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16th November 2016

Solar nanotech clothing could revolutionise wearable technology

Scientists at the University of Central Florida are researching and developing solar nanotech-powered clothing.

 

solar nanotech powered clothing
Credit: University of Central Florida

 

Scientists have developed filaments that harvest and store the Sun's energy – and can be woven into textiles. The breakthrough would essentially turn jackets and other clothing into wearable, solar-powered batteries that never need to be plugged in. It could one day revolutionise wearable technology, helping everyone from soldiers who now carry heavy loads of batteries, to smartphone users who could charge a device while on the move by simply placing it in their pocket.

"The idea came to me: we make energy storage devices and we make solar cells in the labs. Why not combine these two devices together?" said Associate Professor Jayan Thomas, a nanotechnology scientist at the University of Central Florida's NanoScience Technology Centre.

Thomas has already been lauded for earlier ground-breaking research. Last year, he received an R&D 100 Award – given to the top inventions of the year worldwide – for his development of a cable that not only transmits energy like a normal cable, but can also store energy like a battery. He's also developing a semi-transparent solar cell that can be applied to windows, allowing some light to pass through, while simultaneously harvesting energy. This new work builds on that research.

Thomas was inspired by the clothing worn by Marty McFly in 80s sci-fi classic, Back to the Future Part II: "That movie was the motivation," he says. "If you can develop self-charging clothes or textiles, you can realise those cinematic fantasies – that's the cool thing."

His research team developed filaments in the form of copper ribbons that are thin, flexible and lightweight. The ribbons have a solar cell on one side and energy-storing layers on the other. Using a small, tabletop loom, the ribbons were woven into a square of yarn.

 

solar nanotech clothing
Credit: University of Central Florida

 

The proof-of-concept shows that the filaments could be laced throughout jackets or other outwear to harvest and store energy to power phones, personal health sensors and other tech gadgets. It's an advancement that overcomes the main shortcoming of solar cells: the energy they produce must flow into the power grid or be stored in a battery that limits their portability.

"A major application could be with our military," Thomas explains. "When you think about our soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan, they're walking in the Sun. Some of them are carrying over 30 pounds of batteries on their bodies. It's hard for the military to deliver batteries to these soldiers in this hostile environment. A garment like this can harvest and store energy at the same time if sunlight is available."

There are a host of other potential uses, including electric cars that could generate and store energy whenever they're in the Sun.

"That's the future. What we've done is demonstrate that it can be made," Thomas said. "It's going to be very useful for the general public and the military and many other applications."

His team's research is published in the academic journal Nature Communications.

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12th November 2016

Graphic cigarette warnings could prevent 652,000 deaths over next 50 years

A study published in the journal Tobacco Control finds that graphic warnings on cigarette packs could prevent 652,000 deaths in the U.S. over the next 50 years.

 

cigarettes future timeline

 

Using prominent, graphic images on cigarette packs warning against the dangers of smoking could avert more than 652,000 deaths, up to 92,000 low birth weight infants, up to 145,000 preterm births, and about 1,000 cases of sudden infant deaths in the U.S. over the next 50 years, say researchers from Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Their study, published online in the journal Tobacco Control, is the first to estimate the effects of pictorial warnings on cigarette packs on the health of both adults and infants in the U.S.

Although more than 70 nations have adopted or are considering adopting the World Health Organisation's Framework Convention for Tobacco Control to use such front and back of-the-pack warnings, they have not been implemented in the U.S. These pictorial warnings have been required by law, but an industry lawsuit has stalled implementation. Currently, a text-only warning appears on the side of cigarette packs in the U.S.

 

cigarettes text warning

 

The study used a tobacco control policy model, known as "SimSmoke", developed by Georgetown Lombardi's David T. Levy, PhD, which looks at the effects of past smoking policies, as well as future policies. SimSmoke is peer-reviewed, and has been used and validated in more than 20 countries.

In this study, Levy and his colleagues looked at changes in smoking rates in Australia, Canada and the UK, which have already implemented prominent pictorial warning labels (PWLs). Eight years after PWLs were implemented in Canada, there was an estimated 12 to 20 percent relative reduction in smoking prevalence. After PWLs began to be used in Australia in 2006, adult smoking prevalence fell from 21.3 percent in 2007 to 19 percent in 2008. After implementation in the UK during 2008, smoking prevalence fell 10 percent in the following year.

The researchers used these and other studies and, employing the SimSmoke model, estimated that implementing PWLs in the U.S. would directly reduce smoking prevalence in relative terms by 5 percent in the near term, increasing to 10 percent over the long-term. If implemented in 2016, PWLs are estimated to reduce the number of smoking attributable deaths (heart disease, lung cancer and COPD) by an estimated 652,800 by 2065.

"The bottom line is that requiring large pictorial warnings would help protect the public health of people in the United States," says Prof. Levy. "There is a direct association between these warnings and increased smoking cessation and reduced smoking initiation and prevalence. That would lead to significant reduction of death and morbidity, as well as medical cost."

As of today, 40 percent of cancers diagnosed in the U.S. may have a link to tobacco use, according to the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It is the leading preventable cause of cancer and cancer deaths. Tobacco causes more than just lung cancer – based on current evidence, it can cause cancers of the mouth and throat, voice box, oesophagus, stomach, kidney, pancreas, liver, bladder, cervix, colon, rectum and a type of leukaemia. At least 70 chemicals found in tobacco smoke are known to cause cancer, with exposure to second-hand smoke (aka passive smoking) also causing it. Cigarette smoking is estimated to result in $289 billion a year in medical costs and productivity loss. About 70% of all smokers want to quit – and if they do so before the age of 40, they can gain almost all of the 10 years of life expectancy they would otherwise have lost.

"There are more than 36 million smokers in the U.S.," says Tom Frieden, CDC Director. "Sadly, nearly half could die prematurely from tobacco-related illnesses, including 6 million from cancer, unless we implement the programs that will help smokers quit."

New data released from the National Health Interview Survey shows that cigarette smoking among U.S. adults declined from 20.9 percent (45.1 million) in 2005 to 15.1 percent (36.5 million) in 2015. During 2014-2015 alone, there was a 1.7 percentage point decline, resulting in the lowest prevalence of adult cigarette smoking since the CDC's NHIS began collecting such data in 1965.

"When states invest in comprehensive cancer control programs – including tobacco control – we see greater benefits for everyone, and fewer deaths from tobacco-related cancers," said Lisa Richardson, director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. "We have made progress, but our work is not done."

 

cigarettes historical trend


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30th October 2016

Tesla unveils solar roof tiles and Powerwall 2

By combining solar roof tiles, battery storage, and electric vehicles, Tesla hopes to create the opportunity for a zero emission lifestyle.

 

Tesla solar roof tiles powerwall 2

 

Last year, Tesla revealed the "Powerwall" – a revolutionary new energy storage system for homes and businesses. The company has now taken this concept a step further by unveiling a new range of solar-powered roof tiles, able to blend seamlessly into an existing building's appearance. In addition, Tesla has doubled the energy capacity of the original Powerwall, now released as a version 2. By combining the solar roof tiles, the Powerwall 2, and an electric vehicle, Tesla hopes to create the opportunity for a zero emission lifestyle.

The solar roof tiles will be available in four distinct styles: "Textured Glass Tile," "Slate Glass Tile," "Tuscan Glass Tile," and "Smooth Glass Tile." They can be integrated into both new homes, as well as older buildings whose existing roofs need replacing.

"The goal is to have solar roofs that look better than a normal roof, generate electricity, last longer, have better insulation, and actually have an installed cost that is less than a normal roof plus the cost of electricity," said Elon Musk, Tesla CEO. "So why would you buy anything else?" At his presentation in Los Angeles on Friday, the tiles were showcased on homes once used as the set for US drama Desperate Housewives.

The potential market for solar roof tiles is huge. In the US alone, up to five million new homes are built each year. Globally, the figure is 20 times higher. Musk is hoping Tesla/Solar City can supply at least 10% of new homes in the US with energy-generating solar roof tiles by 2020. Tesla expects the growth rate of energy products around the world to be far greater than that of electric vehicles alone.

The tiles are currently about 98% as efficient as traditional solar panels. However, Tesla is now working alongside 3M to develop an improved coating, which will not only restore the lost 2%, but could possibly even go above normal efficiency by "trapping" more light inside.

The first installations are expected to begin by summer next year. Since they are made from quartz glass, they should last much longer than a typical asphalt tile – at least two or three times longer, according to Musk.

 

 

 

Musk's presentation moved on to the Powerwall 2. This compact, wall-mounted battery unit stores 14kW/hour of energy from the roof tiles in daylight and has 7kW peak power output – twice the amount of the previous version and enough for a family to live comfortably off the grid. The Powerwall makes solar energy available as a power source 24/7. In the event of a grid outage, it can serve as back-up power. If necessary, multiple units can be stacked to combine even greater energy storage. Each device will retail at $5500.

In addition to the Powerwall 2 for homes and small businesses, Tesla offers the utility-scale Powerpack, now also launched as a version 2. Once again, this will provide twice the energy of its predecessor: 210kW/hour of storage and a peak output of 50kW. It has unlimited scalability, meaning it could power an entire town or city. Tesla recently announced the world's biggest utility-scale battery installation for Southern California Edison, an 80MWh project that is already under construction right now. To date, nearly 300MWh of Tesla batteries have been deployed in 18 countries around the world.

The Powerpack 2 is also matched with a new inverter, designed by Tesla and manufactured at the company's new Gigafactory, which started limited production in the first quarter of 2016. It is the lowest cost, highest efficiency and highest power density utility-scale inverter on the market. It also significantly simplifies the installation process of the entire Powerpack system by integrating a number of previously independent components into the inverter itself.

In his presentation, Musk was keen to emphasise that larger utility-scale energy will be just as important as localised power generation in the future – the two should not have to compete with each other, and the future is bright for both. He believes localised systems will account for about one-third of power generation and utilities about two-thirds.

 

powerwall 2 tesla future timeline energy storage
The Powerwall 2, for homes and small businesses.

 

powerpack 2 tesla future timeline energy storage
The Powerpack 2, for utility-scale applications.

 

The costs of solar power, batteries/energy storage and electric vehicles have been falling in recent years and will continue falling. In the near future, systems like that presented by Musk will become affordable to many more people and businesses. Solar-powered windows will emerge too, thanks to advances in transparent, light-harvesting materials. Combined with nationwide smart grids, to provide the optimal balancing of demand and production, this offers the prospect of a global clean energy revolution by 2030.

Full details of the solar roof tiles, Powerwall 2 and Powerpack 2 can be seen in the 20 minute presentation by Musk below. You can also visit the Tesla website at: https://www.tesla.com/energy

 

 

 

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21st October 2016

AI milestone: a new system can match humans in conversational speech recognition

A new automated system that can achieve parity and even beat humans in conversational speech recognition has been announced by researchers at Microsoft.

 

AI conversational speech recognition future timeline

 

A team at Microsoft's Artificial Intelligence and Research group has published a study in which they demonstrate a technology that recognises spoken words in a conversation as well as a real person does.

Last month, the same team achieved a word error rate (WER) of 6.3%. In their new paper this week, they report a WER of just 5.9%, which is equal to that of professional transcriptionists and is the lowest ever recorded against the industry standard Switchboard speech recognition task.

“We’ve reached human parity,” said Xuedong Huang, the company’s chief speech scientist. “This is an historic achievement.”

“Even five years ago, I wouldn’t have thought we could have achieved this,” said Harry Shum, the group's executive vice president. “I just wouldn’t have thought it would be possible.”

Microsoft has been involved in speech recognition and speech synthesis research for many years. The company developed Speech API in 1994 and later introduced speech recognition technology in Office XP and Office 2003, as well as Internet Explorer. However, the word error rates for these applications were much higher back then.

 

speech recognition trend future timeline

 

In their new paper, the researchers write: "the key to our system's performance is the systematic use of convolutional and LSTM neural networks, combined with a novel spatial smoothing method and lattice-free MMI acoustic training."

The team used Microsoft’s own Computational Network Toolkit – an open source, deep learning framework. This was able to process deep learning algorithms across multiple computers, running a specialised GPU to greatly improve its speed and enhance the quality of research. The team believes their milestone will have broad implications for both consumer and business products, including entertainment devices like the Xbox, accessibility tools such as instant speech-to-text transcription, and personal digital assistants such as Cortana.

“This will make Cortana more powerful, making a truly intelligent assistant possible,” Shum said.

“The next frontier is to move from recognition to understanding,” said Geoffrey Zweig, who manages the Speech & Dialog research group.

Future improvements may also include speech recognition that works well in more real-life settings – places with lots of background noise, for example, such as at a party or while driving on the highway. The technology will also become better at assigning names to individual speakers when multiple people are talking, as well as working with a wide variety of voices, regardless of age, accent or ability.

The full study – Achieving Human Parity in Conversational Speech Recognition – is available at: https://arxiv.org/abs/1610.05256

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13th October 2016

Playing golf can add five years to your life expectancy

Playing golf is likely to increase life expectancy, help prevent chronic diseases and improve mental health, a new study suggests.

 

golf life expectancy

 

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh reviewed 5,000 studies into golf to build a comprehensive picture of the sport’s health benefits, as well as its potential drawbacks. They found it can significantly improve both physical and mental health for people of all ages, genders and backgrounds. Furthermore, it was shown that these improvements are of particular help to seniors, as the benefits of playing golf increase with age. Balance and muscle endurance, for example, can be enhanced in older people.

Golfers playing a regular round of 18 holes can walk four to eight miles, typically burning a minimum of 500 calories – easily enough to reach and exceed the minimum government recommendations for exercise. Even those using an electric cart were found to average four miles of walking. In addition to the obvious physical benefits, golf can significantly improve mental health and well-being – increasing exposure to sunshine and fresh air, while reducing the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia.

In one of the studies they analysed, the researchers noted a 40% reduction in mortality rates among 300,000 members of the Swedish Golf Federation, corresponding to an increase in life expectancy of about five years.

"The moderate physical activity that golf provides increases life expectancy, has mental health benefits, and can help prevent and treat more than 40 major chronic diseases, such as heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, breast and colon cancer," says Dr Andrew Murray, lead author and researcher for the Golf & Health Project at the University of Edinburgh. "Evidence suggests golfers live longer than non-golfers, enjoying improvements in cholesterol levels, body composition, wellness, self-esteem and self-worth. Given that the sport can be played by the very young to the very old, this demonstrates a wide variety of health benefits for people of all ages."

However, there were also a number of risks found to be associated with playing golf – such as lightning strikes, and accidents involving carts. Golf was found to be the sport with the highest incidence of lightning strikes in the US, while more than 15,000 golf cart-related injuries were reported a year.

Their study is published online this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

 

 

 

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26th August 2016

World's first commercial drone delivery service

Domino's Pizza Enterprises Limited has joined forces with a global leader in drone deliveries, Flirtey, to launch the first commercial drone delivery service in the world.

 

 

 

Domino's Pizza Enterprises Limited (Domino's) has joined forces with a global leader in drone deliveries, Flirtey to launch the first commercial drone delivery service in the world. The two companies exhibited the first stage of their partnership with a demonstration of pizza delivery by drone yesterday in Auckland, New Zealand. The successful demonstration was also attended by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Minister of Transport Simon Bridges.

The test was conducted under Civil Aviation Rules Part 101 and marks a final step in Flirtey's approval process – following which, the partnership will aim to connect people with pizza via CAA-approved trial store-to-door drone deliveries from a selected Domino's New Zealand store with flights to customer homes later this year.

New Zealand was selected as the launch market given that its current regulations allow for businesses to embrace unmanned aircraft opportunities, which enable the gradual testing of new and innovative technologies. Domino's Group CEO and Managing Director, Don Meij said the company's growth in recent years had led to a significant increase in the number of deliveries and that Domino's is constantly looking for innovative and futuristic ways to improve its service.

"With the increased number of deliveries we make each year, we were faced with the challenge of ensuring our delivery times continue to decrease and that we strive to offer our customers new and progressive ways of ordering from us," he said. "Research into different delivery methods led us to Flirtey. Their success within the airborne delivery space has been impressive and it's something we have wanted to offer our customers."

The use of drones as a delivery method is designed to work alongside Domino's current delivery fleet and will be fully integrated into online ordering and GPS systems.

"Domino's is all about providing customers with choice and making customer's lives easier. Adding innovation such as drone deliveries means customers can experience cutting-edge technology and the convenience of having their Supreme pizza delivered via air to their door. This is the future. We have invested heavily to provide our stores with different delivery fleet options – such as electric scooters, e-bikes and even the Domino's Robotic Unit - DRU that we launched earlier this year.

"We've always said that it doesn't make sense to have a 2-tonne machine delivering a 2-kilogram order. DRU DRONE is the next stage of the company's expansion into the artificial intelligence space and gives us the ability to learn and adopt new technologies in the business."

The Flirtey delivery drone is constructed from carbon fibre, aluminium and 3D printed components. It is a lightweight, autonomous and electrically driven unmanned aerial vehicle. It lowers its cargo via tether and has built-in safety features such as low battery return to safe location and auto-return home in case of low GPS signal or communication loss.

 

worlds first commercial drone delivery service

 

The reach that a drone offers is greater than other current options which are restricted by traffic, roads and distance. Domino's will look to the results of the trial to determine where drones are implemented further.

"What drones allow us to do is to extend that delivery area by removing barriers such as traffic and access, as well as offering a much faster, safer delivery option, which means we can deliver further afield than we currently do to our rural customers while reaching our urban customers in a much more efficient time."

The trial flights are set to commence later this year following the beginning of daylight savings in New Zealand. Domino's will offer Drone Delivery Specials at the launch of the trial with plans to extend the dimensions, weight and distance of deliveries, based on results and customer feedback.

"These trial deliveries will help provide the insight we need to extend the weight carried by the drone and distance travelled," said Meij. "It is this insight that we hope will lead to being able to consider a drone delivery option for the majority of our orders. We are planning a phased trial approach which is based on the CAA granting approval, as both Domino's and Flirtey are learning what is possible with the drone delivery for our products – but this isn't a pie in the sky idea. It's about working with the regulators and Flirtey to make this a reality."

Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeny said: "Launching the first commercial drone delivery service in the world is a landmark achievement for Flirtey and Domino's, heralding a new frontier of on-demand delivery for customers across New Zealand and around the globe. New Zealand has the most forward-thinking aviation regulations in the world, and with our new partnership, we are uniquely positioned to bring the same revolutionary drone delivery service to customers globally. We are getting closer to the time where you can push a button on your smartphone and have Domino's delivered by drone to your home."

Domino's is looking at opportunities for drone delivery trials in its six other markets – Australia, Belgium, France, The Netherlands, Japan and Germany.

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12th July 2016

Imagining life in 2036

A new survey reveals the technologies Americans think will disrupt traditional industries over the next 20 years.

 

2036 predictions future timeline technology

 

This survey was inspired by a list of predictions made by Imperial College London's Tech Foresight research team, released as part of Technology Week in London. SMG Insight/YouGov interviewed 2,088 American adults to find their views on technology in 20 years' time. The results show that a large majority of people (69%) believe that physical money will disappear, two-thirds (66%) believe that pizza deliveries via drone will be commonplace and virtual reality will be routinely used for doctors' appointments. About half the respondents believe it likely that communication devices will be commonly embedded in our bodies. The prediction seen as the least likely is that robots will outnumber human beings, with only 26% considering this likely.

Professor David Gann, Vice President of Innovation at Imperial College London, commented: "London's technologists, scientists, medics and entrepreneurs are creating the future. No city in the world enjoys London's quotient of talent, technology, culture and capital. It is a potent combination. It's an environment where ideas flourish, design and innovation is embraced and new technologies are transforming our lives for the better."

 

digital technology

 

Separate research from Accenture recently revealed the impact of technology on the global economy, with its Digital Multiplier report estimating that the digital economy currently represents 22.5 percent of the world's GDP. This is expected to rise to 25 percent by 2020.

The US is the world's most digital economy, with existing digital investments accounting for 33 percent of its output. Accenture's report highlights how digital skills and digital technologies are having impacts across various sectors – 22 percent of the global retail industry's output is derived from digital, 28 percent in health, and 20 percent in consumer goods.

What are your predictions for 2036? Let us know in the comments below...

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