNA machine, which provides results in 90 minutes, and which police can operate themselves. Since then, a growing number of law enforcement agencies across the country — in Houston, Utah, Delaware — have begun operating similar machines and analysing DNA on their own.

The science-fiction future, in which police can swiftly identify robbers and murderers from discarded soda cans and cigarette butts, has arrived. In 2017, President Trump signed into law the Rapid DNA Act, which, starting this year, will enable approved police booking stations in several states to connect their Rapid DNA machines to Codis, the national DNA database. Genetic fingerprinting is set to become as routine as the old-fashioned kind.

Law-enforcement officials said that the device had provided leads in hundreds of cases, helping to facilitate arrests and exonerate falsely accused individuals. Members of the Rapid DNA team in the Orange County, Calif., district attorney’s office said that some robbers were identified so quickly that they were caught still holding stolen goods. Rapid DNA machines were also used to help identify victims of the recent wildfires in Northern California.

Statins And Other Common Drugs Effective For Mental Health

A massive new study, examining the health records over almost 150,000 people, has found three commonly prescribed drugs, including statins used to lower cholesterol, can be associated with reduced rates of psychiatric events in those suffering from serious mental illness.

The study was conducted by an international team of researchers from University College London, Karolinska Institute Sweden, and the University of Hong Kong. Using Swedish medical records, 142,691 subjects were studied, all of whom had been previously diagnosed with either bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or non-affective psychosis, and treated with psychiatric medication.

The researchers were looking to see if there was any correlation between episodes of self-harm or psychiatric hospitalization, and three common medications. The medications studied included statins for high cholesterol and heart disease, biguanides such as metformin for diabetes, and calcium antagonists used to treat high blood pressure.

The overall results were statistically significant with UCL researcher and lead author Joseph Hayes suggesting a between 10 and 20 percent reduction in psychiatric episodes for those subjects taking one of the three noted drugs, compared to those subjects not on any of the three medications.

Russian Company Planning To Put Billboards In Space

Russian company StartRocket is proposing to use Cubesats, small satellites with inexpensive launch profiles, to put advertising billboards in space.

At an altitude of about 450 km (280 miles), the satellites would unfurl a mylar sail about 9 meters (30 ft.) long. A group of CubeSats would work together to create a single billboard, and the result would be a pixelated billboard with a viewable area of about 50 sq. km., visible in morning and evening twilight, when they catch and reflect sunlight.

StartRocket thinks of their billboards in space as the creation of a new media. The company calls them Orbital Displays, and each one would only last about a year. They would be easily visible on clear nights, but not overbearingly bright. They would be about magnitude -8, with the Full Moon being magnitude -13 and the Sun magnitude -27.

In my 2001 novel “Emergence” (re-published in 2017) I imagined lasers being used to place advertising in orbit – but that was satire!

New Antibiotic Found In Wasp Venom

As harmful bacteria continue to become resistant to standard antibiotics, it gets increasingly important to come up with alternatives. With that in mind, scientists at MIT have looked to a species of wasp, and found an effective antibiotic in its venom.

It was already known that wasp and bee venom contains peptides (short chains of linked amino acids) that kill bacteria. Unfortunately, though, these compounds have also proven to be toxic to human cells.

Not to be dissuaded, an MIT team recently analysed the venom from the South American Polybia paulista wasp. The scientists found that one of the bacteria-killing peptides within that venom was only 12 amino acids long, suggesting that it would be relatively easy to manipulate within the lab.

They proceeded to produce several dozen variants, each with a differing helical structure (the manner in which the amino acids are arranged) and with a different degree of hydrophobicity (repellence to water) – these qualities determined how effective each variant was at killing microbes by destroying their cell membranes.

Based on their findings, the researchers produced a few dozen more particularly effective variants, then tested how toxic they were to human embryonic kidney cells grown in a glass dish. Those that weren’t toxic were subsequently tested on mice infected with Pseudomonas aeruginosabacteria, which frequently causes respiratory and urinary tract infections. While several of the variants reduced the infection, one of them (given at a high dose) eradicated it completely within four days

Emergency Response Vehicle With Legs

Imagine if an emergency vehiclecould not only bring the team of responders to the edge of the disaster zone but actually step right in, striding over top flaming rubble to get responders exactly where they need to be. Forget last mile, that’s the last 100 yards. And that’s the all-new Hyundai Elevate concept, moving through the world on fully articulated wheeled legs that let it climb vertical walls, hop over crevasses, crawl like a reptile and quietly cruise the highway on a sunny day.

Developed in a partnership between Hyundai’s CRADLE disruptive innovations incubator and Detroit product innovation studio Sundberg-Ferar, the Elevate blends the worlds of robotic and automotive design to become an “ultimate mobility vehicle” (UMV). The concept has been in the works for well over two years and was imagined specifically with emergency response in mind.

“When a tsunami or earthquake hits, current rescue vehicles can only deliver first responders to the edge of the debris field,” explained John Suh, Hyundai vice president. “They have to go the rest of the way by foot. Elevate can drive to the scene and climb right over flood debris or crumbled concrete.”

Plant Hack Could Increase Crop Yield By 40%

 An international team of researchers has, for the first time, demonstrated that by fixing a common glitch in photosynthesis, a crop’s yield could be improved by around 40 percent. The landmark study suggests optimizing a plant’s photosynthetic efficiency could significantly increase worldwide food productivity.

Photosynthesis, the process by which a plant converts light energy into chemical energy, is not a wholly efficient process. A key stage in the photosynthesis process involves an enzyme called RuBisCO grabbing carbon dioxide molecules. However, around 25 percent of the time RuBisCO incorrectly collects oxygen molecules instead, creating a plant-toxic byproduct that disrupts the entire photosynthesis process.

Photorespiration is the process plants use to remove these problematic by-products.

“Photorespiration is anti-photosynthesis,” explains Paul South, lead author on the new research. “It costs the plant precious energy and resources that it could have invested in photosynthesis to produce more growth and yield.”

In food crops such as soybean, rice and wheat, it’s estimated that photorespiration can take up anywhere from 20 to 50 percent of a plant’s photosynthetic energy. So it is no surprise that scientists have been working hard to find ways to lower the energy cost of photorespiration.

New Wearable Measures Skin pH

L’Oréal has unveiled My Skin Track pH, a wearable that monitors the pH levels of its user’s skin.  According to the company, pH imbalances in the skin can produce inflammatory responses, which may in turn lead to or worsen conditions such as dryness, eczema, and atopic dermatitis. That’s where My Skin Track pH comes in.

Developed by L’Oréal’s La Roche-Posay skincare division in partnership with Epicore Biosystems, it takes the form of a thin-film sticker that is adhered to the skin of the user’s inner arm. Microfluidic channels within the device then draw in trace amounts of sweat. After five to 15 minutes, the pH content of that sweat causes two dots on top of the device to change colour.

An accompanying app analyses their colour, and from that deduces the skin’s pH levels. If those levels are out of whack, the app advises users on what action to take.

And in case you’re wondering about just pressing a strip of pH paper against your skin to get the same results, we asked – it turns out that quite a large amount of sweat would be required, and even then the reading wouldn’t be very accurate.

Plans call for My Skin Track pH to be trialled through select US La Roche-Posay dermatologists, with an eye towards releasing a direct-to-consumer product late this year.