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15th July 2014

World's first climate-controlled city planned for Dubai

Dubai is already known for its luxury tourist experience, super-tall skyscrapers and extravagant megaprojects. Now developers have announced it will host the world's first temperature-controlled city – incorporating the largest mall, largest domed park, cultural theatres and wellness resorts. Known as the "Mall of the World", this gigantic $7bn project will encompass 50 million square feet of floorspace, taking 10 years to construct.

Intended as a year-round destination, its capacity will be large enough to accommodate 180 million visitors each year in 100 hotels and serviced apartment buildings. Glass-roofed streets, modelled on New York's Broadway and London's Oxford Street, will stretch for 7 km (4.6 miles). These will be air-conditioned in summer as temperatures soar above 40°C, but the mall and its glass dome will be open to the elements during cooler winter months. Cars will be redundant in this "integrated pedestrian city."


mall of the world
Credit: Dubai Holding


"The project will follow the green and environmentally friendly guidelines of the Smart Dubai model," explained Ahmad bin Byat, the chief executive of Dubai Holding. "It will be built using state-of-the-art technology to reduce energy consumption and carbon footprint, ensuring high levels of environmental sustainability and operational efficiency."

In response to concerns about another real estate bubble, he insisted there was demand for such a project: "The way things are growing I think we are barely coping with the demand ... tourism is growing in Dubai," he said in an interview with Reuters. "This is a long-term project and we are betting strongly on Dubai."

Speaking at the launch of the mall, Sheikh Mohammed said: "The growth in family and retail tourism underpins the need to enhance Dubai's tourism infrastructure as soon as possible. This project complements our plans to transform Dubai into a cultural, tourist and economic hub for the 2 billion people living in the region around us – and we are determined to achieve our vision."

Mall of the World is one of several hi-tech, futuristic cities that could set the standard for eco-city designs in the coming decades. Others include China's car-free "Great City" (planned to be finished by 2020) and the Masdar City arcology (due in 2025).



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30th June 2014

High-tech solar-powered benches coming to parks

Boston area parks will be piloting a 21st century bench upgrade through a partnership with MIT Media Lab spin-off firm, Changing Environments. “Soofa,” as the bench is termed, is a solar-powered outdoor charging station that also collects and shares location-based data like air quality and noise level.




The high-tech benches will be deployed in green spaces over the next week, including in Titus Sparrow Park in the South End, the Boston Common, and the Rose Kennedy Greenway. The Soofa debuted last week at the White House Maker Faire in Washington, D.C., where select innovators and entrepreneurs gathered to encourage robust development of new American ideas.

“Your cell phone doesn’t just make phone calls; why should our benches just be seats?” said Mayor Walsh. “We are fortunate to have talented entrepreneurs and makers in Boston thinking creatively about sustainability and the next generation of amenities for our residents.”

The Soofa will provide more seating space and will be able to charge two phones at a time, building on the functionality of the first solar-powered seat by Changing Environments, which was successfully piloted in Boston in 2013.

“We’re delighted to continue the Greenway's partnership with New Urban Mechanics and the MIT Media Lab,” said Jesse Brackenbury, Executive Director of the Rose Kennedy Greenway Conservancy. “The Soofa will allow visitors and their phones to enjoy the sun on the Greenway.”

The City of Boston is asking residents to recommend one additional City of Boston park to install the Soofa. Residents are encouraged to go online and recommend a location at bit.ly/bosbench  or tweet the location to @newurbanmechs.

In addition, the designers at Changing Environments are asking Bostonians to submit ideas for names of the Soofas in each park through Twitter to @mysoofa or via the website, soofa.co. The winners will be invited to visit designers at the MIT Media Lab and see where it all started.

“Soofa is the first step into Smart Urban Furniture. The possibilities to update the city for the mobile generation are endless and long overdue,” said Sandra Richter, Co-founder and CEO of the young startup. “So are more female-lead startups which is why we hope to be a roll-model for women all over the world to found cool companies like Nan Zhao, Jutta Friedrichs and I did.”

Soofas are also being piloted at Babson College and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Credit: soofa.co


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7th June 2014

Shatterproof screens to protect smartphones

Polymer scientists at the University of Akron in Ohio have developed a transparent electrode that could change the face of smartphones, literally, by making their displays shatterproof.


cracked smartphone screen


In a recently published paper, researchers show how a transparent layer of nanowire-based electrodes on a polymer surface could be extraordinarily tough and flexible, withstanding repeated scotch tape peeling and bending tests. This could revolutionise and replace conventional touchscreens, according to Yu Zhu, UA assistant professor of polymer science. Currently used coatings made of indium tin oxide (ITO) are more brittle, most likely to shatter, and increasingly costly to manufacture.

“These two pronounced factors drive the need to substitute ITO with a cost-effective and flexible conductive transparent film,” Zhu says, adding that the new film provides the same degree of transparency as ITO, yet offers greater conductivity. The novel film retains its shape and functionality after tests in which it has been bent 1,000 times. Due to its flexibility, the transparent electrode can be fabricated in economical, mass-quantity rolls.

“We expect this film to emerge on the market as a true ITO competitor,” Zhu says. “The annoying problem of cracked smartphone screens may be solved once and for all with this flexible touchscreen.”

The findings are published by the American Chemical Society’s journal ACS Nano in a study titled “A Tough and High-Performance Transparent Electrode from a Scalable and Transfer-Free Method.”


shatterproof smartphone screen material


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29th May 2014

A breakthrough in real-time translated conversations

At the Code Conference in California, Microsoft has demonstrated Skype Translator – a new technology enabling cross-lingual conversations in real time. Resembling the "universal translator" from Star Trek, this feature will be available on Windows 8 by the end of 2014 as a limited beta. Microsoft has worked on machine translation for 15 years, and translating voice over Skype in real time had once been considered "a nearly impossible task." In the world of technology, however, miracles do happen. This video shows the software in action. According to CEO Satya Nadella, it does more than just automatic speech recognition, machine translation and voice synthesis: it can actually "learn" from different languages, through a brain-like neural net. When you consider that 300 million people are now connecting to Skype each month, making 2 billion minutes of conversation each day, the potential in terms of improved communication is staggering.



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26th May 2014

Floating, self-sustaining city offers solution to overcrowding and ecological impacts

AT Design Office has unveiled its proposal for a hi-tech, floating metropolis. With self-sufficient energy, food and recycling systems, it could solve problems of overcrowding and environmental degradation on land.


floating city concept
Credit: AT Design Office


As the world becomes ever more crowded, polluted and depleted of resources, there are often suggestions that we must explore space and colonise other planets to ensure our survival. However, perhaps we should look closer to home. Oceans cover more than 70% of the Earth's surface and represent a new, potentially massive opportunity for civilisation.

AT Design Office – a firm of architects and urban/interior/landscape designers – was commissioned by Chinese construction firm CCCC to investigate the possibility of self-sustaining, floating cities. They have now unveiled a proposal that is capable of housing many thousands of residents in a futuristic, hexagonal arrangement of modules with areas both above and below water.

This 10 km² (4 mi²) settlement would feature vertical farms and fish hatcheries to produce its own food, a garbage and recycling centre to sustainably handle waste, along with zero-carbon and energy efficient systems driven by tidal power. World class facilities would bring new opportunities for education, recreation, employment and business. According to AT, this would create a "vibrant, diverse and sustainable social and economic platform."

All living spaces in this floating city would have 360° views of the surrounding ocean scenery. Residents would enjoy close proximity to local facilities and public services, with fast and convenient transport provided in the form of electric vehicles and submarines, eliminating air pollution and congestion. Inhabitants could visit neighbouring cities or the mainland via submarines, cruise ships and ferries.

Trees and parks are designed to weave in a continuous public green belt, above and below water. The upper areas can provide public space usable for sports and recreation in a fresh air environment. A chimney in the central hub creates natural ventilation and lighting for the underwater sections and a gravity regulation system is located at the bottom.

While it may sound like science fiction, China Transport Investment Company is taking the project seriously and may begin a small-scale trial in 2015. Technologies featured in this design are already being used to build a 31 mile bridge connecting Hong Kong, Macau and Zhuhai. As the world adapts to rising sea levels, these types of amphibious settlements could be a fairly common sight by 2100.


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  clear point residences eco tower clear point residences eco tower clear point residences eco tower clear point residences eco tower


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11th May 2014

FDA approves the first prosthetic arm controlled by muscle electrical signals

After eight years of development, a new hi-tech bionic arm has become the first of its kind to gain regulatory approval for mass production.


the luke prosthetic arm


The DEKA Arm System is part of the $100m Revolutionising Prosthetics program launched by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). Upper-limb prosthetic technology had for many years lagged behind lower-limb technology and the program sought to address this issue. The DEKA was made possible through a combination of breakthroughs in both engineering and biology, resulting in a bionic arm that offers near-natural control. It is nicknamed "The Luke", after Star Wars' Luke Skywalker who received a robotic replacement for the hand he lost in a fight with Darth Vader.

Simultaneous control of multiple joints is enabled by miniature motors and a variety of input devices, including wireless signals generated by sensors on the user's feet. Constructed from lightweight but strong materials, the battery-powered arm system is of similar size and weight to a real limb and has six user-selectable grips.

During eight years of testing and development, 36 volunteers took part in studies to refine the arm's design. Their feedback helped engineers to create a mind-controlled device enabling amputees to perform a wide range of tasks – preparing food, using locks and keys, opening envelopes, brushing hair, using zippers and feeding themselves, all of which greatly enhances their independence and quality of life.

Similar devices are being developed around the world, but this is the first of its kind to gain approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Dr. Geoffrey Ling, Director of DARPA's Biological Technologies Office, comments in a press release: "DARPA is a place where we can bring dreams to life."



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5th May 2014

Look Up

'Look Up' is a lesson taught to us through a love story, in a world where we continue to find ways to make it easier for us to connect with one another – but always results in us spending more time alone. Written, performed and directed by Gary Turk.



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21st April 2014

Transparent solar-powered windows made possible by quantum dot breakthrough

The superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied to solar energy, helping to more efficiently harvest sunlight.


solar powered windows quantum dot technology


A house window that doubles as a solar panel could be on the horizon, thanks to recent work by Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers in collaboration with scientists from the University of Milano-Bicocca (UNIMIB), Italy. Their project demonstrates that superior light-emitting properties of quantum dots can be applied in solar energy by helping more efficiently harvest sunlight.

Quantum dots are ultra-small nanocrystals of semiconductor matter that are synthesized with nearly atomic precision. Their emission colour can be tuned by simply varying their dimensions. Colour tunability is combined with high emission efficiencies approaching 100%. These properties have recently become the basis of a new technology – quantum dot displays – employed, for example, in the newest generation of the Kindle Fire e-reader.

A luminescent solar concentrator (LSC) is a photon management device, representing a slab of transparent material that contains highly efficient emitters such as dye molecules or quantum dots. Sunlight absorbed in the slab is re-radiated at longer wavelengths and guided towards the slab edge equipped with a solar cell.


luminescent solar concentrator
Quantum dot LSC devices under ultraviolet illumination.


Lead researcher Victor Klimov explained: “The LSC serves as a light-harvesting antenna – which concentrates solar radiation collected from a large area onto a much smaller solar cell – and this increases its power output.”

“LSCs are especially attractive because, in addition to gains in efficiency, they can enable new interesting concepts such as photovoltaic windows that can transform house facades into large-area energy generation units,” said his colleague, Sergio Brovelli.

To implement their concept, Los Alamos researchers created a series of cadmium selenide/cadmium sulfide (CdSe/CdS) quantum dots, which were then incorporated by the Italian team into large slabs of transparent polymer. The particles are tiny, only about 10 nanometres (nm) across. For comparison, human hairs are typically 50,000 nm wide.

Spectroscopic measurements indicated virtually no losses to re-absorption on distances of tens of centimetres. Tests using simulated solar radiation demonstrated high photon harvesting efficiencies of around 10% per absorbed photon – achievable in nearly transparent samples – perfectly suited for utilisation as photovoltaic windows.

These findings are published in Nature Photonics. According to a report earlier this year, the quantum dot and quantum dot display (QLED) markets are expected to see a 42-fold growth in the next five years, reaching $6.4 billion by 2019.


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18th April 2014

World's first marijuana vending machines are unveiled in Colorado

In a sign of the changing times, marijuana is now publicly available from vending machines in Colorado. American Green, part of Tranzbyte Corporation, has begun distributing "Zazzz Machines" containing the drug. These utilise radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) to track the products, along with biometrics to verify a customer's age. They even accept Bitcoin, a new digital currency. The first machine was unveiled on 12th April and is located at the Herbal Elements store in Avon, Colorado. A recent Gallup poll showed a clear majority of Americans (58%) in favour of marijuana being made fully legal, with growing numbers admitting to have tried it. Colorado expects to collect nearly $100 million in tax revenue from recreational marijuana use this year – about 40% more than originally forecast.



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17th April 2014

Researchers discover groundbreaking method to commercialise graphene for electronics

Graphene has the potential to usher in a new era of next generation electronic devices, including flexible displays and wearable technology.




Samsung Electronics have announced a breakthrough synthesis method to speed the commercialisation of graphene, a unique material ideally suited for electronic devices. Samsung Advanced Institute of Technology (SAIT), in partnership with Sungkyunkwan University, became the first in the world to develop this new method.

“This is one of the most significant breakthroughs in graphene research in history,” said the laboratory leaders at SAIT’s Lab. “We expect this discovery to accelerate the commercialisation of graphene, which could unlock the next era of consumer electronic technology.”

Graphene has 100 times greater electron mobility than silicon, the most widely used material in semiconductors today. It is more durable than steel and has high heat conductibility as well as flexibility, which makes it the perfect material for use in flexible displays, wearables and other next generation electronic devices.


graphene electronic newspaper

Through its partnership with Sungkyungkwan University’s School of Advanced Materials Science and Engineering, SAIT uncovered a new method of growing large area, single crystal wafer scale graphene. Engineers around the world have invested heavily in research for the commercialisation of graphene, but have faced many obstacles due to the challenges associated with it. In the past, researchers have found that multi-crystal synthesis – the process of synthesising small graphene particles to produce large-area graphene – deteriorated the electric and mechanical properties of the material, limiting its application range.

The new method developed by SAIT and Sungkyunkwan University synthesises large-area graphene into a single crystal on a semiconductor, maintaining its electric and mechanical properties. The new method repeatedly synthesises single crystal graphene on the current semiconductor wafer scale.


Over the past several decades, the growth of the semiconductor industry has been driven by the ability to grow the area of a silicon wafer, while steadily decreasing the process node. In order to commercialise graphene to displace the industry’s reliance on silicon, it is vital to develop a new method to grow a single crystal graphene into a large area.

The research results are published in Science Magazine and ScienceExpress, one of the world’s most prestigious science journals.


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14th April 2014

A battery that charges in seconds

Nanotechnology startup company, StoreDot, has unveiled a ground-breaking battery capable of charging your smartphone and other devices in under 30 seconds.



At Microsoft’s Think Next symposium in Tel Aviv, StoreDot demonstrated the prototype of its ultra-fast-charge battery for the first time. This company specialises in technology that is inspired by natural processes. They have produced "nanodots" derived from bio-organic material that, due to their size, have both increased electrode capacitance and electrolyte performance. These nanodots – described as "stable, robust spheres" – have a diameter of just 2.1 nanometres and are made of chemically synthesized peptide molecules, short chains of amino acids that form the building blocks of proteins.

StoreDot’s bio-organic devices, which include smartphone displays, provide much more efficient power consumption, and are eco-friendly. While other nanodot and quantum-dot technologies currently in use are heavy metal based, and therefore toxic, StoreDot's are biocompatible and superior to all previous discoveries in the field. Using their method, the company is hoping to synthesize new nanomaterials for use in a wide variety of applications. Nano-crystals in memory chips, for example, could triple the speed of traditional flash memory, while image sensors could be five times more sensitive.

Furthermore, the nanodots are relatively inexpensive, as they originate naturally, and utilise a basic biological mechanism of self-assembly. They can be made from a vast range of bio-organic raw materials that are readily available and environmentally friendly.

The battery seen in the video above remains in the prototype stage, with a rather bulky form factor. However, the CEO of Storedot, Doron Myersdorf, says he is confident that a smaller version can be developed and on the market by 2017.

“The fast-charge battery is the result of our focus on commercialising the materials we have discovered," he explained. "We’re particularly pleased that this innovative nanotechnology, inspired by nature, not only changes the rules of mobile device capabilities, but is also environmentally-friendly.”


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