Online retailer Amazon has revealed a new rapid delivery method that will use unmanned aerial vehicles to send packages to customers within 30 minutes. Assuming the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approves it, this futuristic service – "Amazon Prime Air" – could be introduced by 2015. Read more at the company's press release.
A futuristic new shower developed by Orbital Systems can reduce water consumption by 90% and energy use by 80%, thanks to its advanced filtration system. The recycling and purification process makes it possible to re-use the heat of the rinsed water, while 99.99% of micron-sized particles are filtered. The water and energy savings translate to at least €1000 ($1351) off a typical utility bill each year. This could prove especially useful in regions hit by water shortages.
Luxury bespoke tailoring house, Garrison Bespoke, has launched the first fashion-forward bulletproof suit with a live ammo field-testing event in Toronto, Canada.
Michael Nguyen, co-owner of Garrison Bespoke: "After receiving requests from high-profile clients who travel to dangerous places for work, we set out to develop a lightweight, fashion-forward bulletproof suit as a more discreet and stylish alternative to wearing a bulky vest underneath."
The Garrison Bespoke bulletproof suit is made with carbon nanotubes created using nanotechnology and originally developed to protect the US 19th Special Forces in Iraq. The patented material is thinner, more flexible and 50 percent lighter than Kevlar, which is traditionally used for bulletproof gear. The suit also protects against stabbing – the carbon nanotubes harden on impact to prevent a knife from penetrating.
The live ammo field-testing event was held in the Ajax Rod and Gun Club, Ontario. It demonstrated the suit's ability to shield against 9mm bullets. Nguyen claims the suit can block .45 bullets as well. Garrison Bespoke's latest collection – Town & Country – features a range of new clothing, all of which can be made bulletproof by request, with prices starting from $20,000.
As scientists develop the next wave of smartwatches and other wearable computing, they might want to continue focusing their attention on the arms and the wrists. According to a recent study, portable electronic devices placed on the collar, torso, waist or legs may cause awkwardness, embarrassment or strange looks.
In a paper titled “Don’t Mind Me Touching My Wrist,” Georgia Tech researchers reported a case study of interaction with on-body technology in public. Specifically, they surveyed people in both the United States and South Korea to gain cultural insights into perceptions of e-textiles, or electronic devices, stitched into everyday clothing.
For the study, researchers directed participants to watch videos of people receiving incoming alerts from e-textile interfaces on various parts of their body including wrists, forearms, collarbones, torsos, waists and front pant pocket. They were asked to describe their thoughts about the interaction (such as whether it appeared normal, silly or awkward) and its placement on the body.
In general, the study found that in both countries, the wrist and forearm were the most preferred locations for e-textiles, as well as the most normal placement when watching someone use the devices.
“This may be due to the fact that these locations are already being used for wearable technology,” said Halley Profita, former Georgia Tech industrial design graduate student, who led the study. “People strap smartphones or MP3 players to their arms while exercising. Runners wear GPS watches.”
According to the study:
Gender of the technology user affected opinions about the interaction. For example, Americans were uncomfortable when men used a device located at the front pant pocket region or when women reached for their torsos or collarbones.
South Koreans reported exceptionally low acceptance of women using the devices anywhere except for their arms.
Respondents expressed differing views on the most important factors on deciding how to use e-textiles. Americans focused on ease of operation and accessibility; South Koreans raised personal perception issues.
“The South Koreans also said they wanted an easy-to-use system – but the technology should not make them look awkward or weird,” Profita said. “This isn’t surprising, because their culture emphasises modesty, politeness and avoidance of embarrassing situations.”
The findings were presented at the International Symposium in Wearable Computing, held in Switzerland.
A new poll by Gallup has revealed that 58% of Americans now support the legalisation of marijuana. Only 39% are now against.
When Gallup first asked the question back in 1969, only 12% favoured legalisation of the drug. This figure had more than doubled by 1980. It then levelled off during the next two decades, before rising steadily again. In 2011, support reached a majority for the first time with 50% in favour and 46% against. The gap has now widened further – by a dramatic amount, in fact – as shown by the graph above.
Support for legalisation has risen across the political spectrum, but remains weakest among Republican voters, with only 35% in favour. For Democrats, the figure is 65%, up from 61% in 2012. The largest increase, by far, has occurred with independent voters, whose support has increased by a massive 12% – from 50% in 2012, to 62% now.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, age makes a difference too, with younger people more likely to be in favour. Among those aged between 18 and 29, over two-thirds believe marijuana should be legal. This decreases to 45% for those 65 and older.
In the last year, recreational use of pot became legal in two states – Colorado and Washington. Over 20 states allow marijuana use for medical purposes. A sizable percentage of Americans (38%) this year admitted to having tried the drug, which may be a contributing factor to its greater acceptance.
If these trends continue, and with Generation X playing a greater role in politics, there may come a tipping point in the not-too-distant future when marijuana is legal across many more states and – eventually – the entire nation. Taxing and regulating the drug could be financially beneficial, while freeing up police time, allowing officers to concentrate on more serious crimes.
The Volkswagen XL1 – the most aerodynamic and fuel-efficient car ever built – made its U.S. debut this week at the 23rd Annual Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) Conference held in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The XL1 offers a European combined fuel consumption rating of 261 miles per gallon (more than 200 mpg estimated in the U.S. cycle). By way of comparison, the U.S. average for new passenger vehicles is currently around 32 mpg and forecast to reach 54 mpg by 2025. The XL1 goes 32 miles in all-electric mode as a zero-emissions car, with top speed of 99 mph, accelerating from 0 to 62 mph in 12.7 seconds.
“The XL1 offers a glimpse into Volkswagen’s present and future eco-mobility capabilities, and highlights the ultimate successes of ‘Thinking Blue’,” said Oliver Schmidt, General Manager of the Engineering and Environmental Office (EEO), Volkswagen Group of America. “Volkswagen is proud to debut this ultra-fuel-efficient vehicle before the Society of Environmental Journalists, a group that shares in our commitment to environmental stewardship.”
The XL1 follows pure sports-car design principles: light weight (1753 pounds), exceptional aerodynamics (Cd 0.19), and a low centre of gravity. This super-efficient vehicle has the ability to cruise down the road at a constant 62 mph while using just 8.4 PS (6.2kW) horsepower. In all-electric mode, it requires less than 0.1 kWh to cover more than a kilometre.
The car emits just 21 g/km of CO2, thanks to its high-tech lightweight design, aerodynamic efficiency, and plug-in hybrid system consisting of a 48 PS (35kW) two-cylinder TDI engine, 27-hp electric motor, seven-speed DSG dual-clutch automatic transmission, and lithium-ion battery.
Click to enlarge
Conceptually, the XL1 is the third evolutionary stage of Volkswagen’s 1-litre car strategy. When the new millennium was ushered in, Professor Ferdinand Piëch – now Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Volkswagen – formulated the visionary goal of putting into production a practical car with combined fuel consumption of one litre per 100 km (235 mpg). In the two-seat XL1, this vision has become a reality.
Despite the tremendous efficiency of the car, its engineers and designers successfully came up with a body design which delivers more everyday utility than the two previous prototypes. In the L1, shown in 2002 and 2009, driver and passenger sat in a "tandem" arrangement for optimal aerodynamics; in the XL1, the two occupants sit slightly offset, side by side, almost like a conventional vehicle.
The XL1 is 153.1 inches long, 65.6 inches wide, and just 45.4 inches tall. By comparison, a Volkswagen Polo is slightly longer (156.3 in) and wider (66.2 in), but is significantly taller (57.6 in). Even a purebred sports car like today’s Porsche Boxster is 5.1 inches taller. The XL1 will look spectacular going down the highway – a car of the future, built for today.
This technology comes at a price, of course. The XL1 will be sold at $146,000 with only 250 being produced.
Overall, Americans today are living longer and more healthily than the previous generation, according to one of the most comprehensive studies of its kind. There was a 3.8 year increase in average life expectancy during the last two decades, with quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE) also increasing. However, there was a notable rise in anxiety among young and middle-aged people, beginning in 2001.
Thanks to medical advances, better treatments and new drugs not available a generation ago, the average American born today can expect to live 3.8 years longer than a person born two decades ago. Despite all these new technologies, however, is our increased life expectancy actually providing more active and healthy years of life? That question has remained largely unanswered – until now. In a first-of-its-kind study, the University of Massachusetts Medical School has found that the average 25-year-old American today can look forward to 2.4 more years of healthy life than 20 years ago while a 65-year-old today has gained 1.7 years.
Synthesising data from multiple government-sponsored health surveys conducted over the last 21 years, the researchers were able, for the first time, to measure how the quality-adjusted life expectancy (QALE) of all Americans has changed over time. The study’s findings are described in a paper published yesterday in the American Journal of Public Health.
“QALE tells us more than how long a person can expect to live,” said Dr. Allison Rosen, associate professor of quantitative health sciences. “It tells us what the relative qualities of those added years are in terms of physical, emotional and mental well-being. Though many studies have measured this in different ways, this is really the first time we’ve been able to capture this type of information across the whole U.S. population over an extended period.”
Overall, the data shows that Americans are living longer, reporting fewer symptoms of disease, have more energy and show less impairment in everyday tasks than a generation ago. According to the study, a 25-year-old person today can expect to live 6 percent or 2.4 quality years longer than their 1987 counterpart. Meanwhile, a 65-year-old person will gain 1.7 quality years, a 14 percent increase from a generation ago.
Thanks to improvements in health care, many conditions are far more treatable today than 25 years ago, Rosen said. Heart disease, for instance, was potentially much more debilitating a generation ago and patients often suffered a decline in quality of life as a result. “Today, it is far less likely that a patient recovering from a heart attack will become institutionalised or need around-the-clock care the way they once might have,” Rosen said.
Today, Americans are more likely to see quality of life declines related to chronic, degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, while younger Americans appear to be experiencing problems related to a sedentary lifestyle. The authors also identified some troubling health trends. Among these was an increase in anxiety among young and middle-aged people, beginning in 2001. They also found that health gains made as a result of smoking cessation programs were being off-set, in part, by increases in obesity.
In the past, researchers have had a difficult time measuring population health beyond simple life expectancy because quality of life incorporates so many variables – physical well-being, mental health, pain, vitality, energy, emotional state – that it’s difficult to bring all these things together cohesively into a single number. Making it even more challenging, surveys measuring quality of life are rarely consistent with each other as they all define health and life quality differently.
Using multiple national surveys that asked Americans about their health in various ways over the last 21 years, Rosen and her colleagues solved this problem by identifying areas where the studies overlapped – allowing them to build a single, large data set that covered the entire adult population over more than two decades.
“Comprehensive measures of the overall health of the nation are practically non-existent,” said Rosen. “This study shows how existing national data can be used to systematically measure whether the population is getting healthier – not just living longer.”
As the Affordable Care Act (ACA) goes into effect from 2014–2020, the value of a single, consistent way of measuring improvements in health over a large population will be invaluable in assessing the impact of these pending changes, according to the authors.
“Having a consistent measure of population health represents a major advance in our ability to measure the impact of health care reform on the health – not just the health care use – of all Americans,” said Rosen. “The bottom line in assessing the success of the ACA is whether or not we are getting the most health from our investment of increasingly limited resources. Are we getting the most health bang for our bucks?”
Japanese automaker Nissan has announced that it will provide multiple, commercially-viable autonomous drive vehicles by 2020.
Nissan claims that its engineers have been carrying out intensive research on the technology for years, alongside teams from the world's top universities including MIT, Stanford, Oxford, Carnegie Mellon and the University of Tokyo.
Work is already underway in Japan to build a dedicated autonomous driving proving ground, to be completed by the end of fiscal year 2014. Featuring real townscapes – masonry not mock-ups – it will be used to push vehicle testing beyond the limits possible on public roads to ensure the technology is safe.
The company says its autonomous driving will be achieved at realistic prices for consumers. The goal is availability across the model range within two vehicle generations.
"Nissan Motor Company's willingness to question conventional thinking and to drive progress – is what sets us apart," said CEO Carlos Ghosn. "In 2007 I pledged that – by 2010 – Nissan would mass market a zero-emission vehicle. Today, the Nissan LEAF is the best-selling electric vehicle in history. Now I am committing to be ready to introduce a new ground-breaking technology, Autonomous Drive, by 2020, and we are on track to realise it."
A revolutionary concept like autonomous drive will have implications throughout the design and construction of cars. Collision-avoidance by machines able to react more rapidly and with more complex movements than a human driver will place new demands on the chassis and traction control, for example.
Six million crashes in the US per year cost $160 billion and rank as the leading cause of death for four- to 34-year olds. 93% of accidents are due to human error, typically due to inattention. With autonomous drive, companies like Nissan will have the technology to detect and avoid these life-threatening situations.
In the future, autonomous drive also means less input from the driver. US drivers average 48 minutes per day on the road – hundreds of hours per year that could be used more productively. For the aged, or those with disabilities, there is another benefit: true independence and mobility for all.
Combinations of advanced driver assistance features – such as adaptive speed control, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning – are now being brought together in some 2014 vehicle models, making semi-autonomous driving a reality in many markets for the first time. Increasing production volumes and technology improvements, leading to cost reductions, are now making it feasible to install the multiple sensors necessary for such capabilities.
According to a new report from Navigant Research, sales of autonomous vehicles will grow from less than 8,000 annually in 2020 to more than 95.4 million in 2035, representing 75 percent of all light-duty vehicle sales by that time.
“Fully autonomous vehicles are unlikely to reach the market suddenly,” says David Alexander, senior research analyst with Navigant Research. “Instead, progressively more capable systems that can assume control of certain aspects of driving will be introduced gradually. The first features will most likely be self-parking, traffic jam assistance, and freeway cruising – well-defined situations that lend themselves to control by upgraded versions of today’s onboard systems.”
One of the main barriers to fully automated vehicles driving is the legal requirement in many countries that all vehicles must have a driver in control at all times. Some U.S. states and European countries have begun to issue licenses for companies to conduct testing of autonomous driving features on public highways under controlled conditions. However, before full autonomous driving capability becomes available, liability issues must be clarified. Automakers will be reluctant to assume responsibility for not only supplying the vehicles, but also safely operating them, says the report.
The report, “Autonomous Vehicles”, provides a detailed examination of the emerging market for advanced driver assistance systems leading to semi-autonomous and autonomous driving. The report includes profiles of the leading vehicle manufacturers and suppliers, along with analysis of the drivers and inhibitors for sales of these vehicles. Forecasts for revenue and sales volumes, segmented by region, extend through 2035. It also includes a review of the core driver assistance technologies that make self-driving vehicles possible. An Executive Summary is available for free download.
Worldwide, mobile phone sales totalled 435 million units in the second quarter of 2013 – an increase of 3.6 percent from the same period in 2012 – according to research firm Gartner. Smartphone sales reached 225 million units, up 47 percent from last year, while basic feature phones totalled 210 million units, a decline of nearly 25 percent.
Asia/Pacific, Latin America and Eastern Europe had the highest smartphone growth rates of 74.1 percent, 55.7 percent and 31.6 percent respectively, as smartphone sales grew in all regions.
Samsung maintained the no. 1 position in the global smartphone market, as its share of sales reached 31.7 percent, up from 29.7 percent in the second quarter of 2012. Apple’s smartphone sales reached 32 million units in the second quarter of 2013, up 10.2 percent from a year ago.
Anshul Gupta, principal research analyst at Gartner: “With second quarter of 2013 sales broadly on track, we see little need to adjust our expectations for worldwide mobile phone sales forecast to total 1.82 billion units this year. Flagship devices brought to market in time for the holidays, and the continued price reduction of smartphones will drive consumer adoption in the second half of the year.”
In the smartphone operating system (OS) market, Microsoft took over BlackBerry for the first time, taking the no. 3 spot with 3.3 percent market share in the second quarter of 2013. “While Microsoft has managed to increase share and volume in the quarter, it should continue to focus on growing interest from app developers to help grow its appeal among users,” said Mr. Gupta. The Android OS continued to increase its lead, garnering 79 percent of the market in the second quarter, followed by Apple's iOS with 14.2%.
Basic feature phones will be a hard sell in about five to 10 years time, says Gupta: "It will reach a point where sales of a new model of feature phone will not be able to justify the amount of time and money that is spent into developing it."
The first burger made entirely of lab-grown in-vitro meat has been cooked and eaten in London.
Last year, Dutch scientists demonstrated a rudimentary form of synthetic meat, consisting of thin strips of muscle tissue derived from a cow's stem cells. They have now gone a step further by producing a complete hamburger – cooked by chef Richard McGeown and tasted by food critics Hanni Ruetzler and Josh Schonwald. It was mixed with salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs to improve the taste, with a colouring of red beetroot juice and saffron.
The world is currently using 70% of agricultural capacity to obtain meat from livestock. On current trends, meat demand is forecast to double by 2050. To produce a single hamburger requires 2,400 litres of water and involves the transport and slaughtering of animals, while a kilogram of beef has a carbon footprint of 17 kg (37.5 lb). Artificially-grown meat has enormous potential in terms of reducing this environmental impact and providing a more ethical way of creating food. Independent studies have shown that it would use 45% less energy, produce 96% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and require 99% less land than traditional methods.
The burger seen in this video cost nearly £250,000 ($384,000) to make. Billionaire co-founder of Google, Sergey Brin, funded the project, saying he was doing it for "animal welfare reasons". It could be 15-20 years before such food is affordable and mainstream, but this is clearly a major step towards that eventual goal.
London and New York-based company botObjects recently announced the ProDesk3D, which they claimed to be the first full-colour 3D printer small enough to fit on a desktop. In addition to its colour abilities and compactness, they confirmed that it would print at 25 microns – some four times more accurate than its competitors (Makerbot's Replicator 2 has a resolution of 100 microns).
This gives an extremely smooth finish, overcoming the issue of surface grooves which often appear in 3D-printed objects. The machine uses different-coloured cartridges on the fly, just like an inkjet printer, instead of requiring single-colour spools of raw plastic to be swapped out. This includes a palette of new "translucent" PLA colours for some impressive blending effects, customisable with software on Windows 7 and Mac OS X. There is no complex or tricky set up, as the ProDesk3D arrives out-of-the-box complete.
The company has received over 100,000 enquiries and expects to ship its first orders by 1st October 2013. The standard and limited edition models both have a somewhat hefty price tag of nearly $3,000 each, making them high-end products. However, the cost of 3D printing has fallen rapidly in recent years and if this continues, it is expected to become a mainstream consumer technology by 2015. Following their recent announcement, the company has now released a video of the product in action:
Nokia has revealed the Lumia 1020 – a Windows 8 smartphone that includes a 41 megapixel camera sensor, PureView technology, Optical Image Stabilisation and high-resolution zoom.
This is Nokia's second phone to feature such a camera. Last year, the company launched the Pureview 808 model. However, this was based on the ageing Symbian operating system, which limited its appeal. The new Lumia 1020 instead runs on the latest Microsoft OS with over 160,000 apps.
As well as its ultra-high resolution (7712 × 5360 pixels), the camera uses a process called "oversampling". This generates a smaller 5MP version of the image that removes unwanted visual noise, achieves higher definition and light sensitivity, and enables lossless zoom. Unlike its predecessor, the Lumia 1020 can save both types at the same time, meaning that the owner does not need to worry about switching settings.
In addition, the camera's video mode takes advantage of the higher resolution, by allowing the user to zoom in four times while filming at 1080p without any loss of quality, and six times at 720p. The lens system is mounted on ball-bearings and is fitted with a gyroscope and motors to counteract movement and camera shake.
Given the exponential progress of digital technology, these sort of cameras should be fairly standard and low cost within the next few years. By the 2020s, we will probably be saying the same about gigapixel cameras.
The FBI confirmed this week that drones are carrying out surveillance within the USA, without regulations in place to address privacy concerns. Speaking to Democracy Now!, Heidi Boghosian – National Lawyers Guild executive director and author of the forthcoming book, "Spying on Democracy: Government Surveillance, Corporate Power and Public Resistance" – explains the technologies being developed to expand drone surveillance in the near future. These include drones the size of mosquitoes, capable of entering apartment buildings and remaining airborne inside to spy without detection. You can watch the full interview here.
A new software system from MIT could help people improve their conversational and interview skills.
Social phobias affect about 15 million adults in the United States, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, and surveys show that public speaking is high on the list of such phobias. For some people, these fears of social situations can be especially acute: individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, for example, often have difficulty making eye contact and reacting appropriately to social cues. But with appropriate training, such difficulties can often be overcome.
Now, new software developed at MIT can be used to help people practice their interpersonal skills until they feel more comfortable with situations such as a job interview or a first date. The software, called MACH (short for My Automated Conversation coacH), uses a computer-generated onscreen face, along with facial, speech, and behaviour analysis and synthesis software, to simulate face-to-face conversations. It then provides users with feedback on their interactions.
The research was led by doctoral student M. Ehsan Hoque. A paper documenting the software’s development and testing has been accepted for presentation at the 2013 International Joint Conference on Pervasive and Ubiquitous Computing, known as UbiComp, to be held in September.
“Interpersonal skills are the key to being successful at work and at home,” Hoque says. “How we appear and how we convey our feelings to others define us. But there isn’t much help out there to improve on that segment of interaction.”
Many people with social phobias, Hoque says, want “the possibility of having some kind of automated system so that they can practice social interactions in their own environment. … They desire to control the pace of the interaction, practice as many times as they wish, and own their data.”
The MACH software offers all those features, Hoque says. In fact, in randomised tests with 90 MIT juniors who volunteered for the research, the software showed its value.
First, the test subjects – all of whom were native English speakers – were randomly divided into three groups. Each group participated in two simulated job interviews, a week apart, with MIT career counselors.
But between the two interviews, unbeknownst to the counselors, the students received help: One group watched videos of interview advice, while a second group had a practice session with the MACH simulated interviewer, but received no feedback other than a video of their own performance. Finally, a third group used MACH and then saw videos of themselves accompanied by analysis of such measures as how often they smiled, how well they maintained eye contact, how well they modulated their voices, and how often they used filler words such as “like,” “basically” and “umm.”
Evaluations by another group of career counselors showed statistically significant improvement by members of the third group on measures including “appears excited about the job,” “overall performance,” and “would you recommend hiring this person?” In all of these categories, by comparison, there was no significant change for the other two groups.
The software behind these improvements was developed over two years as part of Hoque’s doctoral thesis with help from his advisor, professor of media arts and sciences Rosalind Picard, as well as Matthieu Courgeon and Jean-Claude Martin from LIMSI-CNRS in France, Bilge Mutlu from the University of Wisconsin, and MIT undergraduate Sumit Gogia.
Designed to run on an ordinary laptop, the system uses the computer’s webcam to monitor a user’s facial expressions and movements, and its microphone to capture the subject’s speech. The MACH system then analyses the user’s smiles, head gestures, speech volume and speed, and use of filler words, among other things. The automated interviewer — a life-size, three-dimensional simulated face — can smile and nod in response to the subject’s speech and motions, ask questions and give responses. While this initial implementation was focused on helping job candidates, Hoque says training with the software could be helpful in many kinds of social interactions.