GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – JULY 2021

Russia Flies Prototype VTOL Aircraft

Russia’s Foundation for Advanced Research has already flown a 60-kg (132-lb) prototype of its Cyclocar VTOL aircraft, which uses a super-responsive cyclical propeller propulsion system. A full-size, long-range, six-seat Cyclocar is expected to fly in 2022.

We’ve seen this cyclic propulsion system before, from Austria’s Cyclotech, which was previously known as D-Dalus. It places a number of variable-pitch blades in fast-rotating barrels. Each blade changes pitch constantly as the barrel spins, meaning each corner of the aircraft can vector its thrust through 360 degrees nearly instantly, without changing the RPM of the motors.

While this would make cyclic propulsion a terrific solution for a gasoline-powered VTOL, the Russians are planning to use it with a hybrid propulsion system, with full electric drive and a range-extending combustion generator.

The six-seat aircraft is expected to fly at up to 250 km/h (155 mph) – this is a fair bit slower than many lift and cruise or vectored thrust multicopter designs, presumably because it has no wings and needs to keep its thrust vectored partially downward at all times.

Bacteria Converts Degraded Plastic Bottles Into Vanilla Flavouring

 Developing forms of plastic that don’t take centuries to break down after use is a common objective among eco-conscious material scientists, and lately we’re seeing how bacteria might offer a helping hand. Scientists at the University of Edinburgh have taken this idea one step further, by demonstrating how an engineered form of E. coli bacteria can be used to turn plastic bottles into vanillin, the primary compound of vanilla flavouring.

Discoveries in recent years have demonstrated how bacteria might help us tackle the monumental problem of plastic waste. These have included the unearthing of enzymes produced by bacteria that lurk around recycling centres in Japan and feed on the material as an energy source, and the use of bacterial biofilms that can trap difficult-to-trace microplastic particles. Lately, we’ve also seen how embedding enzymes in plastic during production can enable the material to break down in days, or even keep itself clean.

The new research from University of Edinburgh scientists is pioneering in that it doesn’t just seek to quickly break down single-use plastics, but use bacteria to turn it into something useful. The team focused on polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the plastic typically used for packaging of everything from food, to shampoos to soda bottles, and generates around 50 million tonnes of waste each year.

Cognitive Decline In Elderly May Be Linked To Blood Protein

New research published in the journal PLOS Biology is describing the discovery of a link between cognitive decline and a protein in red blood cells. The research found mice depleted of this protein suffered from rapid cognitive decline, and a potential new anti-aging therapeutic target could be possible if the same observation can be validated in humans.

“Red blood cells have an irreplaceable function to deliver oxygen to maintain bioenergetics of every single cell within our body,” explains lead author on the new study, Yang Xia. “However, their function in age-related cognition and hearing function remains largely unknown.”

The new research is based on the hypothesis that a progressive decrease in oxygen supply to tissues is a key factor in aging. Adenosine receptor A2B (ADORA2B) is a protein that aids the release of oxygen from red blood cells, and to test what effect reduced levels of this protein has on cognition, the researchers developed mouse models engineered to lack this vital protein.

Using a number of cognitive and physiological tests the animals were compared healthy mice. The mice lacking ADORA2B displayed faster declines in memory and hearing as they aged compared the control animals, and when the animals were deprived of oxygen in a simulated hypoxia scenario, this age-related cognitive decline accelerated even more rapidly.

Brain Implant Detects And Relieves Pain

Researchers from the New York University School of Medicine have developed a brain implant designed to detect pain sensations in real-time and deliver bursts of pain-relieving stimulation. The device is still deeply experimental but a new proof of concept study demonstrates it working effectively in rodent models.

In the world of brain implants the chasm between science fiction and reality is still quite vast. Apart from some exciting human tests showing paralyzed individuals with implants regaining a sense of touch or controlling computers with their mind, most research in the field is still nascent.

Animal tests have demonstrated incremental technological advances, such as pigs broadcasting neural activity or monkeys playing Pong. Now, an interface that can detect pain signals in one part of the brain and immediately respond with stimulation to another part of the brain targeted to relieve that pain has been developed.

The system is called a closed-loop brain-machine interface. These devices have previously been explored for detecting and treating epileptic seizures but this is the first time the system has been used to treat pain.

IT Workers In India Will Monitor Your Business 24 Hours A Day

 Clerks at 7-Eleven and other convenience stores are being constantly monitored by a voice of god that can intervene from thousands of miles away.

In a short CCTV video, a clerk at a small convenience store can be seen taking a bottle of coffee from a cooler and drinking it. When he returns to the cash register, an unseen person’s voice emits from a speaker on the ceiling and interrogates him about whether he scanned and paid for the item.

In another video, a cashier is standing behind the counter talking to someone just out of frame. There’s a ‘ding’ sound, and the voice from above questions the cashier about who the other man is—he’s there to give the cashier a ride at the end of his shift—then orders the man to stand on the other side of the counter.

The videos are just a few examples that Washington-based Live Eye Surveillance uses to demonstrate its flagship product: a surveillance camera system that keeps constant watch over shops and lets a remote human operator intervene whenever they see something they deem suspicious. For $399 per month a person in Karnal, India will watch the video feed from your business 24/7. The monitors “act as a virtual supervisor for the sites, in terms of assuring the safety of the employees located overseas and requesting them to complete assigned tasks,” according to a job posting on the company’s website.

You Can Now Buy A Helmet That “Can Read Your Mind”

 Over the next few weeks, a company called Kernel will begin sending dozens of customers across the US a $50,000 helmet that can, crudely speaking, read their mind.

Weighing a couple of pounds each, the helmets contain nests of sensors and other electronics that measure and analyse a brain’s electrical impulses and blood flow at the speed of thought, providing a window into how the organ responds to the world. The basic technology has been around for years, but it’s usually found in room-size machines that can cost millions of dollars and require patients to sit still in a clinical setting.

The promise of a leagues-more-affordable technology that anyone can wear and walk around with is, well, mind-bending. Excited researchers anticipate using the helmets to gain insight into brain aging, mental disorders, concussions, strokes, and the mechanics behind previously metaphysical experiences such as meditation and psychedelic trips.

“To make progress on all the fronts that we need to as a society, we have to bring the brain online,” says Bryan Johnson, who’s spent more than five years and raised about $110 million —half of it his own money—to develop the helmets.

New Bike Light Will Video Cars That Pass Too Close To Rider

 A large percentage of bike-versus-car accidents occur when automobiles pass too closely to cyclists. The Dashbike tail light was designed with that in mind, as it automatically records video of any too-close drive-bys.

Manufactured by German start-up Dashfactory, the water-resistant, GPS-equipped Dashbike functions first and foremost as a tail light.

It can be mounted either under the saddle or on the seatpost, putting out up to 70 lumens as it flashes in a variety of patternsIt additionally utilizes an integrated wide-angle HD camera and microphone to continuously record rear-facing video, along with an ultrasonic proximity sensor to measure the distance between itself and passing cars. The footage is usually recorded in a loop, with the newest video constantly overwriting what was recorded previously. If a vehicle passes the cyclist by less than 1.5 meters (4.9 ft), however, the buffered footage of the incident is saved on the device’s 16GB of internal memory.

Likewise, should the Dashbike’s 9-axis accelerometer detect that a fall has occurred, the video of the moments leading up to that event will be saved.

Amazon Orders 1,000 Self-Driving Trucks

 Amazon is hoping that driver-less autonomous trucks will someday power its vast delivery network. According to Bloomberg, the company has placed an order for 1,000 autonomous driving systems from Plus, a start-up founded in 2016 to disrupt the long-haul trucking industry with self-driving technology.

As part of the deal, Amazon has the right to purchase up to 20 percent of the company itself. Plus is set to go public soon at a valuation of $3.3 billion. It’s raised more than $570 million to date and plans to begin mass production of its self-driving hardware later this year.

In the autonomous driving industry, long-haul trucking is considered somewhat of a low-hanging fruit as driving for long distances on open highways is inherently more predictable than driving on city streets. There aren’t pedestrians stepping out in front of traffic, or any other countless variables to train the systems against.

Plus only manufactures the self-driving sensor system and fleet operators are expected to bring their own trucks. The company has already deployed its self-driving tech in trucks through a partnership with Chinese delivery company SF Holding Co. The trucks can reportedly travel nearly 1,000 miles per day

It’s no secret that Amazon is building its own logistics network to rival the likes of UPS and FedEx. It now employs more than a million workers globally, so even small reductions in cost on the margins can up add tremendously. The company previously invested in electric car startup Rivian, which is producing a fleet of 100,000 Amazon-branded delivery vehicles. Electric vehicles generally have low running and maintenance expenses compared to traditional combustion equivalents. Amazon says that the switch to electric is also in line with its commitment to protecting the environment.