23rd November 2015
Global drug spending to increase 30% by 2020
Global spending on medicines is predicted to rise by 30% over the next five years – driven by expensive new drugs, price hikes, aging populations and increased generic drug use in developing countries, according to a new forecast by IMS Health.
More than half of the world’s population will live in countries where medicine use will exceed one dose per person per day by 2020 – up from 31 percent in 2005, as the medicine use gap between the developed and “pharmerging” markets narrows. According to new research by the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, total spending on medicines will reach $1.4 trillion by 2020, due to greater patient access to chronic disease treatments and breakthrough innovations in drug therapies. Global spending is forecast to grow at a 4-7 percent compound annual rate over the next five years.
The report, Global Medicines Use in 2020: Outlook and Implications, found that total global spend for pharmaceuticals will increase by $349 billion on a constant-dollar basis, compared with $182 billion during the past five years. Spending is measured at the ex-manufacturer level before adjusting for rebates, discounts, taxes and other adjustments that affect net sales received by manufacturers. The impact of these factors is estimated to reduce growth by $90 billion or approximately 25 percent of the growth forecast through 2020.
“During the next five years, we expect to see a surge of innovative medicines emerging from R&D pipelines, as well as technology-enabled advances that will deliver measurable improvements to health outcomes,” said Murray Aitken, IMS Health senior vice president and executive director of the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics. “With unprecedented treatment options, greater availability of low-cost drugs and better use of evidence to inform decision making, stakeholders around the world can expect to get more ‘bang for their medicine buck’ in 2020 than ever before.”
In its latest study, the IMS Institute highlights the following findings:
• Global medicine use in 2020 will reach 4.5 trillion doses, up 24 percent from 2015. Most of the global increase in use of medicines will take place in pharmerging markets, with India, China, Brazil and Indonesia representing nearly half of that growth. Volumes in developed markets will remain relatively stable and trend toward original branded products, as use of specialty medicines becomes more widespread. Generics, non-original branded and over the counter (OTC) products will account for 88 percent of total medicine use in pharmerging markets by 2020, and provide the greatest contribution to increased access to medicines in those countries. Newer specialty medicines, which typically have low adoption rates in pharmerging countries lacking the necessary healthcare infrastructure, will represent less than one percent of the total volume in those markets.
• Global spending will grow by 29-32 percent through 2020, compared with an increase of 35 percent in the prior five years. Spending levels will be driven by branded drugs primarily in developed markets, along with the greater use of generics in pharmerging markets – offset by the impact of patent expiries. Brand spending in developed markets will rise by $298 billion as new products are launched and as price increases are applied in the U.S., most of which will be offset by off-invoice discounts and rebates. Patent expiries are expected to result in $178 billion in reduced spending on branded products, including $41 billion in savings on biologics as biosimilars become more widely adopted. Many of the newest treatments are specialty medicines used to address chronic, rare or genetic diseases and yielding significant clinical value. By 2020, global spending on these medicines is expected to reach 28 percent of the total.
• More than 90 percent of U.S. medicines will be dispensed as generics by 2020. Generic medicines will continue to provide the vast majority of the prescription drug usage in the U.S., rising from 88 percent to 91-92 percent of all prescriptions dispensed by 2020. Spending on medicines in the U.S. will reach $560-590 billion, a 34 percent increase in spending over 2015 on an invoice price basis. While invoice price growth – which does not reflect discounts and rebates received by payers – is expected to continue at historic levels during the next five years, net price trends for protected brands will remain constrained by payers and competition, resulting in 5-7 percent annual price increases. The impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will continue to have an effect on medicine spending during the next five years largely due to expanded insurance coverage. By 2020, there will be broad adoption of ACA provisions that encourage greater care coordination and movement of at least one-third of spending to an outcomes or performance basis.
• More than 225 medicines will be introduced by 2020, with one-third focused on treating cancer. Disease treatments in 2020 will be transformed by the increased number and quality of new drugs in clusters of innovation around cancer, hepatitis C, autoimmune disorders, heart disease and an array of rare diseases. During the next five years, an additional 75 new orphan drugs are expected to be available for dozens of therapeutic areas that currently have limited or no treatment options. By 2020, technology will be enabling more rapid changes to treatment protocols, increasing patient engagement and accountability, shifting patient-provider interaction, and accelerating the adoption of behaviour changes that will improve patient adherence to treatments. Every patient with multiple chronic conditions will have the potential to use wearables, mobile apps and other technologies to manage their health, interact with providers, fellow patients and family members. The ubiquity of smartphones, tablets, apps and related wearable devices, as well as electronic medical records and exponentially increasing real-world data volumes, will open new avenues to connect healthcare while offering providers and payers new mechanisms to control costs.
The full report, including a detailed description of the methodology, is available at theimsinstitute.org. It can also be downloaded as an app via iTunes at https://itunes.apple.com. The study was produced independently as a public service, without industry or government funding.
22nd November 2015
Genetically modified salmon approved by FDA
For the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved genetically modified fish for human consumption.
AquaBounty Technologies, Inc., a biotechnology company focused on enhancing productivity in aquaculture, announced this week that the FDA has approved its application for the production, sale and consumption of "AquAdvantage Salmon". This Atlantic salmon has been genetically enhanced to reach market size in less time than conventional farmed Atlantic salmon.
Ronald Stotish, Ph.D., CEO of AquaBounty, commented: "AquAdvantage Salmon is a game-changer that brings healthy and nutritious food to consumers in an environmentally responsible manner without damaging the ocean and other marine habitats. Using land-based aquaculture systems, this rich source of protein and other nutrients can be farmed close to major consumer markets in a more sustainable manner."
The U.S. currently imports over 90% of its seafood – and more specifically, over 95% of the Atlantic salmon it consumes. AquAdvantage Salmon will create the opportunity to grow an economically viable, domestic aquaculture industry. Through greater efficiency and localised production, AquaBounty claims it can increase productivity while reducing the costs and environmental impacts of current salmon farming operations. Land-based aquaculture systems can provide a continuous supply of fresh, safe, traceable and sustainable GM salmon to communities across the U.S. and do so with a lower carbon footprint. This offers an alternative approach to fish farming that does not exploit the oceans.
Jack Bobo, Senior Vice President and Chief Communications Officer at parent company Intrexon, stated: "The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee encourages Americans to eat a wide variety of seafood, including wild caught and farmed, as part of a healthy diet rich in healthy fatty acids. However, this must occur in an environmentally friendly and sustainable manner. FDA's approval of the AquAdvantage Salmon is an important step in this direction."
The AquAdvantage fish program is based on a molecular modification that results in more rapid growth during early development. A gene responsible for growth hormone regulation is taken from a Pacific Chinook salmon, combined with a promoter from an ocean pout, then added to the Atlantic salmon's 40,000 genes. This makes it grow year-round, instead of only during spring and summer, without affecting its ultimate size or other qualities. The GM fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months, rather than three years.
The AquaAdvantage program has other qualities that improve its sustainability credentials. The fish require 25% less feed than other Atlantic salmon on the market today. When farmed in land-based facilities close to major metropolitan areas, they will travel only a short distance to the consumer. Not only will this make them the freshest fish on the market, it will significantly cut the transportation distance from farm to table. Unlike salmon imported from Norway and Chile that travel thousands of miles by airfreight and are then trucked to markets, AquaBounty's salmon will have a carbon footprint that is 23-25 times less.
The FDA determined that the approval of the GM technology would not have a significant environmental impact, because of multiple and redundant measures taken to contain the fish and prevent their escape into the wild. These measures include a series of physical barriers placed in the tanks and in the plumbing that carries water out of the facilities to block the eggs and fish. Furthermore, the AquAdvantage Salmon are reproductively sterile, so that even in the highly unlikely event of an escape, they would be unable to interbreed or establish populations in the wild. The FDA will maintain regulatory oversight of the production and facilities and will conduct inspections to confirm these containment measures remain adequate.
Despite a lengthy and detailed review process, however, the FDA's approval has provoked an angry response from some, who have questioned the safety aspects and object to the fact that no labelling will be required to indicate the fish were genetically engineered. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS), a non-profit organisation working to protect human health and promote organic food methods, has already announced plans to sue the FDA and prevent the modified salmon being sold in the U.S.
"The review process by FDA was inadequate, failed to fully examine the likely impacts of the salmon's introduction and lacked a comprehensive analysis," said executive director Andrew Kimbrell in a press statement, citing the 2 million people who filed public comments in opposition, the largest number of comments the FDA has ever received on any issue. "This decision sets a dangerous precedent, lowering the standards of safety in this country. CFS will hold FDA to their obligations to the American people."
Globally, traditional "capture" fisheries have been on a plateau since the late 1980s due to unsustainable yields. Aquaculture is now among the fastest growing industries in the agricultural sector and is projected to supply the majority of the world's seafood by the mid-2020s, overtaking wild catch harvests by weight. With fisheries collapsing from over-exploitation, pollution, climate change and other problems, aquaculture is likely to become a sustainable and vitally important industry of the 21st century.
16th November 2015
G20 governments spend $452 billion a year subsidising fossil fuel production
A report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International reveals that G20 governments are spending $452 billion annually to subsidise the production of oil, gas and coal – despite promising in 2009 to phase out these subsidies.
G20 governments are handing out $452 billion a year to prop up the production of fossil fuels – despite repeated pledges to phase out subsidies and prevent catastrophic climate change. A new report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and Oil Change International has, for the first time, gathered detailed information on G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production.
In the report, "Empty Promises: G20 subsidies to oil, gas and coal production", researchers found G20 support to fossil fuel production alone ($452 billion) was almost four times the entire global subsidies for renewable energy ($121 billion). This support comes despite the declining returns in coal and new hard-to-reach oil and gas reserves, while ignoring scientific evidence that says three-quarters of proven fossil fuel reserves must be kept in the ground.
Report author Shelagh Whitley, from the ODI, said: "G20 governments are paying fossil fuel producers to undermine their own policies on climate change. Scrapping these subsidies would rebalance energy markets and allow a level playing field for clean and efficient alternatives."
The report, published ahead of the G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey (15–16 November), examines three types of G20 government support in 2013 and 2014 – the most recent years with comparable data. It looks at national subsidies extended through direct spending and tax breaks; investment by state-owned enterprises both domestically and internationally; and public finance extended through – for example – loans from government-owned banks and financial institutions.
The report's other key findings are:
- G20 governments provided almost $78bn a year in national subsidies for fossil fuel production; G20 state-owned enterprises invested $286bn, and public finance was estimated to average a further $88bn a year in 2013 and 2014
- China's investment in fossil fuel production at home and abroad, through its state-owned enterprises, far exceeded any other G20 country, amounting to almost $77bn annually
- The United States provided more than $20bn in national subsidies alone, despite calls from President Obama to scrap support to oil, gas and coal. Certain tax breaks in Alaska are so significant that, in the case of one production tax, the state is handing out more to companies than the tax generates in revenue for the state
- The United Kingdom stands out as the only G7 nation dramatically ramping up its support for the fossil fuel industry, with even more tax breaks and industry support handed out to companies operating in the North Sea during 2015. Recent changes to the tax regime (which are protected from future policy changes) now mean that UK taxpayers are effectively footing the bill for as much as half the costs of decommissioning rigs. Support is likely to increase through a legal obligation for the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change to "maximise economic recovery" of oil and gas. These new subsidies come despite diminishing budgetary revenues from the sector
At the end of September 2015, the U.S. and China jointly prioritised the establishment of a concrete deadline for the phase-out of fossil fuel subsidies as a key task during China's G20 presidency in 2016. In line with this momentum, the report recommends G20 governments adopt strict timelines for the phase out of fossil fuel production subsidies, increase transparency through improved reporting of fossil fuel subsidies, and transfer government support to wider public goods including low-carbon development and universal energy access.
Stephen Kretzmann, director of Oil Change International, said: "Continuing to fund the fossil fuel industry today is like accelerating towards a wall that we can clearly see. G20 leaders need to slow down and turn us around before we hit climate disaster."
In order to have a 50% or better chance of staying below the 2°C limit, the share of renewables must increase to between 65% and 80% of global electricity production by 2050, the report states.
12th November 2015
The U.S. government has passed historic legislation for asteroid mining
The U.S. government has passed historic legislation for asteroid mining, which allows citizens to own, transport and sell "any asteroid resource or space resource" obtained during commercial operations in space.
Credit: Bryan Versteeg / Deep Space Industries (DSI)
The U.S. Congress has just passed historic legislation (H.R. 2262), recognising the right of U.S. citizens to own space resources they obtain as property and encouraging the commercial exploration and recovery of materials from asteroids, free from harmful interference.
This legislation creates a pro-growth environment for the development of the commercial space industry by encouraging private sector investment and ensuring a more stable and predictable regulatory regime. The law is important for the industry and will be integral to supporting U.S. interests as the commercial space sector continues to expand.
“We are proud to have the support of Congress,” said Chris Lewicki, President and Chief Engineer of Planetary Resources. “Throughout history, governments have spurred growth in new frontiers by instituting sensible legislation. Long ago, the Homestead Act of 1862 advocated for the search for gold and timber, and today, H.R. 2262 fuels a new economy that will open many avenues for the continual growth and prosperity of humanity. This off-planet economy will forever change our lives for the better here on Earth.”
Eric Anderson, Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Planetary Resources, said: “Many years from now, we will view this pivotal moment in time as a major step toward humanity becoming a multi-planetary species. This legislation establishes the same supportive framework that created the great economies of history, and it will foster the sustained development of space.”
Daniel Faber, the CEO of rival firm Deep Space Industries (DSI), also commented: “This is a very thoughtfully worded piece of legislation that is sensitive to the existing Outer Space Treaty, and yet moves the ball far forward in terms of giving companies like DSI the legal certainty we need to invest in capitally intensive missions and equipment.”
Previously confined to the realm of science fiction, asteroid mining has begun to seem like a serious possibility in recent years. Thanks to the entrepreneurial efforts of Planetary Resources, DSI and other firms, new technologies are being developed that could soon unlock the vast untapped metal and mineral wealth buried throughout the Solar System. In July of this year, Planetary Resources successfully deployed its Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft from the Kibo airlock of the International Space Station (ISS). This test featured a number of core technologies that will be incorporated into future spacecraft. A larger and more advanced demonstration craft, the Arkyd-6 (A6), is now planned.
Eventually, these prototypes will be followed by probes capable of rendezvousing with Near-Earth objects (NEOs) identified as being rich in resources. They will deploy machines able to drill into rocks and extract their contents for in-situ utilisation (e.g. construction materials and rocket propellant) or return to Earth. Planetary Resources is confident it will begin commercial operations in the 2020s.
With sufficient commitment and long-term investment, asteroid mining could solve the looming resource shortage here on Earth. A single 500-metre asteroid could contain more platinum group metals than have ever been mined in human history. Establishing a solid legal foundation for the development of space resources is a necessary first step in opening the frontier. The new legal framework passed this week is essential for serious investment to occur in what may become one of the biggest industries of all time.
2nd November 2015
BAE Systems and Reaction Engines to develop a groundbreaking new aerospace engine
BAE Systems and Reaction Engines Ltd. today announced a strategic investment by BAE Systems and a working collaboration to accelerate the development of SABRE – a new class of aerospace engine that combines both jet and rocket technologies and could potentially revolutionise hypersonic flight and the economics of space access.
Under the terms of the agreement, BAE Systems will invest £20.6 million in Reaction Engines to acquire 20 per cent of its share capital and also enter into a working partner relationship. The working partnership will draw on BAE Systems' extensive aerospace technology development and project management expertise and will provide Reaction Engines with access to critical industrial, technical and capital resources to progress towards the demonstration of a ground-based engine – a key milestone in the development of the technology. Under the agreement, BAE Systems will enter into a preferred supplier relationship with Reaction Engines in certain agreed areas and will have representation on the board of Reaction Engines.
Reaction Engines is a privately held company based in the United Kingdom developing the technologies needed for an advanced combined cycle air-breathing rocket engine called SABRE (Synergetic Air-Breathing Rocket Engine). This new class of aerospace engine is designed to enable aircraft to operate from standstill on the runway to speeds of over five times the speed of sound in the atmosphere. SABRE can then "transition" to a rocket mode of operation, allowing spaceflight at speeds up to orbital velocity, equivalent to 25 times the speed of sound. Reaction Engines' technology has undergone extensive independent technical assessments which have confirmed its viability and potential applications.
A key element of the SABRE engine is a breakthrough in aerospace engine technology of ultra-lightweight heat exchangers that allow the cooling of very hot airstreams from over 1,000 °C to minus 150 °C in less than 1/100th of a second, whilst preventing the formation of ice at sub-zero temperatures.
The UK Government is expected to confirm grant funding of £60 million for Reaction Engines to further SABRE's development towards a ground-based test engine and to investigate its applications for space access vehicles. Together with BAE Systems' investment, this injection of capital will support the transition from a research phase into development and testing of the engine. The ground-based test engine is expected to be ready by 2020 and the first unmanned test flights could happen by 2025.
Mark Thomas, Managing Director of Reaction Engines: "Today's announcement represents an important landmark in the transition of Reaction Engines – from a company that has been focused on the research and testing of enabling technologies for the SABRE engine, to one that is now focused on the development and testing of the world's first SABRE engine. BAE Systems brings industry-leading capabilities in programme delivery and wider engineering systems integration that will accelerate the development of SABRE as a new engine class and its vehicle applications. This partnership builds on the outstanding technical breakthroughs that Reaction Engines has made and the positive assessments received on the potential of the technology from experts at the European Space Agency and the United States' Air Force Research Laboratory."
Nigel Whitehead, Group Managing Director, Programmes & Support, BAE Systems: "Reaction Engines is a highly innovative UK company and our collaboration gives BAE Systems a strategic interest in a breakthrough air and space technology with significant future potential. Our partnership with Reaction Engines is part of our sustained commitment to investing in and developing prospective emerging technologies. BAE Systems' considerable engineering and development expertise will help support the delivery of the first demonstrator for the SABRE engine."
Jo Johnson MP, UK Minister for Universities and Science said: "This investment by BAE Systems reflects the strength of British engineering and technology and our ambitions as a leading space nation. I am sure that this partnership will strengthen both organisations – helping to create more jobs in the UK's growing space sector and ultimately to make the SABRE engine a reality."
30th October 2015
China ends one-child policy after 35 years
35 years after it formally enacted its one-child policy (more accurately known as the "family planning policy"), China's Communist Party has announced that it will allow all couples to have two children.
In response to fears about an impending population explosion, China's government began draconian birth control measures in 1980. These were later credited with having prevented up to 400 million births. However, the law was extremely controversial and often brutally enforced with grave violations of human rights, forced sterilisations, abortions and infanticide. It was later relaxed to allow parents to have a second child if they themselves were both only children. A further change was made in 2013 when couples become eligible to have two children if only one of the parents was an only child.
Following the success of its decades-long policy, China is now faced with a much bigger demographic challenge: a rapidly aging population with fewer people of working age to support the older generations. Today, the ratio of workers to retirees is approximately 5:1. However, the nation's workforce is already shrinking, with 2.4 million employees being lost each year. By 2030, China's ratio of workers to pensioners will fall to roughly 2:1, leading to serious economic, political and social problems. By mid-century, the situation could be even worse, as the population enters a long period of decline.
The new "two-child" policy to be introduced from March 2016 may help to slow this trend. State-run news service, Xinhua, quotes Li Bin, head of the National Health and Family Planning Commission, as saying it will "optimise the demographic structure, increase labour supply, ease pressure from the aging population and help improve the health of the economy."
However, the policy change does not go far enough, according to human rights activists, concerned that the Communist Party continues to control the size of Chinese families: "The state has no business regulating how many children people have," said William Nee, a Hong Kong-based activist for Amnesty International. "If China is serious about respecting human rights, the government should immediately end such invasive and punitive controls over people's decisions to plan families and have children."
Some researchers are sceptical that it will make a difference, as one-child families have become the social norm. Furthermore, China's rapid urbanisation means that more and more people are living in city centres, and the cost of raising kids has been skyrocketing. The new law "will probably come with a small bump" in child births "in the next two or three years, but after that, its fertility rate will stay at its current level," says Cai Yong, a population analyst at the University of North Carolina who is an expert on the Chinese one-child policy. "They should actually have abolished this long ago. China missed its best opportunity to relax the policy when people were still willing to have a second or even third child."
Stuart Gietel-Basten, a demographer at the University of Oxford, comments in the Guardian: "In the short term probably there will be a little baby boom, particularly in some of the poorer provinces where the rules have been very strict, like in Sichuan or in parts of the south. But in the long term, I don’t think it’s going to make an enormous amount of difference."
"Society is 'greying' much faster than they had anticipated," states Willy Lam – an expert on China from the Jamestown Foundation in Washington, D.C. "So the tax burden on workers and employees in the coming 10, 20 years will be very high."
"This population imbalance is very dangerous for the long-term development of the country," says Ma Size, grandson of Ma Yinchu, known in China as the father of the one-child policy.
China's fertility rate peaked at 6.16 in 1965, before dropping to 2.71 in 1980. Today it stands at just 1.67, one of the lowest in the world and well below the replacement rate of 2.1 needed to sustain a country in the long term. Experts predict that over a quarter of China's population will be aged over 65 by 2050 – slowing down the economy and putting a huge burden on the younger generations. Many other countries around the world will experience a similar trend in the decades ahead. As the ratio between taxpayers and pensioners continues to drop, a new economic system may need to evolve.
27th September 2015
New battery technology will double EV range by 2020
German company Bosch – the world's largest supplier of automotive components – is developing a new battery technology that it claims will double the range of electric vehicles by 2020.
Bosch has announced a new battery technology for electric vehicles (EVs), based on solid-state cells, which could double their driving range while lowering costs and is likely to be production-ready in as little as five years. The recent acquisition of U.S. start-up Seeo Inc. – based near Silicon Valley – will make this possible. As well as its own experience in the area of battery technology, Bosch now has crucial know-how in innovative solid-state cells for lithium batteries, along with exclusive patents.
"Bosch is using its knowledge and considerable financial resources to achieve a breakthrough for electromobility," says Dr. Volkmar Denner, the firm's chairman of the board. "Solid-state cells could be a breakthrough technology. Disruptive start-up technology is meeting the broad systems knowledge and financial resources of a multinational company."
Using solid-state cells, Bosch sees the potential to more than double energy density – while at the same time reducing size requirements by 75% and improving safety with non-combustible materials. A comparable electric car that has a driving range of 150 kilometres today would be able to travel over 300 kilometres without recharging – and at a lower cost.
In current lithium-ion batteries, one of the major reasons energy capacity is limited is because the anode consists to a large degree of graphite. Using its new solid-state technology, Bosch will manufacture the anode out of pure lithium. In addition, the cells will function without the need for ionic liquid, meaning they are not flammable.
In 2014, Bosch joined Mitsubishi Corporation and GS Yuasa in establishing the joint venture Lithium Energy and Power, whose objective is to develop a more powerful generation of lithium-ion batteries. Seeo Inc.'s technology complements the work done thus far with Bosch's Japanese partners. The result will be a combination of groundbreaking start-up technology with Bosch's systems and technology know-how, GS Yuasa's cell competence, and Mitsubishi Corporation's broad industrial base.
"The pure lithium anode represents a huge innovative leap in battery cell construction," says Denner. By 2025, the company forecasts that 15 percent of all new cars built worldwide will have at least a hybrid powertrain. In Europe, more than one-third of all new cars will be electrically powered.
1st September 2015
Japan to open fully automated lettuce factory in 2017
Japanese factory operator SPREAD Co. has announced it will develop the world's first large-scale vegetable factory that is fully automated from seeding to harvest and capable of producing 30,000 heads of lettuce per day.
Credit: SPREAD Co.
SPREAD Co. was founded in 2006 and operates the world's largest vegetable factory using artificial lighting in Kameoka, Kyoto Prefecture. Four types of lettuce are currently produced, totalling 21,000 heads per day that are shipped to around 2,000 stores throughout the year.
As the company embarks on global expansion, it is now focussing on environmentally-friendly measures to be featured in the construction of a major next-generation vegetable factory. This new facility will be a vertical farm with total automation of the cultivation process from start to finish. It will cut labour costs by 50 percent, while energy costs will be reduced by 30 percent per head of lettuce through the use of artificial LED lighting specifically created for SPREAD, as well as the development of a unique air conditioning system. Up to 98 percent of water will be recycled onsite.
Thanks to indoor operations, this highly controlled environment will be unaffected by pests, temperature or weather conditions and will not require any chemical pesticides. Productivity per unit volume will be doubled in comparison to the company's existing factory in Kameoka, as a result of innovative efforts to save space in the cultivation area. Stacker machines will carry seedlings and hand them over to robots that will take care of transplanting them. Once fully grown, they will be harvested and delivered automatically to the packaging line.
The project will require up to 2 billion yen (US$16.7 million) of investment, which includes onsite R&D and testing facilities. The factory will have a total area of 4,400 square metres (47,400 sq ft) and be capable of producing 30,000 heads of lettuce per day. Construction is expected to start in spring 2016 with commercial operations beginning from summer 2017. The company is predicting annual sales of approximately 1 billion yen (US$8.4 million).
SPREAD Co. has plans for major expansion. They intend to increase the scale of production to 500,000 heads of lettuce per day within five years and will continue expanding their franchise both domestically and internationally.
7th August 2015
Millennium Project releases "2015–16 State of the Future" report
The Millennium Project's newly-released "2015-16 State of the Future" confirms that the world is winning more than losing, but where it is losing is very serious.
The "2015-16 State of the Future" report just released by The Millennium Project gives trends on 28 indicators of progress and regress; new insights into 15 Global Challenges; impacts of artificial intelligence, synthetic biology, nanotechnology and other advanced technologies on employment over the next 35 years; and how economic change is inevitable by 2050.
"This 'World Report Card' may have more data, information, intelligence, and wisdom about the future of the world than has ever been assembled in one report," says Jerome Glenn, CEO of The Millennium Project and lead author of the report. "It should be read in pieces and kept on your desk as a reference."
This is the 18th global assessment of the foreseeable future. It distils much of the leading research from UN organisations, national governments, think tanks, and insights from thought leaders around the world. This 300-page report includes over 50 charts and graphs. "It is what the educated world citizen should know," says Elizabeth Florescu, Director of Research for The Millennium Project and co-author of the report. Each "State of the Future" since 1997 builds on the last one, creating an accumulative and unique assessment of the future of the world.
Some of the key findings include:
- The concept of work will change over the next generation or two; but global thought leaders are divided about the best policies to make a smooth transition.
- By 2050, new systems for food, water, energy, education, health, economics, and global governance will be needed to prevent massive and complex human and environmental disasters.
- Environmental security should be the focus of joint goals to build strategic trust between the US and China.
- The 2015 State of the Future Index shows slow but steady improvement in general human welfare over the past 20 years and next 10 years — but at the expense of the environment and with worsening intrastate violence, terrorism, corruption, organised crime, and economic inequality.
- The future can be much better than most pessimists understand, but it could also be far worse than most optimists are willing to explore.
- Humanity has the resources to address its global challenges, but it is not clear that an integrated set of global and local strategies will be implemented together timely enough and on the scale necessary to build a better future.
"It is time for intolerance of irrelevant speeches and non-actions by leaders. The stakes are too high to tolerate business as usual," declares Glenn.
A 14-page executive summary is freely available to download.
The Millennium Project is a global participatory think tank, connecting 56 Nodes around the world that identify important long-range challenges and strategies, and initiate and conduct foresight studies, workshops, symposiums, and advanced training. Its mission is to improve thinking about the future and make it available through a variety of media for feedback, to accumulate wisdom about the future for better decisions today. In addition to the annual "State of the Future" reports, it produces the "Futures Research Methodology" series, the Global Futures Intelligence System (GFIS), and special studies. Over 4,500 futurists, scholars, business planners, and policy makers who work for international organisations, governments, corporations, NGOs, and universities have participated in The Millennium Project's research, since its inception, in 1992. The Millennium Project was selected among the top ten think tanks in the world for new ideas and paradigms by the 2013 and 2014 University of Pennsylvania's GoTo Think Tank Index, and as a 2012 Computerworld Honors Laureate for its contributions to collective intelligence systems.
27th July 2015
China to lead the world's economy by 2026
China is set to edge ahead of the US in just over a decade, while India is expected to move up the rankings to third place – pushing Japan out of the world's top three economies.
China is expected to overtake the US in 2026 in nominal GDP terms to become the world's largest economy, and will maintain this position until at least 2050 according to The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU).
In a new report, Long-term macroeconomic forecasts: Key Trends to 2050, which extends the EIU's economic forecast for 82 countries up to 2050, emerging markets are expected to grow faster than developed economies, and as a result countries such as China and India are likely to overtake current global leaders such as Japan and Western Europe.
The report finds that:
• China is expected to narrowly edge ahead of the US for the first time in 2026, with a nominal GDP of US$28.6trn versus the US's US$28.3trn.
• By 2050, China will boast a GDP of US$105.9trn, compared with the US's US$70.9trn.
• The UK will fall out of the world's top 5 economies by 2026.
• Indonesia and Mexico will rank among the top ten economies at market exchange rates by 2050, overtaking economies such as Italy and Russia.
• Asia will continue its rise and by 2050 will represent 53% of global GDP, compared with from 32% in 2014.
Yet in terms of individual spending power, today's advanced economies are likely to continue to dominate. Emerging economies such as China, India and Indonesia are projected to see levels of consumer spending to rise significantly by 2050, but at best will represent 50% of the individual spending power of an American consumer. Despite their low growth outlook, advanced economies cannot be ignored, as the spending power of consumers in these regions will remain significantly higher.
Patricia Morton, Lead Economist at The Economist Intelligence Unit, comments: "Given China's and India's economic might, they will take on a much bigger role in addressing global issues such as climate change, international security and global economic governance. In the medium term, this will require the world's existing powers – notably the US – to let India, and especially China, play a greater role on the world stage and adapt international institutions to allow them to exert greater influence."
21st July 2015
Cost of human missions to the Moon and Mars could be shrunk by a factor of ten
Through private and international partnerships, the cost of colonising other worlds could be reduced by 90 percent, according to a joint study released by the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation and reviewed by an independent team of NASA experts.
The National Space Society (NSS) and Space Frontier Foundation (SFF) have announced their support for NASA’s funding of the newly released NexGen Space study, illustrating how to cut the cost of human space exploration by a factor of 10. The study, “Economic Assessment and Systems Analysis of an Evolvable Lunar Architecture that Leverages Commercial Space Capabilities and Public – Private – Partnerships”, finds that public-private partnerships could return humans to the Moon for approximately 90% less than the previously estimated $100 billion, allowing the United States to ensure national security in a new space age.
“The Space Frontier Foundation supports and recommends public-private partnerships in all proposed human spaceflight programs in order to reduce costs and enable these missions that were previously unaffordable,” said the Space Frontier Foundation’s Chairman of the Board, Jeff Feige. “This is the way that America will settle the final frontier, save taxpayers money and usher in a new era of economic growth and STEM innovation.”
NSS and SFF call attention to these conclusions from the study:
• Through public-private partnerships, NASA could return humans to the surface of the Moon and develop a permanent lunar base with its current human spaceflight budget.
• Mining fuel from lunar poles and transporting it to lunar orbit for use by other spacecraft reduces the cost of sending humans to Mars and other locations beyond low Earth orbit. These commercial fuel depots in lunar orbit have the potential to cut the cost of sending humans to Mars by more than $10 billion per year.
“NSS congratulates NASA for funding the team at NexGen that discovered how such cost reductions are possible,” said Mark Hopkins, the NSS Executive Committee Chair. “A factor of ten reduction in cost changes everything.”
Recent contracts with Boeing and SpaceX are just one example of how partnerships can work and may help with more ambitious projects in the future. The latter spent only $440 million developing its Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon crew capsule, where NASA would have spent $4 billion. SpaceX has also been developing a reusable rocket that aims to dramatically cut launch costs. Extracting and refining resources on the Moon, rather than having them delivered up from Earth to the lunar surface, could save a great deal of money too. There are many other examples of cost-saving measures. Click here to read the executive summary and here to download the full report.
16th July 2015
Asteroid mining test craft is successfully deployed
Planetary Resources, Inc., the asteroid mining company, announced today that its Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft was deployed successfully from the International Space Station's (ISS) Kibo airlock and has begun its 90-day mission.
The A3R demonstration vehicle will validate several core technologies including the avionics, control systems and software, which the company will incorporate into future spacecraft that will venture into the Solar System and prospect for resource-rich, near-Earth asteroids.
The A3R was launched to the ISS onboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in April as part of the CRS-6 crew resupply mission. "Our philosophy is to test often, and if possible, to test in space. The A3R is the most sophisticated, yet cost-effective, test demonstration spacecraft ever built. We are innovating on every level from design to launch," said Chris Lewicki, president and chief engineer, Planetary Resources, Inc. "By vertically integrating the system at our facility in Redmond, we are in constant control of every component, including the ones we purchase off the shelf and the others that we manufacture using 3D printers."
Peter H. Diamandis, M.D., co-founder and co-chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., stated, "The successful deployment of the A3R is a significant milestone for Planetary Resources as we forge a path toward prospecting resource-rich asteroids. Our team is developing the technology that will enable humanity to create an off-planet economy that will fundamentally change the way we live on Earth."
Once the A3R completes its mission, the validated and evolved technologies will be the main components of the Arkyd series of deep-space asteroid-prospecting spacecraft. The next demonstrator, the Arkyd-6 (pictured below), will be launched later this year and will test the attitude control, power, communication and avionics systems.
Planetary Resources is leveraging the increased payload capacity of the A6 to begin demonstration of core technology to measure resources on water-rich asteroids. Included in the payload is a mid-wave infrared imaging system, able to precisely measure temperature differences of the objects it observes, as well as acquire key data related to the presence of water and water-bearing minerals. The system will first test targeted areas of our own planet before being deployed to near-Earth asteroids on future missions.
Eric Anderson, co-founder and co-chairman, Planetary Resources, Inc., said, "This key technology for determining resources on asteroids can also be applied towards monitoring and managing high-value resources on our home planet. All of our work at Planetary Resources is laying the foundation to better manage and increase humanity's access to natural resources on our planet and in our Solar System."
In related news, the SPACE Act of 2015 was recently passed in the House of Representatives. As Peter explains in the video below, this recognises the rights of U.S. asteroid mining companies to declare mined asteroid resources as property and creates a process for resolving disputes. The Senate is currently reviewing a duplicate version of the House language, S. 976.
1st July 2015
Oregon becomes the fourth US state to make recreational marijuana legal
Oregon has become the fourth state in the US to make recreational marijuana legal. A new voter-approved law – Measure 91 – comes into effect today allowing for adult possession and home cultivation of the drug. The law permits adults 21 and older to grow four plants and keep eight ounces at home, and possess one ounce in public. Public consumption and sales will continue to remain illegal. Taking marijuana across the Oregon border is also illegal.
Retail businesses offering the drug can apply for licenses from 4th January 2016 and are expected to begin operating later that same year. More time was allotted to create specific regulations for sellers to ensure the best possible public safety outcome.
"Expending law enforcement resources by going after nonviolent marijuana users is a shameful waste of time and tax dollars, and a distraction from what's really plaguing neighbourhoods," says Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a criminal justice group opposed to the drug war. "Cops in Oregon can now get into doing their jobs; protecting communities and helping victims of violent crimes get justice."
"Oregon still has more to do to ensure marijuana legalisation is done properly; lawmakers and regulators are currently working to expunge the records of many non-violent marijuana offenders as well as develop proper regulations for taxes, concentrates, and labelling for consumer and child protection," says Inge Fryklund, a former prosecutor, and board member of LEAP. "We must promote honest and accurate public information along with sensible regulations. Oregon can and will be a model for future states looking to consider legalisation in 2016 and beyond."
A total of 23 states and the District of Columbia have now permitted some form of medical marijuana access, while four states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington – and the capital Washington, D.C., have legalised it for recreational use. Oregon's regulatory model will be developed with previous successes and failures of other states in mind. Among the priorities of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission are preventing accidental ingestion by children, with the use of appropriate childproof packaging and ensuring that extracts, concentrates, and edibles are carefully regulated, tested, and labelled.
According to state forecasts, Colorado and Washington could generate over $800 million in combined revenue by 2020 from marijuana sales. A clear and growing majority of Americans are in favour of nationwide legalisation of the drug, as evidenced by surveys from Gallup and others. Most of the remaining opposition comes from the conservative baby boomers, a demographic whose influence is beginning to wane. Some of the next states where legalisation may follow include Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, with advocates planning for ballot measures in 2016. Similar to the recent decision on same-sex marriage, a nationwide law on marijuana could follow in the not-too-distant future.
A dedicated website for Oregon's new law has been created at whatslegaloregon.com.
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.