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Monthly Archives: December 2013

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The Future of Search and the Internet of Everything According to Google’s Scott Huffman

In a recent interview with the Independent, Google engineering director, Scott Huffman, outlined the kind of future he thinks is right around the corner—a future when typing our queries into a little box will be seem downright archaic, and our interaction with technology will be more like a conversation. Instead of keyboards, we’ll have microphones and speakers in the ceiling recording conversations and giving answers to direct questions, like the Star Trek computer.

2013 in Review: The Eight Biggest Stories In Exponential Tech

It’s been a fast-moving year, so before diving headlong into 2014, we thought we'd take stock and revisit some of the year’s most notable stories in exponential technology.

Genomic Studies Sift Centenarian DNA for Genes Protecting Against Age-Related Diseases

Occasionally, you hear tell of a hale hundred-year-old who drank and smoked her way through life—or the reverse, a health nut who tragically fell prey to a killer disease at 40. Though diet and exercise influence health and longevity, they're only part of the story. The inherited, genetic drivers of aging and illness are still poorly understood.

Progress in Efforts to Develop Lab-Grown Lungs: Functional Cells

Since the development of induced pluripotent stem cells in 2006, scientists have managed to use the manufactured stem cells like seeds to grow a wide range of tissues and rudimentary organs. But different tissue types have not proven equal, and researchers are still struggling to coax stem cells to take on certain roles: Lung cells have proved difficult to create. Columbia University researchers recently managed to develop functional lung and airway cells from human iPSCs.

Medtronic’s Minimally Invasive Pacemaker the Size of a Multivitamin

Back in November, we wrote about a tiny pacemaker made by Silicon Valley startup Nanostim. Whereas traditional pacemakers require chest surgery and a pocket to implant the device in—the Nanostim pacemaker is implanted by making a simple incision in the thigh and snaking a catheter through an artery to the heart. Nanostim was approved for use in Europe, subsequently acquired by St. Jude Medical—and now it has competition. Medtronic recently announced they’ve successfully implanted a similar device into the heart of an Austrian patient.

Drug Hopes to Delay Onset of Alzheimer’s Symptoms With a Monthly Shot in the Arm

An Alzheimer's drug is attracting the spotlight as it enters clinical trials. The drug, called solanezumab, appears to slow the buildup of amyloid beta in the brain and improves cognitive function in patients with mild dementia when given as a monthly shot. But the excitement about the drug is as much a measure of other treatments’ failures as it is of its success.

Researchers, Startups Hope One Drop of Blood Could Diagnose All Types of Cancer

As genetics reveals the incredible diversity among cancer cells, researchers have largely given up pursuing a silver bullet to cure all types of cancer. Instead, many have begun searching for the next-best thing: a silver bullet test to diagnose all cancers. The test would look for markers of cancer in the patient’s blood, where the process of tumor-making leaves a trail that can often be picked up before tumors are big enough to spot.

Edible Batteries Could Power a Range of Smart Pills and Medical Devices

Carnegie Mellon materials engineer Christopher Bettinger argues that flexible biodegradable batteries safe for human consumption could maximize the benefits of smart pills and devices “by harnessing simultaneous advantages afforded by electronically active systems and obviating issues with chronic implants.” In a recent paper, Bettinger documents that such a battery made from the pigment cuttlefish — sea creatures related to squid — can discharge 10 microamperes of electricity for a period of five hours, with performance under ideal circumstances of up to 24 hours.

Delicate Eye Cells Are Latest to Be 3D-Printed

Blindness might just be the first major disability to disappear, at least if our high-tech future takes more a utopian than dystopian bent. A bionic eye is already on the market in the United States, and stem cell therapy has been shown to restore sight in mice. Now British scientists have successfully printed retinal cells.

It’s Settled: Electric Cars Are Cleaner Than Their Gas-Powered Cousins

One major issue that has dogged the electric vehicle is the complexity of any answer to the simple question, Are EVs better for the environment than gasoline-powered cars? Many instinctively believe the answer is no, because the cars get their power from the electrical grid — which is, in turn, driven chiefly by coal and natural gas. While that instinct may have been valid in decades past, it no longer is.

Prosthetic Hand With Sense of Touch Picks Stems From Cherries

Igor Spetic lost his hand on the job three years ago to an industrial hammer. But like Luke Skywalker, Spetic’s testing a new bionic hand. And though the hand hasn’t caught up to the tech of faraway galaxies, long ago, it’s closer than you might think.

NASA Unveils Valkyrie, a Humanoid Robot Destined for Space Exploration

What comes to mind when you hear valkyrie? Fierce female deities escorting Viking warriors to Valhalla? Bold World War II assassination plots? Friendly human-like robots diligently at work on Martian habs? NASA’s hoping the latter will swamp the former. Robots based on their new bipedal robot, Valkyrie, may eventually wind up spacewalking in orbit or on Mars doing the kind of work current rovers could only dream of doing.

Meta Launches Its AR Eyeglass Hologram Computer To Compete With Glass

Meta, a Silicon Valley startup with an Israeli Defense Forces veteran at the helm, has opted to try to out-perform Glass in functionality, even if it means a significantly less lightweight product. The company recently opened pre-ordering for its first consumer product, Mega Pro glasses.

New Study: Daily Multivitamins, Supplements ‘A Waste Of Money’

One of the few nutritional recommendations that most doctors seemed to agree with — take a daily multivitamin to plug any gaps in your diet — is facing a serious challenge in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The journal’s current issue features two studies and a meta-analysis which all conclude that multivitamins don’t deliver any significant health benefits.

Oculus Rift Virtual Reality Headset Gets $75M Investment: Coming To ‘Consumers Everywhere’

Virtual reality, long a dream of gamers and science fiction buffs, has moved much closer to reality since Oculus burst onto the scene earlier this year. The company got a significant vote of confidence recently, in the form of a $75-million investment round led by one of Silicon Valley’s most highly regarded venture capital firms, Andreessen Horowitz.

Google Buys Boston Dynamics in Sensational Eighth Robotics Acquisition

Google just acquired Boston Dynamics. It’s the eighth robotics company the California tech titan has purchased in six months and, by far, the biggest deal. For two decades, Boston Dynamics has been nearly synonymous with robotics.

Handheld Device TellSpec Can Detect Allergens, Chemicals, and Nutrients In Food

A hand-held spectrometer pioneered by Toronto-based TellSpec that can determine exactly what is in the user’s food and display it on his or her smartphone. The idea for the device came from co-founder Isabel Hoffman’s daughter, who suffers from gluten intolerance and other food allergies.

Will Advanced AI Be Our Final Invention?

There’s plenty of tech fear out there thanks to Hollywood, but there’s also the tendency to imagine we’re immune to AI risk because it’s been in a movie, so, ipso facto it’s fantasy. While it’s tempting to seek solace in this line of reasoning, the experts who are actually working on artificial intelligence have something else to say. Many point to a suite of looming problems clustered around the complexity of real-world software and the inherent uncontrollability of intelligence.

Evidence Mounts for Gene Therapy as Treatment for Heart Failure

Damage done to the vital organ by heart failure has been the focus of much research into gene therapy, a process in which patients receive, usually inside an inert virus, replacement genes for those suspected of causing an illness. One genetic treatment has gotten as far as clinical trials in patients with heart failure, and initial results presented recently at an American Heart Association meeting, suggest that the gene therapy may just help hearts damaged by heart failure heal themselves.

Coin Device That Consolidates Credit Cards Is Selling Like Hotcakes

Coin is a mat black, rectangular piece of plastic. It’s about the size and shape of a credit card, maybe a little thicker, and like a credit card has a magnetic strip. Unlike a credit card, coin carries a chip, sports a small digital display, and is a financial shape shifter—it can become any of eight stored credit cards with a button flick.

Ma Bell Dives Into Home Automation With Digital Life Package

Home automation is the rare futuristic idea that has almost universal appeal. Yet, it’s been slower to arrive than other, more controversial technologies. But a few recent developments suggest that it's edging toward mainstream adoption. AT&T is currently rolling out Digital Life, a home automation subscription service that connects alarm systems, security cameras, lights, thermostats and selected devices (like the iron) to a mobile app.

A Dual-Screen Smartphone? Hello YotaPhone

Ever wish your phone could swap between LCD and e-ink displays to save power? Wish no more. Yota XX’s YotaPhone offers both an e-ink screen (like the Kindle Paperwhite) on one side and a standard backlit LCD on the other.

Artist Paints Photorealistic Morgan Freeman Portrait With a $7 App on His iPad

UK graphic artist, Kyle Lamber, recently showed how powerful digital painting apps have become. Working from a photograph, Lambert used a painting app, his finger, and an iPad to compose an almost photo-perfect portrait of Morgan Freeman. The host of Through the Wormhole is, of course, a perfectly appropriate model for this demonstration of the power of tech.

Google Officially Enters the Robotics Business With Acquisition of Seven Startups

Last year, I visited a warehouse behind a typically fashionable San Francisco café where two startups, Bot & Dolly and Autofuss, were busy making the insanely immersive visuals for the film Gravity (among a host of other projects) using naught but assembly line robots, clever software, and high-def cameras. A few months later, I found myself in another warehouse—this time some forty minutes south of the city—where robotic arms, built and programmed by Industrial Perception, used advanced computer vision to sort toys and throw around boxes. What do these companies have in common? According to the New York Times, they were just secretly acquired by Google—along with five other robotics firms over the last six months—to design and build a fleet of super-advanced robots under the direction of Andy Rubin, the man behind Google’s mobile operating system, Android.

Rise Of The Robot Security Guards: R2D2 Lookalike K5

Knightscope’s K5 is a 5-foot-tall, 300-pound robot that patrols areas like school campuses. But the company is now marketing K5 as a security tool for corporate campuses, warehouses and even communities.

3D Systems and Motorola Explore 3D Printed Lego-Like Modular Smartphones

Motorola's Project Ara aims to build custom, open source smartphones out of easily replaceable, updatable, snappable blocks. They hope such modular smartphones will do away with today’s rapid cycles of device obsolescence, and they recently added a new co-conspirator—3D printing giant, 3D Systems.

IBM to Offer App Developers Access to Resident AI and Jeopardy Champ Watson

The age of the pocket AI is imminent. IBM recently announced they’re opening their supercomputer, Watson, and its natural language powers to developers. The hope is apps drawing on Watson might soon reside on smartphones everywhere.

Flying Robot Jellyfish an Exceedingly Light, Simple Design

NYU's Leif Ristroph wanted to design an exceedingly simple miniature flying robot. Instead of finding inspiration in insects, he turned to the jellyfish, a water dweller. Whereas insect-like bots require heavy processors and sensors to stay stable—lacking a brain, jellyfish are still efficient, elegant swimmers. Ristroph’s robots are as dumb as a jellyfish—and similarly simple and efficient.

Amazon: Drones Could Deliver Orders in Half an Hour, But Feds Need To Allow It

In a recent 60 Minutes interview, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos boasted that his company would soon offer 30-minute delivery by drone in a feature called Prime Air. Justifiably or not, Bezos is very, very bullish on commercial drones. Just think, they are to trucks and planes what the Internet is to paper.

Matternet CEO Tells TED Global Internet of Drones Could Positively Impact a Billion

A billion people have no access to all-season roads. Over three billion live in cities or megacities. Quick access to goods faces either impassible mud or impenetrable gridlock. But Singularity University Labs startup, Matternet, has a plan. Speaking to an audience at TED Global last summer, co-founder and CEO, Andreas Raptopoulos said Matternet is “a new idea about a network for transportation that is based on the ideas of the internet.”

Google Glass Makes Its Way Into Operating Rooms

Hands-free devices like Google Glass can be really transformative when the hands they free are those of a surgeon. And leading hospitals, including Stanford and the University of California at San Francisco, are beginning to use Glass in the operating room.

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