Top Ten Emerging Technology Developments 2014 [Ventures Africa]
(Ventures Africa Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) VENTURES AFRICA – It seems that very soon we may have the opportunity to experience just what it must be like to be in movies like Mission Impossible, War Games, Firewall, Electric Dreams, The Matrix and Pirates of Silicon Valley – to name a few.
Going down memory, and it's a short journey cause I'm still young, I remember the Sunday showing in South Africa called – "Beyond 2000". It was cars, robots, thin Television screens, watches that you could talk to and cars that really looked like they were made for a scifi-movie.
Till this day we remain glued to movies that depict technological developments around cures, genetic developments and microbiomes that can save the world.
Wait no more – here are the top ten emerging technological developments for 2014.
Human Microbiome Therapeutics
The human body is perhaps more properly described as an ecosystem than as a single organism: microbial cells typically outnumber human cells by 10 to one. This human microbiome has been the subject of intensifying research in the past few years.
Research found that more than 10,000 microbial species occupy the human ecosystem, comprising trillions of cells and making up 1%-3% of the body's mass.
Attention is being focused on the gut microbiome and its role in diseases ranging from infections to obesity, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. It is increasingly understood that antibiotic treatments that destroy gut flora can result in complications such as Clostridium difficile infections, which can in rare cases lead to life-threatening complications.
On the other hand, a new generation of therapeutics comprising a subset of microbes found in healthy gut are under clinical development with a view to improving medical treatments.
Body-adapted Wearable Electronics
From Google Glass to the Fitbit wristband, wearable technology has generated significant attention over the past year. Most of existing devices are helping people to better understand their personal health and fitness by monitoring exercise, heart rate, sleep patterns, and so on.
A new generation of wearables is designed to adapt to the human body's shape at the place of deployment.
These virtually invisible devices include earbuds that monitor heart rate, sensors worn under clothes to track posture, a temporary tattoo that tracks health vitals and haptic shoe soles that communicate GPS directions through vibration alerts felt by the feet.
Today haptic shoes are currently proposed for helping blind people navigate, while Google Glass has already been worn by oncologists to assist in surgery via medical records and other visual information accessed by voice commands.
This field saw rapid progress in 2013 and appears set for imminent breakthroughs of scalable deployment.
The lack of space on screen-based displays provides a clear opportunity for screenless displays to fill the gap. In 2013, MIT's Media Lab reported a prototype inexpensive holographic colour video display with the resolution of a standard TV.
Screenless display may also be achieved by projecting images directly onto a person's retina, avoiding the need for weighty hardware, but also safeguard privacy. By January 2014, one start-up company had already raised a substantial sum via Kickstarter – aiming to commercialize a personal gaming and cinema device using retinal display.
RNA is an essential molecule in cellular biology, translating genetic instructions encoded in DNA into the production of the proteins that enable cells to function. RNA based therapeutics have long been thought to hold potential to treat problems where conventional drug-based treatments cannot offer much help.
Over the past year, there has been a resurgence of interest in RNA-based treatments approved as human therapeutics as of 2014. These drugs can treat genetic disorders, cancer and infectious disease and developed based on the mechanism of RNA interference, which is used to silence the expression of defective or overexpressed genes.
Quantified Self (Predictive Analytics )
Smartphones contain a rich record of people's activities, including who they know (contact lists, social networking apps), who they talk to (call logs, text logs, e-mails), where they go (GPS, Wi-Fi, and geotagged photos) and what they do (apps we use, accelerometer data).
For example, a team at Carnegie Mellon University has been looking at how to use smartphone data to predict the onset of depression by modelling changes in sleep behaviours and social relationships over time.
In recent years, sensors have become cheap and increasingly ubiquitous as more manufacturers include them in their products to understand consumer behaviour and avoid the need for expensive market research.
Brain – computer Interfaces
Brain-interfaces are the ability of the brain power to control a computer – just imagine. Yet just about reality. Brain-computer interfaces, where computers can read and interpret signals directly from the brain.
Now quadriplegics, those suffering "locked-in syndrome" or people who have had a stroke to move their own wheelchairs or even drink coffee from a cup by controlling the action of a robotic arm with their brain waves. Recent research has focused on the possibility of using braincomputer interfaces to connect different brains together directly. Researchers at Duke University last year reported successfully connecting the brains of two mice over the Internet (into what was termed a "brain net") where mice in different countries were able to cooperate to perform simple tasks to generate a reward.
Nanostructured Carbon Composites
New techniques to nanostructure carbon fibres for novel composites are showing the potential in vehicle manufacture to reduce the weight of cars by 10% or more. Lighter cars need less fuel to operate, increasing the efficiency of moving people and goods and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Another of equal importance is improving passenger safety. To increase the strength and toughness of new composites, the interface between carbon fibres and the surrounding polymer matrix is engineered at the nanoscale to improve anchoring – using carbon nanotubes.
A third challenge, which may now be closer to a solution, is that of recycling carbon fibre composites – something which has held back the widespread deployment of the technology.
Mining Metals from Desalination Brine
The global population continues to grow – developing countries emerge from poverty and freshwater is at risk of becoming one of the Earth's most limited natural resources. In addition to water for drinking, sanitation and industry in human settlements are a significant proportion of the world's agricultural production coming from irrigated crops grown in arid areas.
One of the draw backs of the process if high energy and reject process-brine. Promising approach to solving this problem is to see the brine from desalination not as waste, but as a resource to be harvested for valuable materials. These include lithium, magnesium and uranium, as well as the more common sodium, calcium and potassium elements. Lithium and magnesium are valuable for use in high-performance batteries and lightweight alloys.
Grid-scale Electricity Storage
Electricity as we know cannot be directly stored. To this extent, electrical grid managers constantly ensure that overall demand from consumers is exactly matched by an equal amount of power fed into the grid by generating stations.
Grid-scale electricity storage options has long been a "holy grail" for clean energy systems. flow batteries may, in the future, be able to store liquid chemical energy in large quantities analogous to the storage of coal and gas. Various solid battery options are also competing to store electricity in sufficiently energy dense and cheaply available materials. Newly invented grapheme supercapacitors offer the possibility of extremely rapid charging and discharging over many tens of thousands of cycles.
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