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From movie to reality: Bring out the gadgets

'Watching sci-fi is a must for any innovations and science writer ' I told myself today when my research for the book required to grab a bowl of popcorn, pour a glass of white wine and get comfy in front of the tele to watch I, Robot. I had seen the movie several times before but this time I was taking notes.

Released in 2004, I, Robot is a movie packed with technology and gadgets which were fiction then, but today, a mere eight years later, there is a whole host of these fictional items that have turned into reality. Let’s have a look at them, shall we?

Service Robots

Movie: Set in Chicago in 2035, the first few scenes give an overview of what life looks like in 2035. Robots deliver FedEx parcels, walk dogs or collect the shopping. They are part of people’s daily lives. 

Reality: Today, researchers all over the world are working eagerly on developing robots that can help us with our daily chores. This year a range of successful robots have been deployed as so-called service robots. Toyota, for example, unveiled a new single-arm robot to assist homebound residents with limited mobility. Then there is RoboCourier - an autonomous mobile carrier that could carry and transport small weights – up to 50 pounds. It was designed specifically for use in laboratories within hospitals. It activates automatic doors, navigates hallways and knows how to avoid obstacles.

Robots - a new living species

Movie: I, Robot touches on a subject we all (one way or another) have been thinking of: Will robots one day take over our world? Are we heading towards a world in which humans and robots live together?

Reality: Professor Rosalind Picard at the MIT has developed a software that enables computers to distinguish a real smile from a fake smile. That’s right, she is helping machines read emotions.

In February of 2012 the first Global Future 2045 Congress was held in Moscow. There, over 50 world leading scientists from multiple disciplines met to develop a strategy for the future development of humankind. One of the main goals of the Congress was to construct a global network of scientists to further research on the development of cybernetic technology, with the ultimate goal of transferring a human’s individual consciousness to an artificial carrier.

Self-driving car

Movie: Will Smith’s character, Detective Spooner, is leaning back in his seat behind the wheel of his Audi. He is flipping through pages in a folder, checks the windscreen which displays the car’s driving speed of 125mph, and then gets back to reading the document. All the while the car drives itself.

Reality: In September 2012  the California Senate unanimously passed a bill to allow Google’s self-driving car on the roads of the Golden State.

Cashless, wireless payments

Movie:  We see Spooner paying for his bar tap by tapping a scanner with a foblike device. 

Reality: Signing credit card receipts is a thing of the past and even pin number verification is on the decline. Integrated NFC technology in phones and credit cards means we will increasingly be paying for things with just a tap. However, credit cards and phones can be stolen. Researchers are looking into a payment method that is unique to every single person and cannot be cloned or easily stolen: The human hand. Biometrics will make it possible to pay for items with a scan of our palms. 

Augmented Reality Glasses

Movie: In another scene Spooner is seen racing on his motorbike. He is wearing sunglasses. We can see what Spooner can see through his lenses:  an integrated digital display that not only shows him the speed he is driving at and a compass but also scans the road for obstacles. 

Reality: In 2012 Google revealed its virtual reality glasses which they called Project Glass. Research and development continues to produce Project Glass products that will display information in smartphone-like format hands-free and could interact with the Internet via natural language voice commands.

There is a sequel planned for 2015 and I can’t wait to see what new gadgets and technologies will be used in I, Robot 2.

Tags Audi FedEx I Robot Robotics Virtual reality Will Smith future science technology tech MIT robotics robots futurejam

Introducing your first generation avatar

Not too long ago we would write a message on a piece of paper, place it in an envelope, put a stamp on it and then take it to the post box down the road. It would take at least a day to be delivered to its recipient. Today, it takes seconds. Email, SMS, and services such as Skype have taken over as communication tools, but there is a new kid on the communications block and he is making some noise. 

Services such as Skype and other telepresence (video call) providers have meant that face-to-face meetings are now possible without travel. Maintaining long-distance relationships has become easier and cheaper for businesses. Decision-making has been accelerated, productivity has risen and businesses have become greener by sending less employees on the road. Telepresence has impacted the world of communication and now its next generation is set to revolutionise our social and commercial environments yet again with the introduction of Robotic Telepresence

What is it? It’s video calling on wheels; the caller is in the driver’s seat and is navigating the device remotely. A gimmick? Oh no! Why? They can do what traditional telepresence units can’t; they humanise the nature of video by the added mobility they offer. The popularity of these telerobots is rising quickly. There are already a number devices on the market which have been tested outside of the meeting room. You might see them roaming through the space at galleries, zooming through hospital corridors making the rounds, sitting in class attending a lecture or in bars having an evening out with mates. 

Not quite as sophisticated as James Cameron’s Avatars but, hey, they’re a start in the right direction. 

View some recent news on telepresence and robotic telepresence here. 

Tags editor's corner telepresence telerobotics Telerobot science tech technology avatar future futurejam

The sweet taste of tomatoes and where it comes from

Why do supermarket tomatoes tend to taste so bland? The more fruit an individual tomato plant produces the less sugar it can invest in each tomato. The shortcomings of supermarket tomatoes arise because farmers have bred the plants to produce as much fruit as possible. 

Now, scientists say understanding the genes involved in better flavor could enable growers to offer tastier supermarket varieties.

Harry Klee of the University of Florida found that the sugar content did not entirely play a role in a taste test. Chemicals known as volatile compounds, which drift into our nostrils once a fruit has been sliced or bitten, also contributed to flavour. He found that a less prevalent volatile compound called the geranial made a huge difference. 

By breeding genetically or genetically modifying tomatoes to contain lots of the volatile compounds taste testers prefer, scientist could produce super sweet and flavourful varieties without increasing the sugar content. 

Tags science science and health tomatoes University of Florida Harry Klee FutureJam

 Source scientificamerican.com

Is it possible to predict the future?

Question to all futurists:  

How accurately can we predict the future? Is it even possible to give a viable image of the future? What are the predictions we receive today based on?

Thoughts anyone???

Tags Futurists futurologist futurejam alexob

Sustainable Fashion: Gucci’s got sole

Gucci has hopped on board the green side of life by launching "Sustainable Soles", a special edition of eco-friendly shoes for men and women designed by the brand’s creative director Frida Giannini.

"Sustainable Soles" line of footwear made with biodegradable plastic. The collection will include two styles: a sneaker for men and a ballet flat for women.

The “California Green” men’s sneaker, available in both low- and high-top versions, includes bio-rubber soles, vegetable-tanned calfskin uppers, bio-shoelaces, and tongues with the Gucci logo printed in green on recycled polyester labels.

Gucci’s latest green line follows the house’s mission to interpret in a responsible way the modern consumer’s desire for sustainable fashion products. 

See other examples of sustainable fashion brands here

Tags Frida Giannini Gucci Sustainable Sole sustainable fashion ethical fashion fashion Vogue futurejam

 Source ecouterre.com

The cashless future: In-store payments with PayPal

PayPal has announced that its In-Store mobile payment service will be accepted at four major UK retailers – Coast, Oasis, Warehouse and Karen Millen.

The InStore app is available for Android and iOS devices but, unlike rival services, PayPal mobile payments do not rely on Internet or mobile connections and can run entirely offline.

The introduction from PayPal is one of a number of mobile payment technologies to have been launched and extended in the UK, many of which are being fast-tracked in time for the 2012 Olympics Games, which London is hosting

Tags PayPal in-store cashless payments PayPal payment app future futurejam

 Source thenextweb.com

Innovation: Baby in a fish bowl

The multi-purpose, designer baby crib has arrived: the Bubble Bed. Inspired by the traditional russian tumbler-toy "Nevalyashka",  this innovative design lets you watch your baby’s move from the comfort of your bed. Whenever the baby moves, it will simply begin to swing slowly to get the little one back to sleep.

The bed can be tilted to 17˚ and is stabilised by layers of Plexiglass in the base which act as a weight centre and it doubles up as a portable bath tub. It is self-cleansing and anti-odour using a special liquid polymer containing nano-titanium dioxide coating, which when exposed to sunlight, begins to ionise and degrade dirt.

The designer and mother of two, Lana Agiyan, also thought carefully about the mattress. It is pure wool and is stuffed with Buckwheat husks which is a natural material that is antibacterial and anti fungal. 


Tags Alex O'Brien Nevalyashka bubble bed futurejam innovation lana agiyan nano titanium dioxide plexiglass product design creativity

 Source lana-agiyan.com

BBC on Facebook

The BBC has a cool set of Facebook pages that explore the natural history content; view clips from documentaries, catch interviews, and find out information from experts. 

If you’re interested in checking out more of the awesome BBC environmental content, then here are the links:

Planet Earth

Planet Earth Live

Frozen Planet

and like them!

Tags Planet Earth BBC BBC Frozen Planet Planet Earth Live science Science and Environment Natural History futurejam Alex O'Brien

Asteroid mining - A billionaire’s playground?

A group of billionaires are using their billions to push new frontiers in space. Their goal is to exploit raw materials from asteroids and other minor planets, including near-Earth objects.

Is this this just a new playground in space for the super rich?  What are the benefits for humankind? 

Based on known terrestrial reserves and growing consumption in developing countries, there is speculation that key elements needed for modern industry (including antimony, zinc, tin, silver, lead, indium, gold, and copper) could be exhausted on Earth within 50-60 years.

In fact, all the materials mined from the Earth’s crust (e.g. gold, nickel platinum and iron) that are essential for economic and technological progress, came originally from the rain of asteroids that hit the Earth after the crust cooled.

In an article in the Independent Chris Lewicki, Planetary Resources’ president and chief engineer, explained briefly how using machines that they call the Arkyd series, mining asteroids can be achieved in three easy steps:

Step 1: Exploring. Using the Arkyd 100 telescope to seek out asteroids that are within a negotiable distance, the company can more accurately target specific groups of accessible asteroids.

Step 2: Prospecting. Robots will seek out the best asteroids in these groups for mining, assessing their viability and their content.

Step 3: Extraction. The gathering of the materials and their transportation back to earth, to be exploited for profit.

The goal? To mine precious and valuable minerals like platinum-group metals, for an exceedingly massive profit? In a word, yes. The company intends to make a very large profit (a quick calculation suggests that 80m2 is worth around $100 million). Their method is simple; decreasing the cost of space travel, by “using a small team, working rapidly with an assembly line approach to space travel” to make to most profitable (and only) asteroid mining company in (and off) the world. But that’s not all.

The second goal is water. Water on asteroids means that space travel for humans, not just machines, is more possible than ever. Water is incredibly expensive to move into space, and so having it available can reduce the costs of space travel, allowing vital funds to be diverted elsewhere. 

The third, and perhaps most important goal, is their asteroids’ continual use. Once mined, they can provide docking stations, robotic cities, or what Lewicki called “a network of gas stations in space”, to aid and facilitate long range space travel in the future, allowing human astronauts to explore planets like Mars for a fraction of the cost of a single return journey.

An new article in Wired asks questions on the legality of it all. Can a private company claim ownership of an asteroid based on sending a probe out to it? Can it at least get exclusive mining rights? Would it own the gold, platinum or other materials mined from the asteroid? 

Billionaire’s playground or not - one thing is for sure these people are making the future happen. 


Illustration credit: Bryan Versteeg

Tags asteroid mining planetary resources space space travel future science Science and Technology alien futurejam

 Source planetaryresources.com

Hubble’s best. (From top to bottom, left to right)

This image of a pair of interacting galaxies called Arp 273 was released to celebrate the 21st anniversary of the launch of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope. The distorted shape of the larger of the two galaxies shows signs of tidal interactions with the smaller of the two. It is thought that the smaller galaxy has actually passed through the larger one.

The tempestuous stellar nursery called the Carina Nebula, located 7,500 light-years away from Earth in the southern constellation Carina. 

The staggering aftermath of an encounter between two galaxies, resulting in a ring-shaped galaxy and a long-tailed companion. The collision between the two parent galaxies produced a shockwave effect that first drew matter into the center and then caused it to propagate outwards in a ring.

An image of a small region within a hotbed of star formation M17, also known as the Omega or Swan Nebula, located about 5,500 light-years from Earth in the constellation Sagittarius. 

An image of the Eagle Nebula reveals a tall, dense tower of gas being sculpted by ultraviolet light from a group of massive, hot stars. 

Star V838 Monocerotis’s (V838 Mon) light echo, which is about six light years in diameter. 


Credit: REUTERS/NASA

Tags stars nebula NASA reuters Astronomy space Hubble hubble space telescope futurejam

 Source reuters.com

Want to get smarter? Exercise!

Evidence of the beneficial relationship between brainpower and exercise has been gathered for over a decade and now the latest neuroscience suggests: Exercise makes you smarter. 

Why would exercise build brainpower in ways that thinking might not? Your brain is a tissue and so like any other tissue, abuse, lack of use, and especially age causes its performance to decline. Sometime in our late twenties the hippocampus, the portion of our brains devoted to learning and memory, loses about a percent per year in total volume. So it’s no surprise that as we get older we naturally lose some of our memory and learning capacity.

But what is surprising is that, just like with your muscles, exercise can slow or even reverse the physical decay of your brain.

Contrary to previous science statements of once you lose braincells you can’t get them back, new brain cells can in fact be created—and exercise helps trigger that process. By exercising you not only build muscle. You build a bigger brain.

Read the article written by Gretchen Reynolds at the New York Times here

Tags brain brain research neuroscience fitness brain power futurejam Alex O'Brien

 Source The New York Times