GLIMPSES OF THE FUTURE – SEPTEMBER 2020

Selfies That Can Detect Clogged Arteries

 A new algorithm has been developed to detect coronary artery disease solely from patient facial photos. The proof-of-concept, published in the European Heart Journal, needs more refinement before it becomes a useful clinical tool but independent experts also suggest there are profound ethical considerations that need to be resolved before a system like this can be deployed.

Alopecia, xanthelasmata (yellowing on the eyelids), and arcus corneae (an opaque ring around the cornea), are among several facial biomarkers to indicate a person may be suffering poor cardiovascular health. A team of researchers from China has now developed a deep learning algorithm that can study just four photos of an individual to determine a person’s risk of coronary artery disease.

Over two years, between 2017 and 2019, the researchers recruited 5,796 patients who had presented at a hospital to undergo heart imaging procedures. Four photos were taken of each patient – two side profiles, one frontal, and one looking down at the top of the head.

A deep learning algorithm was then trained to study these four images and assess a person’s heart disease risk. The results, validated in a further 1,000 patients, saw the algorithm correctly detecting heart disease in 80 percent of the cohort. Additionally, the algorithm could accurately detect patients without coronary artery disease 61 percent of the time.

The ethical resolves around who owns the data and must permission for analysis be sought every time?

The Air Ambulance That Can Land On City Streets

 Although “air ambulance” helicopters certainly are life-savers, the things typically can’t land in the middle of crowded city streets. The CityHawk aircraft conceivably could, though, which is why it’s now being developed with emergency medical response (EMS) in mind.

Designed by Israeli firm Urban Aeronautics, the CityHawk is essentially a compact civilian version of the company’s Cormorant military VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) aircraft.

The latter already exists in functioning prototype form, utilizing internal rotor blades to move vertically. This means that unlike the case with a helicopter, there’s no chance of the ends of those blades whacking against things like buildings, cars or people while the aircraft takes off and lands in confined spaces. A pair of shrouded propellers in the rear move the Cormorant forward, once it’s reached cruising altitude.

Hacking The Brain To Improve Language Learning

 We all know that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, but what about an old human a new language?

Previous research suggests that it’s much easier for young children to pick up a new language than it may be for their parents or even older siblings. A new study offers a solution to jump that evolutionary hurdle.

Using small, imperceptible brain stimulation through the ear, scientists saw improvements in the abilities of adults to recognize foreign language tones compared to those without stimulation. This memory effect lasted even during trials where the stimulation was paused.

This science-fiction inspired brain-hack could help adults overcome their brains’ own limitations.

In the study, published Thursday in the journal Science of Learning, the authors explain that part of what has made language acquisition in later life difficult is that the adult brain no longer has the same plasticity — or ability to reshape its synaptic networks to accommodate new information — that it once did in childhood.

“Humans are excellent perceptual learners,” the study team writes. “Yet, a notable and well-documented exception is the acquisition of non-native speech categories in adulthood.”

Vehicles That Know When To Switch To Clean Power

Exhaust emissions will be cut to zero when vehicles enter city centres with technology designed to improve air quality. A new generation of vans has been launched that will automatically switch to electric drive mode when being driven on streets suffering air pollution.

The system, introduced by Ford, uses geo-fencing technology to detect when the vehicle enters an ultra-low emission zone such as that established in central London. It can also trigger battery power when being driven close to schools, playgrounds or other sensitive locations. The technology will be introduced in new Transit vans sold in the autumn, with owners also able to retrofit it to existing vehicles.

The move follows concerns over the impact of van traffic, with the boom in internet shopping over the past decade causing a rise in pollution and congestion in built-up areas.

Latest figures from the Department for Transport show that light commercial vehicles — which includes delivery vans — travelled 50.4 billion miles in Britain in the year to the end of March, a 24 per cent rise in a decade. It was more than four times the average rise for all vehicles.

Environmental Concerns Overshadow Supersonic Flight Return

 Between Virgin Galactic, Boom, Spike and Aerion, a new crop of contenders are springing up to pick up where the Concorde left off, putting supersonic civilian flight back on the menu after nearly 20 years without it.

Wealth has never been so concentrated at the top of the pyramid, creating a class of multi-billionaires for whom hundred-million dollar time-saving devices actually look like a good deal, and a crop of new technologies are beginning to reach maturity that can enable civilian aircraft to break the sound barrier in freshly practical ways.

Aerion’s 8-to-10-seat AS2 luxury business jet will fly at a maximum of Mach 1.4, or more than 1,070 mph (1,728 km/h). That’s a touch under double the cruise speed of a 787 Dreamliner. Spike’s S-512 promises Mach 1.6, Boom’s Overture passenger jet claims Mach 2.2, and Virgin Galactic has promised Mach 3with its own Rolls-Royce powered 19-seater.

There’s also the environmental impact to consider, and perhaps more pertinently to some potential customers, the optics of it all. Burning that much fuel to save some bigwigs a few hours is not a good look.

UK Breakthrough May Boost Solar Panel Performance By A Third

 British rooftops could be hosting a breakthrough in new solar power technology by next summer, using a crystal first discovered more than 200 years ago to help harness more of the sun’s power.

An Oxford-based solar technology firm hopes by the end of the year to begin manufacturing the world’s most efficient solar panels and become the first to sell them to the public within the next year.

Oxford PV claims that the next-generation solar panels will be able to generate almost a third more electricity than traditional silicon-based solar panels by coating the panels with a thin layer of a crystal material called perovskite.

The breakthrough would offer the first major step-change in solar power generation since the technology emerged in the 1950s, and could play a major role in helping to tackle the climate crisis by increasing clean energy.

Turning House Bricks Into Batteries

 Boring old bricks might not seem like something that can really be made high-tech, but researchers keep proving us wrong. Now, a team has found a way to turn bricks into energy storage devices, using them to power a green LED in a proof of concept study.

A brick wall doesn’t exactly do much – sure it holds up the roof and keeps the cold out, but maybe the bricks could pull their weight a bit more. That was the goal for a team of scientists at Washington University in St Louis, who wanted to test whether bricks could be used to store electricity.

The team started with regular red bricks, then gave them extra abilities by coating them in a conductive polymer called PEDOT. This stuff is made up of nanofibers that work their way inside the porous structure of the bricks, eventually turning the whole into “an ion sponge” that conducts and stores energy.

In particular, these bricks become supercapacitors, which can store larger amounts of energy and be charged and discharged more quickly than batteries. They can be stacked together to make a bigger or smaller energy storage device, and the whole wall is then finished off with a coat of epoxy to keep the elements out and the electricity in.

Ammonia Could Be Tomorrow’s Clean Jet Fuel

 Reaction Engines and Britain’s Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) have completed a concept study into the practicality of using ammonia as a jet aviation fuel. By teaming Reaction Engines’ heat exchanger technology with STFC’s advanced catalysts, they hope to produce a sustainable, low-emission propulsion system for tomorrow’s aircraft.

Modern jet engines use a variety of fuels based on kerosene that have a very high energy density that can propel aircraft well beyond the speed of sound and carry passengers and cargoes across the globe. Unfortunately, such fuels are also derived from fossil fuels and produce significant carbon dioxide emissions, which the airline industry and many governments have pledged to reduce radically by 2050.

One way of achieving these cuts is to look at alternatives to conventional jet fuels to power airliners. The problem is that most of these alternatives have much lower energy densities than standard aviation fuels and suffer from other drawbacks. For example, present-day battery technology would require future aircraft to be very small, short-range, and with little payload capacity. Meanwhile, liquid hydrogen could be a viable alternative, but so much of it would need to be carried that planes would have to be completely redesigned and new infrastructure built.

Now, This Is What You Call Superfast Broadband

Scientists in London claim to have achieved the world’s fastest-ever internet speed – quick enough download the entire Netflix library a split second.

University College London-led team used amplifiers to enhance the way light carries digital data through fibre-optic broadband to achieve a record 178 terabits per second – almost three million times faster than the average UK home connection.

Dr Lidia Galdino, who led the research team at a lab in Bloomsbury, said such “ultra broadband” will underpin the next generation of the internet, supporting mobile 5G networks used by data-hungry applications such as driverless cars and smart cities infrastructure.

The new record was achieved by transmitting data in a greater range of colours than is typically used in optical fibre in order to increase the bandwidth.

For the speed test, Dr Galdino sent computer-generated bits in a 25-mile fibre optic loop around a Bloomsbury lab.

The massive speed increases were made possible by building customised amplifiers to boost signal power, which would be needed at least every 25 miles if deployed commercially.

It meant her super-speeds – the equivalent of 178 million megabits per second – were about 2.8 million times faster than the Ofcom-rated average 64mbps British home broadband connection.

 

 

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