Table of Contents
- 1 FUTURE TECHNOLOGY
- 2 Life in the future: Tech that will change the way we live
- 3 Space Tourism
- 4 Colonisation of other planets
- 5 Robots in space and in the workplace
- 6 Electric/self-driving cars
- 7 Flying cars
- 8 Robot butlers
- 9 Roads over rivers
- 10 Solar panel technology
- 11 Hyper-fast trains
- 12 Wearable screens
- 13 3D printed food
- 14 Fridges that order for you
- 15 Smart toothbrushes that send data to your dentist
- 16 Smart mirrors that check your health
- 17 A toilet that analyses your deposits
- 18 5G connectivity
- 19 Exoskeleton
- 20 Recycling and re-engineering
- 21 High-rise farms
- 22 Lab-grown meats
- 23 Artificial Intelligence
- 24 Robot soldiers
- 25 Nanobots that check your health
- 26 3D printed metal
- 27 Cloud gaming without machines
- 28 Li-Fi
- 29 Personal air
- 30 Future technology: 22 ideas about to change our world
- 31 Lab-made dairy products
- 32 Digital “twins” that track your health
- 33 Green funerals
- 34 Artificial eyes
- 35 Airports for drones and flying taxis
- 36 Smart sutures that detect infections
- 37 Energy storing bricks
- 38 Sweat powered smartwatches
- 39 Living robots
- 40 Tactile virtual reality
- 41 Internet for everyone
- 42 Heart monitoring T-shirt
- 43 Coffee power
- 44 Drown forest fires in sound
- 45 The AI scientist
- 46 Self-driving trucks
- 47 Artificial neurons on silicon chips
- 48 Floating farms
- 49 Pleistocene Park
- 50 Near-perfect insulation
- 51 5 ways technology will shape the future
- 52 Engaging with democracy
- 53 Fighting disinformation with Artificial Intelligence
- 54 Embracing the information economy
- 55 Enabling flexibility and collaboration in the workplace
- 56 Building trust with a digital society
Technology will change our lives in the future. Some companies have already used drones to help their businesses. (1)………….. France and Switzerland, national post offices have tried using them to send letters (2)………….. parcels. In 2016, Amazon tried delivering their products to customers by drones. These are early steps and people need more time to make (3)………….. better. Now, more companies are (4)………….. in this idea. In 20 years, drones will make selling and buying things more convenient. Drones will be (5)………….. to help people in disasters too. Carrying products to people in storms, earthquakes or tsunamis will be (6)………….. and faster.
- A. At B. In C. On D. From
- A. and B. but C. or D. as
- A. it B. him C. them D. her
- A. fond B. bored C. keen D. interested
- A. used B. using C. uses D. use
- A. easy B. easier C. easiest D. easily
1. A. At B. In C. On D. From
2. A. and B. but C. or D. as
3. A. it B. him C. them D. her
4. A. fond B. bored C. keen D. interested
5. A. used B. using C. uses D. use
6. A. easy B. easier C. easiest D. easily
Life in the future: Tech that will change the way we live
– Technology has the power to do many things, and changing the world is one of them.
We’re privileged to be living in a time where science and technology can assist us, make our lives easier and rethink the ways we go about our daily lives.
The technology we’re already exposed and accustomed to has paved the way for us to innovate further, and this list of current and future technologies certainly have the potential to change our lives even more.
Here’s our list of technologies that will “probably” change our lives forever over the coming decade and beyond:
We can fly to virtually any country in the world without any trouble, but what if we could all one day see the earth from space?
Companies such as Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and even Amazon’s Blue Origin, want to make it a reality one day, and give us a (very expensive) seat aboard a spaceship to take us into orbit. Passengers on Amazon’s New Shepard space shuttle will be taken 100km above sea level, before parachuting back to earth.
Colonisation of other planets
We’ve been wreaking havoc on Earth for a long time and the planet can only put up with mankind’s destructive nature for so long.
If we don’t destroy it, we’ll one day outgrow it. Plans are in the works to colonise other planets and Mars will no doubt be the first port of call.
With leaps forward in technology, this vision of the future is quickly becoming science-fact, rather than science-fiction.
Robots in space and in the workplace
NASA is already sending robots of different shapes and sizes into space. As technology progresses, this makes sense. Robots don’t need to worry about oxygen to breathe or food to eat and they can be packed full of sensors to send data back to Earth.
The same applies in the workplace. Robots can take on the more difficult, dangerous and dull jobs to save mankind the trouble and risk. They can also theoretically operate more quickly, efficiently and with fewer mistakes too.
Electric cars are nothing new; they’ve been on our roads for some time now and they’re only getting better.
Car batteries are lasting longer, the charging station infrastructure is growing and self-driving technology is being heavily invested in meaning it’s coming sooner than you probably think.
Tesla already has a complex Autopilot mode that can take over some driving controls, but one-day car manufacturers hope to let us go completely hands-free.
When there’s no space left on the roads, it’s not unreasonable to think we might take to the skies. There are already plenty of interesting flying car designs that show this future is a realistic possibility.
Perhaps if it’s not flying cars, we might all have other forms of personal transport – jetpacks, for example, have been a popular pursuit of inventors and thrill-seekers for decades.
Chores, chores, chores. Boring and unfortunately necessary. But what if robots could help save you the misery? We already have the beginnings with robot vacuum cleaners and smart home appliances. Larger, more useful robots are springing up too.
We could easily be living in a future packed full of useful robots helping around the home as butlers, chefs or general dogsbodies.
- Real-life robots that will make you think the future is now
Roads over rivers
Space is finite and running out quickly – especially in crowded urban spaces.
This concept shows a future where roads and living spaces have moved out over the waters. When self-driving vehicles do all the work and are fast enough, journeys across the oceans this way might not be unrealistic either.
Solar panel technology
Solar panels are another technology that has been around for a while, but their future potential is huge.
Not only can they now be hidden in the tiles on the roof of your house thanks to Tesla Solar Roof tiles, but some companies are developing ways of integrating them into car roofs, where they will be able to power in-car tech or make the battery last longer.
Another Elon Musk backed company, Hyperloop is a high-speed underground transport system that is currently being built and tested in America. The first route planned will go from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Another route is planning to go from New York to Washington D.C. in 29 minutes rather than the 2 hours 56 minutes it takes at the moment.
Hyper-fast trains that go underground and underwater could revolutionise not just public transport, but international travel too. Imagine being able to speed from one country to another in the same time it currently takes to travel between towns.
Augmented Reality, or AR, has some incredible potential. It’s been around for a while now, in the form of various apps that can overlay information around you and is different from VR because it overlays information rather than simply put you in a virtual reality.
Companies are experimenting with using both augmented reality and virtual reality devices in the workplace. They can be used in a variety of ways including visual representations of blueprints, virtual scale models of products in development or for simple things like virtual team meetings.
It might have been popularised by Minority Report, but the concept of gesture-based computing has been around for a while. It’s also already appearing in multiple different technologies and is almost second-nature for most anyway.
How many gestures do we already use on a day-to-day basis on our smartphones, tablets and other smart devices? It’s reasonable to see a future where we’re no longer restricted by mouse and keyboard and instead rely on voice and action to manipulate data in a virtual space.
We might be currently daydreaming of foldable phones and screens, but the future might well be screenless.
There are plenty of touch-capable projector-like devices that can beam usable screens onto your skin, clothing or other surfaces. The future of smartphone tech might not even require a device in your pocket but something you wear or have implanted.
Self-driving cars are one thing, but the Transports Research Laboratory (TRL) wants driverless lorries on UK roads in the very near future.
The idea is for up to three lorries to drive in convoy, with the lead vehicle controlling the acceleration and braking of the two vehicles behind it. The “slave” lorries, while still having a “driver” to steer them, would be able to drive much closer together, compared to humans driving, and therefore reduce fuel costs and emissions.
We’ll soon live in a future where our deliveries and cargo are transported by computer-powered transport. More efficient and always on time.
3D printed food
We’re not quite in a world where Star Trek replicators exist and we can magic up anything we want out of thin air. But 3D printing technology is coming along quickly and companies are already experimenting with printing food.
Fridge running a bit low? Not a problem for future you, just print some cakes, vegetables or even a pizza. We’re dreaming big here.
3D printing is taking off in other areas too. From creating aeroplane and vehicle parts, replacement joints such as hips, or pieces for a board game, it still has huge potential to change our lives in the coming years. The materials being used to print with are evolving too, and now include graphene that is “lighter than air” but 10 times stronger than steel.
Fridges that order for you
If 3D printed food seems unrealistic, how about a refrigerator that senses when you’re running low on something and orders it for you? This tech already exists and is getting better and better every year.
Eventually, it’ll be so common every home will have one and you’ll never need to pop out to the supermarket again.
Smart toothbrushes that send data to your dentist
We already have intelligent toothbrushes which keep an eye on your brushing technique to make sure you’re doing a good thorough job each time you brush.
But what if your toothbrush could send that data to your dentist so they don’t even need to ask if you’re flossing daily? Or, perhaps less terrifyingly, using sensors to monitor your dental health by scanning for cavities or plaque build-up.
Smart mirrors that check your health
A quick glance in the mirror each morning gives you a visual cue on how you’re feeling and looking to the outside world.
Now imagine a future where smart mirrors could scan you and tell you about potential health problems, vitamin deficiencies or warnings signs of underlying issues. Pre-emptive information about these symptoms might help you prepare.
A toilet that analyses your deposits
Smart toilets aren’t a new idea. The Japanese are renowned for having incredible toilets with posterior warming seats, built-in bidets and much more besides. The toilet of the future might go a step further by analysing your leavings to check to illness.
Imagine how effective such a device could be at helping people catch signs of bowel cancer early on before it becomes a significant problem. It could also alert you to dietary issues or deficiencies that need rectifying to improve your health.
5G is quickly becoming a reality and could offer faster than wired download speeds wherever you are.
As you can imagine, fast connection speeds without overcrowding will open up a wealth of possibilities for “connected devices” everything from home appliances to cars and gadgets we’ve yet to even invent.
Robotic exoskeletons are already being used by the military to give soldiers extra strength and abilities, making their job easier, but they could also help disabled people, especially those who are unable to walk or use their arms get about easily too.
Prosthetic and robotic limbs are already a reality, and are proving invaluable, but to have a whole robotic body would provide a whole new level of freedom for many around the world.
- The most incredibly futuristic weapons and modern fighting vehicles you’ll see
Recycling and re-engineering
The constant churn of new technology means landfills are often full of old and obsolete tech. One thing the human race will have to do in the future is to learn new ways to recycle, reuse and re-engineer old technology to minimise waste and save the world.
People are already coming up with a variety of interesting ways to recycle old tech, including turning disused plastic into material for paving roads and pavements.
As the population of Earth continues to grow, living space also shrinks, not only for human beings but for the animals and plants we rely on too.
It’s reasonable to see a future where tech will need to be developed to allow for farmland in unusual places. This concept of high-rise farms in the middle of a city isn’t totally out of this world.
Cows on tower blocks might seem a bit bonkers, but lab-grown meat is a real thing that’s already being worked on. If scientists can develop a cost-effective way to grow edible meat in the lab it would change the way we live and eat forever.
This change not only cuts down the ecological damage meat farming does to the world, but also makes for an ethical alternative to meat eating that many people could enjoy.
Researchers at the University of Tokyo have been able to create cultured meat that is similar to real muscle and thereby has a more realistic structure. This means that scientists may be able to create steak-like meats rather than mince. Meaning lab-grown meat could be more convincing and people might be more likely to eat it.
AI is all around us. It’s in machines, robots and even our smartphones.
Voice assistants such as Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant prove how far AI has already come, but it could eventually find its way into things like robot servants. Let’s just hope they don’t take over the world!
Robots are a running theme for the future tech in our list, but Boston Dynamics is constantly working on machines aimed at supporting or taking an active role in the military.
It’s perfectly reasonable to imagine a future where robots are sent to fight our battles, in the place of men and women. These expendable machines are more likely to get the job done without fear, injury or problems with PTSD or follow up care if they get hurt.
Nanobots that check your health
Other robotic technology is being employed to monitor and care for our health. Tiny microscopic Nanobots could theoretically be deployed to scan and monitor our insides to hunt out health problems.
They might also be used to repair damaged organs or carry out intricate and delicate surgery procedures and remove the need for invasive traditional surgery. This could mean less time in hospital, less recovery time and fewer scars too.
3D printed metal
3D printing has come on a fair bit in the last few years. Just recently, advancements in the technology have seen researchers producing 3D printed parts from metal and stainless steel. Some of these techniques are even producing parts that are stronger and more robust than traditionally made parts.
As if that wasn’t enough, in 2017 one company even started creating 3D metal printers for under $100,000. While another company produced larger 3D printers capable of producing materials at 100 times the speed of old-school methods. The future is all 3D printing it seems.
Cloud gaming without machines
Streaming films and music is perfectly normal nowadays. It won’t be long before we’re doing the same with games too. Imagine paying for service where you no longer need to own a console or computer but can play high-end, modern games on your TV by streaming from the cloud.
Faster broadband, better gaming technology and more reliable infrastructure could soon make this a reality.
Li-Fi has been experimented with for the last few years and has some interesting potential for uber-fast data transfer speeds. Li-Fi uses light to transmit data rather than Wi-Fi’s radio waves. This technology is theoretically capable of transmitting data at much higher speeds and is also less prone to interference.
Because the visible light spectrum is around 10,000 times larger than the radio spectrum, there’s a lot more potential for bandwidth. It’s also thought that if Li-Fi does manage to take off it will be considerably cheaper than Wi-Fi.
In a world where we’re currently socially distancing and wearing masks in public, it’s not too much of a stretch to say we’ll one day all being doing this with tech-rich breathing apparatus.
Air Ring has already developed an air-purifying mask capable of cleaning the air and removing viruses and pathogens from the air the wearer breathes.
In the future, that sort of tech is likely to be far more common.
Future technology: 22 ideas about to change our world
The future always feels like it’s running late. Human imagination works harder than human enterprise, but at any given moment, scientists and engineers are redesigning future technology and the world around us in big and small ways. We don’t realise it because we’ve lived through it, but the rate of progress over the last half century has been abnormal – staggering in fields as broad as computing, medicine, communications and materials science.
Still, nobody has a personal jetpack that runs on perpetual energy, so the work must continue. We’ve put our futurologist’s far-seeing goggles on and put together a list of some of the most exciting future technology that will change our world. From bionic human beings to technology that could fix the climate crisis, these are some of the biggest of big ideas.
Lab-made dairy products
You’ve heard of cultured “meat” and Wagyu steaks grown cell by cell in a laboratory, but what about other animal-based foodstuffs? A growing number of biotech companies around the world are investigating lab-made dairy, including milk, ice-cream, cheese and eggs. And more than one think they’ve cracked it.
The dairy industry is not environmentally friendly, not even close. It’s responsible for 4 per cent of the world’s carbon emissions, more than air travel and shipping combined, and demand is growing for a greener splash to pour into our tea cups and cereal bowls.
Compared with meat, milk isn’t actually that difficult to create in a lab. Rather than grow it from stem cells, most researchers attempt to produce it in a process of fermentation, looking to produce the milk proteins whey and casein. Some products are already at market in the US, from companies such as Perfect Day, with ongoing work focused on reproducing the mouthfeel and nutritional benefits of regular cow’s milk.
Beyond that, researchers are working on lab-produced mozzarella that melts perfectly on top of a pizza, as well other cheeses and ice-cream.
Digital “twins” that track your health
In Star Trek, where many of our ideas of future technology germinated, human beings can walk into the medbay and have their entire body digitally scanned for signs of illness and injury. Doing that in real life would, say the makers of Q Bio, improve health outcomes and alleviate the load on doctors at the same time.
The US company has built a scanner that will measure hundreds of biomarkers in around an hour, from hormone levels to the fat building up in your liver to the markers of inflammation or any number of cancers. It intends to use this data to produce a 3D digital avatar of a patient’s body – known as a digital twin – that can be tracked over time and updated with each new scan.
Q Bio CEO Jeff Kaditz hopes it will lead to a new era of preventative, personalised medicine in which the vast amounts of data collected not only help doctors prioritise which patients need to be seen most urgently, but also to develop more sophisticated ways of diagnosing illness.
Sustainable living is becoming a priority for individuals squaring up to the realities of the climate crisis, but what about eco-friendly dying? Death tends to be a carbon-heavy process, one last stamp of our ecological footprint. The average cremation reportedly releases 400kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, for example. So what’s a greener way to go?
In Washington State in the US, you could be composted instead. Bodies are laid in chambers with bark, soil, straw and other compounds that promote natural decomposition. Within 30 days, your body is reduced to soil that can be returned to a garden or woodland. Recompose, the company behind the process, claims it uses an eighth of the carbon dioxide of a cremation.
An alternative technology uses fungi. In 2019, the late actor Luke Perry was buried in a bespoke “mushroom suit” designed by a start-up called Coeio. The company claims its suit, made with mushrooms and other microorganisms that aid decomposition and neutralise toxins that are realised when a body usually decays.
Most alternative ways of disposing of our bodies after death are not based on new technology; they’re just waiting for societal acceptance to catch up. Another example is alkaline hydrolysis, which involves breaking the body down into its chemical components over a six-hour process in a pressurised chamber. It’s legal in a number of US states and uses fewer emissions compared with more traditional methods.
Bionic eyes have been a mainstay of science fiction for decades, but now real-world research is beginning to catch up with far-sighted storytellers. A raft of technologies is coming to market that restore sight to people with different kinds of vision impairment.
In January 2021, Israeli surgeons implanted the world’s first artificial cornea into a bilaterally blind, 78-year-old man. When his bandages were removed, the patient could read and recognise family members immediately. The implant also fuses naturally to human tissue without the recipient’s body rejecting it.
Likewise in 2020, Belgian scientists developed an artificial iris fitted to smart contact lenses that correct a number of vision disorders. And scientists are even working on wireless brain implants that bypass the eyes altogether.
Researchers at Montash University in Australia are working on trials for a system whereby users wear a pair of glasses fitted with a camera. This sends data directly to the implant, which sits on the surface of the brain and gives the user a rudimentary sense of sight.
Airports for drones and flying taxis
Our congested cities are in desperate need of a breather and relief may come from the air as opposed to the roads. Plans for a different kind of transport hub – one for delivery drones and electric air-taxis – are becoming a reality, with the first Urban Air Port receiving funding from the UK government.
It’s being built in Coventry. The hub will be a pilot scheme and hopefully a proof of concept for the company behind it. Powered completely off-grid by a hydrogen generator, the idea is to remove the need for as many delivery vans and personal cars on our roads, replacing them with a clean alternative in the form of a new type of small aircraft, with designs being developed by Huyundai and Airbus, amongst others.
Infrastructure is going to be important. Organisations like the Civil Aviation Authority are looking into the establishment of air corridors that might link a city centre with a local airport or distribution centre.
Smart sutures that detect infections
How does a doctor know when a patient’s wound is infected? Well, they could wait for the patient to start displaying signs of an infection, or they could talk to a high school student from Ohio who has developed an ingenious and lifesaving invention.
At the age of 17, Dasia Taylor invented sutures that change colour from bright red to dark purple when a wound becomes infected, detecting a change in the skin’s pH level. When a wound from an injury or surgery becomes infected, its pH rises from 5 to 9. Taylor found that beetroot juice naturally changes colour at a pH of 9, and used that as a dye for suture material.
While other solutions are available – smart sutures coated with a conductive material can sense the status of a wound by changes in electrical resistance and send a message to a smartphone – these are less helpful in developing countries where smartphone use is not widespread.
Energy storing bricks
Scientists have found a way to store energy in the red bricks that are used to build houses.
Researchers led by Washington University in St Louis, in Missouri, US, have developed a method that can turn the cheap and widely available building material into “smart bricks” that can store energy like a battery.
Although the research is still in the proof-of-concept stage, the scientists claim that walls made of these bricks “could store a substantial amount of energy” and can “be recharged hundreds of thousands of times within an hour”.
The researchers developed a method to convert red bricks into a type of energy storage device called a supercapacitor.
This involved putting a conducting coating, known as Pedot, onto brick samples, which then seeped through the fired bricks’ porous structure, converting them into “energy storing electrodes”.
Iron oxide, which is the red pigment in the bricks, helped with the process, the researchers said.
Sweat powered smartwatches
Engineers at the University of Glasgow have developed a new type of flexible supercapacitor, which stores energy, replacing the electrolytes found in conventional batteries with sweat.
It can be fully charged with as little as 20 microlitres of fluid and is robust enough to survive 4,000 cycles of the types of flexes and bends it might encounter in use.
The device works by coating polyester cellulose cloth in a thin layer of a polymer, which acts as the supercapacitor’s electrode.
As the cloth absorbs its wearer’s sweat, the positive and negative ions in the sweat interact with the polymer’s surface, creating an electrochemical reaction which generates energy.
“Conventional batteries are cheaper and more plentiful than ever before but they are often built using unsustainable materials which are harmful to the environment,” says Professor Ravinder Dahiya, head of the Bendable Electronics and Sensing Technologies (Best) group, based at the University of Glasgow’s James Watt School of Engineering.
“That makes them challenging to dispose of safely and potentially harmful in wearable devices, where a broken battery could spill toxic fluids on to skin.
“What we’ve been able to do for the first time is show that human sweat provides a real opportunity to do away with those toxic materials entirely, with excellent charging and discharging performance.
Scientists have developed what they call living concrete by using sand, gel and bacteria.
Researchers said this building material has structural load-bearing function, is capable of self-healing and is more environmentally friendly than concrete – which is the second most-consumed material on Earth after water.
The team from the University of Colorado Boulder believe their work paves the way for future building structures that could “heal their own cracks, suck up dangerous toxins from the air or even glow on command”.
Tiny hybrid robots made using stem cells from frog embryos could one day be used to swim around human bodies to specific areas requiring medicine, or to gather microplastic in the oceans.
“These are novel living machines,” said Joshua Bongard, a computer scientist and robotics expert at the University of Vermont, who co-developed the millimetre-wide bots, known as xenobots.
“They’re neither a traditional robot nor a known species of animal. It’s a new class of artefact: a living, programmable organism.”
Tactile virtual reality
Researchers from Northwestern University have developed a prototype device which aims to put touch within VR’s reach, using a flexible material fitted with tiny vibrating components that can be attached to skin.
The system, known as epidermal VR, could be useful in other cases as well, from a child touching a display relaying the gesture to a family member located elsewhere, to helping people with amputations renew their sense of touch.
In gaming, it could alert players when a strike occurs on the corresponding body part of the game character.
The team’s design features 32 vibrating actuators on a thin 15cm by 15cm silicone polymer which sticks on to the skin without tape or straps and is free of large batteries and wires.
It uses near-field communication (NFC) technology – which is used in many smartphones for mobile payment today – to transfer the data.
“The result is a thin, lightweight system that can be worn and used without constraint indefinitely,” says Professor John A Rogers, who worked on the project.
Scientists hope that the technology could eventually find its way into clothing, allowing people with prosthetics to wear VR shirts that communicate touch through their fingertips.
Internet for everyone
We can’t seem to live without the internet (how else would you read sciencefocus.com?), but still only around half the world’s population is connected. There are many reasons for this, including economic and social reasons, but for some the internet just isn’t accessible because they have no connection.
Google is slowly trying to solve the problem using helium balloons to beam the internet to inaccessible areas, while Facebook has abandoned plans to do the same using drones, which means companies like Hiber are stealing a march. They have taken a different approach by launching their own network of shoebox-sized microsatellites into low Earth orbit, which wake up a modem plugged into your computer or device when it flies over and delivers your data.
Their satellites orbit the Earth 16 times a day and are already being used by organisations like The British Antarctic Survey to provide internet access to very extreme of our planet.
Heart monitoring T-shirt
Wearable sports bands that measure your heart rate are nothing new, but as numerous studies have shown, the accuracy can vary wildly (especially if you rely on them to count calories). In general, that’s fine if you just want an idea of how hard you’re working out, but for professionals, accuracy is everything.
Using a single lead ECG printed into the fabric, this new t-shirt from smart materials company KYMIRA will accurately measure heart beats and upload them to the cloud via Bluetooth. Once there, algorithms process the data to accurately detect irregular heartbeats such as arrhythmia heart beats, which could prove life saving.
And it’s not just athletes who could benefit. “The possibilities this product offers both sportspeople and the general public is astonishing,” says Tim Brownstone, CEO and founder of KYMIRA. “We envisage developing this product to be used for clinical applications to allow those who may already suffer with heart conditions enough warning of a heart attack.”
London’s coffee industry creates over 200,000 tonnes of waste every year, so what do we do with it? Entrepreneur Arthur Kay’s big idea is to use his company, bio-bean, to turn 85 per cent of coffee waste into biofuels for heating buildings and powering transport. Already the world’s largest recycler of coffee waste, the company collects coffee grounds from large chains and restaurants as well as smaller coffee shops, and transports them to its processing plant in Cambridgeshire.
There, the grounds are dried and processed before being used to create products such as pellets or logs for biofuel, bio plastics or flavourings.
Drown forest fires in sound
Forest fires could one day be dealt with by drones that would direct loud noises at the trees below. Since sound is made up of pressure waves, it can be used to disrupt the air surrounding a fire, essentially cutting off the supply of oxygen to the fuel. At the right frequency, the fire simply dies out, as researchers at George Mason University in Virginia recently demonstrated with their sonic extinguisher. Apparently, bass frequencies work best.
The AI scientist
Cut off a flatworm’s head, and it’ll grow a new one. Cut it in half, and you’ll have two new worms. Fire some radiation at it, and it’ll repair itself. Scientists have wanted to work out the mechanisms involved for some time, but the secret has eluded them. Enter an AI coded at Tufts University, Massachusetts. By analysing and simulating countless scenarios, the computer was able to solve the mystery of the flatworm’s regeneration in just 42 hours. In the end it produced a comprehensive model of how the flatworm’s genes allow it to regenerate.
Although humans still need to feed the AI with information, the machine in this experiment was able to create a new, abstract theory independently – a huge step towards the development of a conscious computer, and potentially a landmark step in the way we carry out research.
Car batteries that charge in 10 minutes
Fast-charging of electric vehicles is seen as key to their take-up, so motorists can stop at a service station and fully charge their car in the time it takes to get a coffee and use the toilet – taking no longer than a conventional break.
But rapid charging of lithium-ion batteries can degrade the batteries, researchers at Penn State University in the US say. This is because the flow of lithium particles known as ions from one electrode to another to charge the unit and hold the energy ready for use does not happen smoothly with rapid charging at lower temperatures.
However, they have now found that if the batteries could heat to 60°C for just 10 minutes and then rapidly cool again to ambient temperatures, lithium spikes would not form and heat damage would be avoided.
The battery design they have come up with is self-heating, using a thin nickel foil which creates an electrical circuit that heats in less than 30 seconds to warm the inside of the battery. The rapid cooling that would be needed after the battery is charged would be done using the cooling system designed into the car.
Their study, published in the journal Joule, showed they could fully charge an electrical vehicle in 10 minutes.
We’ve almost got used to the idea of driverless cars before we’ve even seen one on the roads. The truth is, you might well see a lot more driverless trucks – after all, logistics make the world go round. They’ll be cheaper to run than regular rigs, driving more smoothly and so using less fuel. Computers never get tired or need comfort breaks, so they’ll run longer routes. And they could drive in convoys, nose-to-tail, to minimise wind resistance.
Companies like Mercedes and Peloton are already exploring these possibilities, and if the promised gains materialise, freight companies could upgrade entire fleets overnight. On the downside, it could put drivers instantly out of work, and even staff at the truck stops set up to service them, but many companies have said the trucks will still need a human passenger to ensure their cargo is safe.
Artificial neurons on silicon chips
Scientists have found a way to attach artificial neurons onto silicon chips, mimicking the neurons in our nervous system and copying their electrical properties.
“Until now neurons have been like black boxes, but we have managed to open the black box and peer inside,” said Professor Alain Nogaret, from the University of Bath, who led the project.
“Our work is paradigm-changing because it provides a robust method to reproduce the electrical properties of real neurons in minute detail.
“But it’s wider than that, because our neurons only need 140 nanowatts of power. That’s a billionth the power requirement of a microprocessor, which other attempts to make synthetic neurons have used.
Researchers hope their work could be used in medical implants to treat conditions such as heart failure and Alzheimer’s as it requires so little power.
The UN predicts there will be two billion more people in the world by 2050, creating a demand for 70 per cent more food. By that time, 80 per cent of us will be living in cities, and most food we eat in urban areas is brought in. So farms moored on the sea or inland lakes close to cities would certainly reduce food miles.
But how would they work? A design by architect Javier Ponce of Forward Thinking Architecture shows a 24m-tall, three-tiered structure with solar panels on top to provide energy. The middle tier grows a variety of veg over an area of 51,000m2, using not soil but nutrients in liquid. These nutrients and plant matter would drop into the bottom layer to feed fish, which are farmed in an enclosed space.
A single Smart Floating Farm measuring 350 x 200m would produce an estimated 8.1 tonnes of vegetables and 1.7 tonnes of fish a year. The units are designed to bolt together, which is handy since we’ll need a lot of them: Dubai, for instance, imports 11,000 tonnes of fruit and veg every day.
Russian scientist Sergey Zimov hopes to recreate a 12,000-year-old environment in a wildlife park for herbivores like wild horse and bison, with extinct megafauna like mammoths replaced by modern hybrids. Zimov will study the impact of the animals on environment and climate.
There are two things the majority of people in the Western world own: a refrigerator and a mobile phone. And aerogels could revolutionise the manufacture of both.
An aerogel is a material that’s full of tiny holes. Made by extracting all the liquid from a gel, it can be up to 95 per cent pores. Those pores are so small – between 20 and 50 nanometres – that gas molecules can’t squeeze through them. As a result, aerogels can’t transport heat, making for a material with incredible insulating properties.
The unusual electrical properties of aerogels also make them suitable as lightweight antennae for mobile phones, satellites and aircraft.
5 ways technology will shape the future
Engaging with democracy
“With the advancing of digital innovation, we can expect democratic activities and policymaking decisions to become more transparent,” said Shri.
“The use of technology has already seen companies and governments become more accountable.
“We saw this during the recent 2020 Black Lives Matter movement. Big brand companies were held accountable for inactivity or insensitivity during the height of the movement by their online social following, resulting in many adjusting their behaviour accordingly.
In addition to facilitating public activism, digital innovation will hopefully see the percentage of the population with access to digital platforms increase.
“Computer Scientists are working on more effective tools to connect communities.”
“Einstein had indicated that the world would not be destroyed by evil people, but by those who choose to ignore the evil. Digital technology can provide the means by which public activism and discourse may result in better accountability by individuals, groups, institutions and governments.”
Fighting disinformation with Artificial Intelligence
Many of us will already be familiar with the uses of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in our daily lives, such as when using Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant.
However, the innovation of AI will develop much beyond having your name finally pronounced correctly when asking your smartphone a question.
“The use of AI will be integral in the fight against disinformation and Deepfakes [a form of AI called deep learning, used to create fake events and false information] infiltrating the internet.
“The development of such advanced technologies is resulting in a global AI ‘arms race’ between those trying to prevent misinformation, and those spreading it.”
Embracing the information economy
“Thanks to technology, the world is shifting into what is known as the information economy,” said Shri.
“Unlike the traditional economy based upon manual labour; as the name suggests, the information economy focuses on the exchange of information.
“Information is the product, as well as the digital currency. We know that the money we have is also viewed as numbers on a computer screen and is stored as bit and bytes in some banks database.”
“This has seen profits shift to be based upon the speed of innovation and the ability to retain the consumer by analysing consumer behaviour and needs.”
In order to stay current, companies of all sizes are having to focus on the importance of digital innovation to thrive.
Look at Netflix for example – their original business model was based on renting DVDs by mail. After delivering their billionth DVD in 2007, they began moving their core business model to online streaming.
Netflix innovated with the times, grew their consumer base, and now reap the benefits every time we binge on our favourite series.
“We may even expect that the future power and impact of a country’s economy to be dependent on the power of the country’s computational ability.”
Enabling flexibility and collaboration in the workplace
From the informal coffee chat, to Microsoft Teams; the nature of sharing networks has already shifted – but that’s not where it will stop.
“Organisations are no longer limited by the structure of a singular network for informal and formal information sharing. Digital innovation has brought about the use of many, each with their own specified purpose.
“We have also begun the shift to multi-actor involvement, telepresence and increasingly unplanned change – a direct result of widespread digital innovation.”
This will only grow more collaborative and efficient, placing more demand for employees with deep problem-solving skills.
Building trust with a digital society
With an evident dependence on technology, the hum of distrust remains over concerns for our data, information and identities.
We would like our privacy to be maintained, news and information to be reliable and accurate with data and information provenance. Computer scientists are also working on techniques that enable safe and secure digital communities.
Digital innovation is disrupting industries in many remarkable ways and the pace of disruption is on the increase. The challenge is for technology companies and the systems governing them to build enough trust with communities, so the rate of progress does not significantly outrun the rate and willingness of adoption.