26th June 2015
Gay marriage is legal throughout the USA
In a historic and landmark decision, the US Supreme Court today ruled in favour of same-sex marriage throughout the USA.
The case, Obergefell v. Hodges, was a consolidation of three other same-sex marriage cases, Tanco v. Haslam (Tennessee), DeBoer v. Snyder (Michigan) and Bourke v. Beshear (Kentucky), challenging state laws that prohibited same-sex marriage.
With a majority of 5-4, the Court held that state recognition of same-sex marriage is a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment, due to the 1868 Equal Protection Clause, which provides that no state shall deny any person within its jurisdiction "the equal protection of the laws." This ruling means the number of states where gay marriage is legal will rise from 37 to all 50. The USA is now the 21st country to legalise same-sex marriage nationwide.
Summing up, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated:
"No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfilment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilisation's oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed.
It is so ordered."
On Twitter, the White House changed its avatar to the rainbow colours. President Barack Obama declared the ruling as a "victory for America" and said: "When all Americans are treated as equal, we are all more free."
"It's my hope that gay marriage will soon be a thing of the past, and from this day forward it will simply be 'marriage,'" an emotional Jim Obergefell said outside the court.
In a related development, a scientific study this month finds that children of same-sex parents experience "no difference" on a range of social and behavioural outcomes compared to children of heterosexual or single parents. Published in Social Science Research, the paper examined thousands of peer-reviewed articles going back decades and found "overwhelming" consensus on the issue among researchers.
"As same-sex marriage has been debated in courts across the country, there has been the lingering question about the effects of same-sex parenting on children," explains Jimi Adams, associate professor and lead author. "I wanted to analyse the research from past decades to determine if there was consensus amongst researchers about that effect. I found overwhelming evidence that scientists agree that there is not a negative impact to children of same-sex couples."
26th June 2015
70% of the world using smartphones by 2020
By 2020, advanced mobile technology will be commonplace around the globe, according to a new report from Ericsson.
The latest edition of the Ericsson Mobility Report shows that by 2020, advanced mobile technology will be commonplace in every corner of the globe — smartphone subscriptions will more than double, reaching 6.1 billion, 70% of the world's population will be using smartphones, and over 90% will be covered by mobile broadband networks.
The report – a comprehensive update on the latest mobile trends – shows that growth in mature markets comes from an increasing number of devices per individual. In developing regions, it comes from a swell of new subscribers as smartphones become more affordable; almost 80% of smartphone subscriptions added by year-end 2020 will be from Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Africa.
With the continued rise of smartphones comes an exponential growth in data usage: smartphone data is predicted to increase ten-fold by 2020, when 80% of all mobile data traffic will come from smartphones (as opposed to basic feature phones). In North America, monthly data usage per smartphone will increase from an average of 2.4 GB today to 14 GB by 2020. It is likely that the 5G standard will be adopted by then.
Rima Qureshi, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Ericsson, says: "This immense growth in advanced mobile technology and data usage, driven by a surge in mobile connectivity and smartphone uptake, will make today's big data revolution feel like the arrival of a floppy disk. We see the potential for mass-scale transformation, bringing a wealth of opportunities for telecom operators and others to capture new revenue streams. But it also requires greater focus on cost efficient delivery and openness to new business models to compete and remain effective."
An expanding range of applications and business models, coupled with falling modem costs, are key factors driving the growth of connected devices. Added to this, new use cases are emerging for both short and long range applications, leading to even stronger growth of connected devices moving forward. Ericsson's forecast, outlined in the report, points to 26 billion connected devices by 2020, confirming we are well on the way to reaching the vision of 50 billion connected devices.
Each year until 2020, mobile video traffic will grow by a staggering 55 percent per year and will constitute around 60 percent of all mobile data traffic by the end of that period. Growth is largely driven by shifting user preferences towards video streaming services, and the increasing prevalence of video in online content including news, advertisements and social media.
When looking at data consumption in advanced mobile broadband markets, findings show a significant proportion of traffic is generated by a limited number of subscribers. These heavy data users represent 10 percent of total subscribers, but generate 55 percent of total data traffic. Video is dominant among heavy users, who typically watch around one hour of video per day, which is 20 times more than the average user.
To accompany the Mobility Report, Ericsson has created a Traffic Exploration Tool for creating customised graphs and tables, using data from the report. The information can be filtered by region, subscription, technology, traffic, and device type.
21st June 2015
3D-printed rhino horn could make poaching obsolete
A biotech startup firm has come up with an ingenious use of 3D printing that could save the rhino from extinction.
San Francisco-based Pembient reports that it has managed to synthesise fake rhino horn that is virtually indistinguishable from the real thing. It even carries the same genetic fingerprint. The process involves a series of chemical reactions on synthetic keratin, which is mixed with rhino DNA to produce a dried powder used as the "ink" for the 3D printer.
The number of rhinos being killed in Africa has exploded in recent years, due to a combination of soaring demand and the industrial-scale killing methods of organised gangs. Several subspecies have already gone extinct, including the West African black rhino in 2006. The remaining five subspecies on current trends will be extinct or very near extinction as early as 2025-2030.
The illegal wildlife trade, a $20bn black market, is the fourth largest after drug, arms, and human trafficking. Pembient intends to flood China with these fake horns at well below the current market price. This same 3D printing technique could be applied to other illegal animal products like elephant ivory, tiger bones and pangolin scales.
"We can meet the demand for horns at one-eighth the black-market price. We'll make money; the poaching syndicates won't," says the co-founder and CEO of Pembient, Matthew Markus. "We can produce a rhinoceros horn product that is actually more pure than what you can get from a wild animal. There are so many contaminants, pesticides, fallout from Fukushima. Rhino horn in the lab is as pure as that of a rhino of 2,000 years ago."
A prototype is shown in the picture below. Markus will be hosting an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on social media website Reddit, tomorrow from 1pm PT.
A prototype, 3D-printed rhino horn. Pembient will begin shipping these to Beijing later this year.
8th June 2015
New mobile app could revolutionise human rights justice
The International Bar Association (IBA) today launched the eyeWitness app – a new tool for documenting and reporting human rights atrocities in a secure and verifiable way, so the information can be used as evidence in a court of law.
With social media increasingly the forum for communicating human rights, many online images have raised awareness of atrocities around the world but typically lack the attribution or information necessary to be used as evidence in a court of law. Now anyone with an Android-enabled smart phone – including human right defenders, journalists, and investigators – can download the eyeWitness to Atrocities app and help hold accountable the perpetrators of atrocity crimes, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes.
"The eyeWitness to Atrocities app will be a transformational tool in the fight for human rights, providing a solution to the evidentiary challenges surrounding mobile phone footage," said IBA Executive Director Mark Ellis. "Until now, it has been extremely difficult to verify the authenticity of these images and to protect the safety of those brave enough to record them. As an advocate for the voiceless, the International Bar Association is dedicated to empowering activists on the ground who are witnessing these atrocities with the ability to bring criminals to justice."
The app design is based on extensive research on the rules of evidence in international, regional and national courts and tribunals. It includes several features to guarantee authenticity, facilitate verification and protect confidentiality by allowing the user to decide whether or not to be anonymous.
"Putting information and technology in the hands of citizens worldwide has a powerful role to play in advancing the rule of law," said Ian McDougall, EVP and General Counsel of LexisNexis Legal & Professional, which partnered with the IBA. "LexisNexis Legal & Professional's world class data hosting capabilities will provide the eyeWitness programme with the same technology that we use to safeguard sensitive and confidential material for our clients every day. It's all part of our company's broader commitment to advancing the rule of law around the world, as we believe every business has a role to play in building a safer, more just global society."
How the App Works
When a user records an atrocity, the app automatically collects and embeds into the video file GPS coordinates, date and time, device sensor data and surrounding objects, such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networks. The user has the option of adding any additional identifying information about the image. This metadata will provide information integral to verifying and contextualising the footage. The images and accompanying data are encrypted and securely stored within the app. The app also embeds a chain of custody record to verify that the footage has not been edited or digitally manipulated. The user then submits this information directly from the app to a database maintained by the eyeWitness organisation.
Once the video is transmitted, it is stored in a secure repository that functions as a virtual evidence locker safeguarding the original, encrypted footage for future investigations and legal proceedings. The submitted footage is only accessible by a group of legal experts at eyeWitness who will analyse the footage and identify the appropriate authorities, including international, regional or national courts, to pursue relevant cases.
"The IBA is proud to be spearheading the project and allocating $1 million of IBA reserves as part of its efforts to promote, protect and enforce human rights under a just rule of law," said David Rivkin, IBA President. The IBA is working in partnership with LexisNexis Legal & Professional, a part of RELX Group, which is hosting the secure repository, database and backup system to store and analyse data collected via the app. The IBA is also partnering with human rights organisations to put the app in the hands of those working in some of the world's most severe conflict zones.
"The eyeWitness app promises to revolutionise the effectiveness of ground-level human rights reporting," said Deirdre Collings, Executive Director of the SecDev Foundation, a Canadian research organisation. "We also see the app's usefulness for media activists in conflict and authoritarian environments who undertake vital but high-risk reporting. We're proud to include eyeWitness in our training programme for our partners in Syria and will be rolling it out across our projects in the CIS region and Vietnam."
Established in 1947 and headquartered in London, the IBA is the world's leading organisation of international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies. Through its global membership of individual lawyers, law firms, bar associations and law societies, it influences the development of international law reform and shapes the future of the legal profession throughout the world.
29th May 2015
Ford releases electric vehicle technology patents
In June 2014, Tesla released its patents in an effort to accelerate the development of electric vehicles (EVs). Following Tesla's lead, Ford has now taken similar action by opening its portfolio of EV technology patents to competitors. Last year, Ford filed more than 400 patent applications for EV technology amounting to over 20% of the company's 2,000 total applications.
“Innovation is our goal,” says Kevin Layden, the director of Ford Electrification Programs. “The way to provide the best technology is through constant development and progress. By sharing our research with other companies, we will accelerate the growth of electrified vehicle technology and deliver even better products to customers.”
Ford Motor Company is a leader in this area – offering six hybrid or fully electrified vehicles including Ford Focus Electric, Ford Fusion Hybrid, Ford Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, Ford C-MAX Hybrid, Ford C-MAX Energi plug-in hybrid (including a solar-powered concept) and Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. In total, Ford has more than 650 electrified vehicle patents and 1,000 pending applications on electrified vehicle technologies.
Ford’s innovations have resulted in acclaimed electrified vehicles on the road today, but the company believes sharing its patented technologies will promote faster development of future inventions as all automakers look toward greater opportunities.
“As an industry, we need to collaborate while we continue to challenge each other,” says Layden. “By sharing ideas, companies can solve bigger challenges and help improve the industry.”
As part of Ford’s increased focus on new and innovative technologies, the automaker is set to hire an additional 200 electrified vehicle engineers this year as the team moves into a newly dedicated facility – Ford Engineering Laboratories – home to Henry Ford’s first labs in Dearborn.
Some of Ford’s electrified vehicle patents available for competitors include:
• Method and Apparatus for Battery Charge Balancing, patent No. US5764027: This patent covers passive cell balancing: discharging a cell through a resistor to lower the state of charge to match other cells. This innovation extends battery run time and overall life. This is the first invention to enable battery balancing at any time, instead of only while charging, and it enables the use of lithium-ion batteries in electrified vehicles. It was invented long before lithium-ion battery-powered vehicles became commonplace – truly ahead of its time.
• Temperature Dependent Regenerative Brake System for Electric Vehicle, patent No. US6275763: This works to maximise the amount of energy recaptured in a hybrid vehicle through regenerative braking. By improving the interplay between normal friction brakes and regenerative braking during stopping at certain air temperatures, a driver is able to recapture more energy than previously possible, helping the motorist drive farther on a charge.
• Driving Behaviour Feedback Interface, patent No. US8880290: This patent provides a system and method for monitoring driver inputs such as braking and accelerating, and vehicle parameters including energy consumption to assess driving behaviour. The feedback can be used to coach future driving behaviour that may translate into better long-term driving habits and improve fuel economy. This technology has also enabled drivers of non-electrified vehicles, such as a Ford Focus, to develop better driving habits.
24th May 2015
Ireland votes to legalise gay marriage
Ireland has become the first country in the world to use a constitutional referendum for the legalisation of same-sex marriage.
On Friday 22nd May, the Irish people voted in a historic referendum – the 34th Amendment of the Constitution (Marriage Equality) Bill 2015. This was a proposed amendment to the constitution of Ireland to mandate provision for gay and lesbian marriage. The result, announced yesterday, was a decisive victory for the "Yes" campaign, with 62% of the electorate in favour and 38% against. Voter turnout was 62%.
Prior to this week's vote, same-sex marriage had already become legal in neighbouring England, Wales and Scotland during 2013-14. Northern Ireland's Executive does not intend to introduce such legislation for Northern Ireland despite repeated votes on the issue, but in the world at large, acceptance of same-sex marriage is a rapidly emerging social trend. As we become ever more connected and globalised, attitudes are changing; openness and tolerance are increasing. In America, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to make a nationwide, federal ruling on the issue in the next several weeks. Looking ahead to the longer term, FutureTimeline.net predicts over half the world's countries will allow same-sex marriage by 2045, while the vast majority will have decriminalised homosexuality.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, speaking at a press conference, commented: "Today Ireland made history. With today's Yes vote we have disclosed who we are – a generous, compassionate, bold and joyful people. Yes to inclusion. Yes to generosity. Yes to love, and yes to equal marriage. I know that for tens of thousands of couples and their families, the past 24 hours were almost like a vigil at the end of a long journey. Would their fragile and deeply personal hopes be realised? Would a majority of people, in this our Republic, stand with them and stand up for them so that they can live in our shelter and not in our shadow? That having come out to us we could now come out for them – and do it with a single word, a solitary syllable – Yes – marked with an X. Today they have their answer. The people have answered the call of families and friends, of neighbours and new acquaintances."
Deputy Prime Minister Joan Burton also commented: "Together, the people of Ireland have struck a massive blow against discrimination as we extend the right of marriage to all our citizens. We've done something incredible and proven that a compassionate, well-informed electorate can and will extend civil rights when asked in a popular ballot. Now I hope that spirit, that torch, is carried abroad. We're the latest country to pass marriage equality into law – but we will certainly not be the last."
British Prime Minister David Cameron, in a Downing Street press release, commented: "My heartfelt congratulations to the people of Ireland, who have voted today to introduce same-sex marriage. Just over a year ago, we introduced same-sex civil marriage and sent out a clear message – you are equal whether you are straight or gay."
7th May 2015
The first licenced autonomous driving truck in the US
Vehicle manufacturer Daimler this week announced that its Freightliner Inspiration Truck has become the world's first autonomous truck to be granted a licence for road use in the State of Nevada.
In July last year, Daimler provided the world's first demonstration of an autonomous truck in action, when the Mercedes-Benz Future Truck 2025 drove along a cordoned-off section of the A14 autobahn near Magdeburg, Germany. Engineers then transferred the system to the US brand Freightliner and created the Inspiration Truck – modified for use on American highways. The result: the State of Nevada has certified no less than two Freightliner Inspiration Trucks for regular operations on public roads. Governor Brian Sandoval handed over the official Nevada licence plates during a ceremony at the Las Vegas Motor Speed.
This futuristic vehicle is based on the existing Freightliner Cascadia model, but has the addition of "Highway Pilot" technology. The latter combines a sophisticated stereo camera and radar technology with systems providing lane stability, collision avoidance, speed control, braking, steering and an advanced dash display, allowing for safe autonomous operation on public highways. These components were extensively tested. As part of the truck's so-called Marathon Run, it covered over 10,000 miles (16,000 km) on a test circuit in Papenburg, Germany.
The radar unit in the front bumper scans the road ahead at both long and short range. The long-range radar, with a range of 820 feet and scanning an 18° segment, looks far and narrow to see vehicles ahead. The short-range radar, with a range of 230 feet and scanning a 130° segment, looks wider to see vehicles that might cut in front of the truck.
There is also a medium-range stereo camera, which is located behind the windscreen. The range of this camera is 328 feet, and it scans an area measuring 45° horizontal by 27° vertical. This camera is able to recognise lane markings and communicates to the Highway Pilot steering gear for autonomous lane guidance.
In addition, tiny cameras are located on the exterior of the truck. These reduce blind spots and are capable of replacing exterior mirrors, while creating a slight boost in fuel efficiency (1.5 percent).
The vehicle operates safely under a wide range of conditions – it will automatically comply with posted speed limits, regulate the distance from the vehicle ahead and use the stop-and-go function during rush hour. The driver can deactivate the Highway Pilot manually and is able to override the system at any time. If the vehicle is no longer able to process crucial aspects of its environment, e.g. due to road construction or bad weather, the driver is prompted to retake control.
A large, state-of-the-art dash interface, combined with video displays from the various cameras, is designed to offer a great driver experience and to vastly improve the way data from the truck's performance is communicated to the driver. Highway Pilot informs the driver visually on its current status and also accepts commands from the driver.
According to U.S. government data, 90 percent of truck crashes involve human error – much of that due to fatigue. Wolfgang Bernhard, a member of the Board of Management at Daimler, commented: "An autonomous system never gets tired, never gets distracted. It is always on 100 percent."
For now, the Inspiration Trucks will be limited to Nevada, one of the lowest density states in the country, but other states are likely to create similar regulations in the future, with California and Michigan expected to follow soon: "Ultimately, this has to be federally regulated to have a consistent basis across the country," says Martin Daum, president and CEO of Daimler Trucks North America.
The Inspiration Truck is only semi-autonomous, as it requires a human behind the wheel, who can take over in case of an emergency. The technology is advancing rapidly, however. Daimler and other manufacturers, including Nissan and Tesla, are planning to introduce fully autonomous vehicles (with no human driver on board) during the early 2020s. Worldwide, freight traffic shipped by road is predicted to triple by 2050, with self-driving vehicles expected to play an ever-increasing role in transportation.
Eventually, these autonomous vehicles will be intelligently connected – to their environment and other road users – to such an extent that they will be able to avoid areas with heavy traffic and contribute to reducing traffic jams. Traffic of the future will flow more smoothly and be far more predictable. Traffic systems will be more flexible and the infrastructure will be utilised better. Transport firms will operate more profitably, with fuel savings alongside lower maintenance costs as a result of less wear on the vehicle components, due to a more constant flow of traffic. Most importantly of all, road safety will be hugely improved – with many thousands of deaths prevented each year.
1st May 2015
Revolutionary new energy storage system announced by Tesla
Tesla has revealed a new battery technology for homes and businesses, which provides a way to store energy from localised renewables and can function as a backup system during power outages.
A major barrier to the widespread adoption of clean energy has been the intermittent nature of wind and solar. The Sun doesn't always shine, and the wind doesn't always blow – making it difficult or impossible to harness these resources on a 24-hour basis.
Elon Musk, CEO of electric vehicle firm Tesla Motors, yesterday unveiled a revolutionary new technology that can solve these issues. The Powerwall, pictured above, is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery product, intended primarily for home use. It stores electricity generated from rooftop solar panels, which can then be used for domestic consumption, load shifting, or backup power.
With a constant supply of renewable energy at a local scale, the Powerwall offers complete independence from the utility grid, meaning that customers no longer have to worry about expensive bills incurred during peak hours. If a utility company experiences a major outage, the Powerwall can serve as the home power supply instead, which is especially useful in areas prone to storms or unreliable grids. It also recharges electric vehicles more cheaply during night hours while surplus power can be flowed back to the grid when needed.
Tesla claims the Powerwall is fully automated, simple to install, and requires no maintenance. It is being marketed in two models: 10 kWh weekly cycle ($3,500) and 7 kWh daily cycle ($3,000) versions. Multiple batteries can be installed together for homes with greater energy needs; up to 90 kWh total for the 10 kWh battery and 63 kWh total for the 7 kWh battery. Both are rated for indoor and outdoor installation, and guaranteed for ten years.
The Powerwall begins shipping this summer. It will be sold to companies including SolarCity, which is running a pilot project in 500 California houses, using 10-kWh battery packs. Tesla is bullish about the prospects for batteries, electric vehicles and clean energy. The company is building a "gigafactory" to develop and expand these technologies at a large scale, with more factories to come in the future.
While the current price of the Powerwall may seem a little on the high side, analysts forecast a substantial decline in battery costs over the next decade and beyond, with a similar fall in solar panel costs. When combined with smart grids, the proliferation of this technology seems inevitable. As predicted on our future timeline, it is likely that home energy storage systems will be commonplace by 2030.
A much larger version of the Powerpack – described as an "infinitely scalable system" – will be made available for businesses and industrial applications. This will come in 100 kWh battery blocks, which can scale from 500 kWH, up to 1 GWh and even higher: "Our goal here is to change the way the world uses energy at an extreme scale," says Musk. You can watch his full keynote presentation (which was powered by solar energy) in the video below.