7th August 2015
Lexus completes testing of hoverboard
Luxury vehicle maker Lexus has released a video showing off a real-life, working hoverboard.
The hoverboard seen here was first revealed in a teaser trailer back in June. Lexus claims it has now completed a testing phase, which took place in Cubelles, Barcelona, following 18 months of development. The device is based on quantum levitation – it uses a combination of superconductors and magnets in the ground to stay afloat. The superconductors are cooled to a chilly –197°C (–322°F) via liquid nitrogen stored in two "cryostat" reservoirs. The specially constructed hoverpark features 200 metres of magnetic track, which was transported from a facility in Dresden, Germany.
Mark Templin, Executive Vice President at Lexus International, comments in a press release: "Embarking on this project, we set out to push the boundaries of technology, design and innovation to make the impossible possible. With this project we call 'SLIDE', we collaborated with partners who share our passion for creating enjoyment out of motion. Even through combining our technology and expertise, we discovered making a hoverboard isn't an easy process. We've experienced the highs and lows and have overcome a few challenges, but through mutual determination we have created a demonstration of our philosophy in design and technology to create Amazing in Motion."
Pro skateboarder and hoverboard test rider Ross McGouran: "I've spent 20 years skateboarding, but without friction it feels like I've had to learn a whole new skill, particularly in the stance and balance in order to ride the hoverboard. It's a whole new experience."
Lexus isn't the only company to be working on a hoverboard. Last year, California-based Arx Pax announced plans for "Hendo Hoverboards" to be launched on 21st October 2015 – the same date as the setting for Back to the Future II, in which the futuristic boards appear.
21st July 2015
New promotional video of the TF-X flying car
U.S. aircraft designer Terrafugia has just announced the premier of the new Outer Mould Line (an aeroshell's outer surface) for the TF-X – a four-seat, vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) hybrid electric aircraft that can be driven on roads and highways, in addition to flying. It features retractable wings, the ability to land and take off within a 100 ft diameter zone, a flight speed of 200 mph (322 km/h), a flight range of 500 miles (800 km), and a backup full-vehicle parachute system for safety. When fully developed, Terrafugia claims the vehicle will be statistically safer than driving a modern automobile, and will automatically avoid other air traffic, bad weather, and restricted and tower-controlled airspace.
A one-tenth scale wind tunnel test model of the TF-X has been successfully developed based on the new Outer Mould Line and is currently on display at EAA’s AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The model will be tested at the MIT Wright Brothers wind tunnel, the same tunnel that was used to test models of Terrafugia’s Transition – a similar vehicle it has been developing alongside the TF-X. The wind tunnel test model will be used to measure drag, lift and thrust forces while simulating hovering flight, transitioning to forward flight and full forward flight.
The Transition, originally planned for launch in 2013, will now debut in either late 2015 or 2016, while the TF-X seen below is expected to go on sale during the mid-2020s. There's no word yet on pricing details for the TF-X, though it's likely to be aimed at wealthy individuals, given that its brother the Transition has a price tag of US$280K. Over the coming decades, however, as costs and technology improve, the dream of a practical flying car may become a reality for everyone. Then we will truly be living in the future.
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
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.
18th June 2015
World's most lifelike bionic hand will transform the lives of amputees
A congenital amputee from London has become the first user in the UK to be fitted with a new prosthetic hand that launches this week and sets a new benchmark in small myoelectric hands.
Developed using Formula 1 technology and specifically in scale for women and teenagers, the bebionic small hand is built around an accurate skeletal structure with miniaturised components designed to provide the most true-to-life movements.
The bebionic small hand, developed by prosthetic experts Steeper, will enable fundamental improvements in the lives of thousands of amputees across the world. The hand marks a turning point in the world of prosthetics as it perfectly mimics the functions of a real hand via 14 different precision grips. A bionic extension of the arm that enables the utmost dexterity will enable amputees to engage in a range of activities that would have previously been complex and unmanageable.
Nicky Ashwell, 29, born without a right hand, received Steeper's latest innovation at a fitting by London Prosthetics Centre, a private facility providing expert services in cutting-edge prosthetics. Before being fitted with the bebionic small hand, Nicky would use a cosmetic hand without movement; as a result, Nicky learned to carry out tasks with one hand. The bebionic small hand has been a major improvement to Nicky's life, enabling her to do things previously impossible with one hand such as riding a bike, gripping weights with both hands, using cutlery and opening her purse.
Nicky, who is a Product Manager at an online fashion forecasting and trend service, said: "When I first tried the bebionic small hand it was an exciting and strange feeling; it immediately opened up so many more possibilities for me. I realised that I had been making life challenging for myself when I didn't need to. The movements now come easily and look natural; I keep finding myself being surprised by the little things, like being able to carry my purse while holding my boyfriend's hand. I've also been able to do things never before possible like riding a bike and lifting weights."
Bebionic small hand works using sensors triggered by the user's muscle movements that connect to individual motors in each finger and powerful microprocessors. The technology comprises a unique system which tracks and senses each finger through its every move – mimicking the functions of a real hand. Development follows seven years of research and manufacturing, including the use of Formula 1 techniques and military technology along with advanced materials including aerograde aluminium and rare Earth magnets.
Ted Varley, Technical Director at Steeper said, "Looking to the future, there's a trend of technology getting more intricate; Steeper has embraced this and created a smaller hand with advanced technology that is suitable for women and teenagers. An accurate skeletal structure was firstly developed, with the complex technology then specifically developed to fit within this in order to maintain anatomical accuracy. In other myoelectric hands the technology is developed first, at the expense of the lifelikeness."
Bebionic small hand at a glance:
• Contains 337 mechanical parts
• 14 grip patterns and hand positions to allow a range of precision movements
• Weighs approximately 390g – the same as a large bar of Galaxy chocolate
• 165mm from base to middle fingertip – the size of an average woman's hand
• Strong enough to handle up to 45kg – around the same as 25 bricks
• The only multi-articulated hand with patented finger control system using rare Earth magnets
• Specifically designed with women, teenagers and smaller-framed men in mind
5th May 2015
'Centimetre accurate' GPS system could transform virtual reality and mobile devices
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have developed a centimetre-accurate GPS-based positioning system that could revolutionise geolocation on virtual reality headsets, cellphones and other technologies – making global positioning and orientation far more precise than what is currently available on a mobile device.
The researchers' new system could allow unmanned aerial vehicles to deliver packages to a specific spot on a consumer's back porch, improve collision avoidance technologies on cars and allow virtual reality (VR) headsets to be used outdoors. This ultra-accurate GPS, coupled with a smartphone camera, could be used to quickly build a globally referenced 3-D map of one's surroundings that would greatly expand the radius of a VR game. Currently, VR does not use GPS, which limits its use to indoors and usually a two- to three-foot radius.
"Imagine games where, rather than sit in front of a monitor and play, you are in your backyard actually running around with other players," said Todd Humphreys, lead researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Engineering Mechanics. "To be able to do this type of outdoor, multiplayer virtual reality game, you need highly accurate position and orientation that is tied to a global reference frame."
Humphreys and his team in the Radionavigation Lab have designed a low-cost system that reduces location errors from the size of a large car to the size of a nickel – a more than 100 times increase in accuracy. Humphreys collaborated on the new technology with Professor Robert W. Heath from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, along with graduate students.
Centimetre-accurate positioning systems are already used in geology, surveying and mapping – but the survey-grade antennas these systems employ are too large and costly for use in mobile devices. This breakthrough by Humphreys and his team is a powerful and sensitive software-defined GPS receiver that can extract centimetre accuracies from the inexpensive antennas found in mobile devices. Such precise measurements were not previously possible. The researchers anticipate that their software's ability to leverage low-cost antennas will reduce the overall cost of centimetre accuracy and make it economically feasible for mobile devices.
Humphreys and his team have spent six years building a specialised receiver, called GRID, to extract so-called carrier phase measurements from low-cost antennas. GRID currently operates outside the phone, but it will eventually run on the phone's internal processor. To further develop this technology, they recently co-founded a startup, called Radiosense. Humphreys and his team are working with Samsung to develop a snap-on accessory that will tell smartphones, tablets and virtual reality headsets their precise position and orientation.
The researchers designed their system to deliver precise position and orientation information – how one's head rotates or tilts – to less than one degree of measurement accuracy. This level of accuracy could enhance VR environments that are based on real-world settings, as well as improve other applications including visualisation and 3-D mapping. Additionally, it could make a significant difference in people's daily lives, including transportation, where centimetre-accurate GPS could allow better vehicle-to-vehicle communication technology.
"If your car knows in real time the precise position and velocity of an approaching car that is blocked from view by other traffic, your car can plan ahead to avoid a collision," Humphreys said.
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.