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Though our phones and watches have grown to become smarter, more durable and versatile, the limitations of these devices, particularly for medical and accessibility functions, is limited by its power. Quite literally; essentially any wearable medical or health measurement device is powered by a battery of some sort, a problem scientists have been trying to solve with smaller, more efficient power devices - like photovoltaics, which are non mechanical solar devices that convert sunlight directly into electricity. 


Now, in work published in Nature Communications, a group of scientists have figured out how to make photovoltaics waterproof without adding additional layers to envelop the small films (designed to attach to clothing to monitor medical devices without charging), allowing their ultrathin (3 micrometers, to be exact) organic solar cells  to be bendable, soakable - and even washable, vastly improving their durability in a wide range of critical medical applications. We may be a few years away from the first Apple iShirt, but with the new innovations discovered in the production process,, the future of more accurate monitoring and power delivery of delicate medical devices is brighter than ever.

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Turning Air… Into Water

Every January, the Consumer Electronics Show descends upon Las Vegas, revealing the latest trends in technology, from televisions to refrigerators - to green technology, including the most intriguing new product at the 2024 show, the H20-producing WaterCube.

Designed by Genesis Systems, the WaterCube is a device about the size of a central AC unit; within it, the technology to pump water from the surrounding air (‘mimicking’ the natural process of the earth), taking advantage of the increased water vapor in the atmosphere of our warming planet. 

The WaterCube, in its current form, is able to pump over 100 gallons of water daily from the air - at what the Florida-based company says has a negligible impact on the environment, as water in the air is quickly replenished, effectively creating an “infinite water source”, as described by co-founder David Stuckenberg. 

The company is already looking forward, as well, with plans to incorporate carbon-capturing features into future editions of the WaterCube, to further eliminate the need for increasingly water-scarce communities (which will encompass 1.8 billion people by 2025, according to most estimations) around the world to depend on municipal water grids or wells. 

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The Whale-Influenced Pursuit of Net Zero Emissions

As individuals, companies, and countries race towards a greener, more sustainable future, some scientists are finding the solutions to some of our carbon emission concerns lie in the most obvious of places; underneath the water’s surface, where billions of life forms have traveled throughout time without the need for petroleum.


Scientists from Cranfield University in the United Kingdom are currently developing what is called ‘wave devouring propulsion technology’ in the hopes of reducing ship emissions caused by generating thrust to accelerate and maintain speed over open water. The technology, which is described as a flapping foil system installed underneath a ship’s hull, is inspired by the tail fin of a whale, which generates thrust by harnessing the kinetic energy of waves.


Once an engine is going, the system would reduce the effort needed to push an object forward, thus reducing the amount of fuel consumed for each ship’s journey from departure to destination. Though it still remains to be seen how radically it could reduce a single ship’s emissions, the obvious benefits of wave devouring propulsion systems could provide a window to the future of ship engines across the world, in a variety of different aquatic disciplines.


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Bees and AI: Natural Teammates?

The adage of “save the bees” remains a prescient one in 2023 - and one that isn’t being ignored by technology, with companies like Israel-based BloomX, a startup using AI and automated technologies to create a bio-mimicking technology to optimize the pollination process.


Using a combination of AI and mechanical devices, BloomX’s platform seeks to first identify the best time for a plant’s pollination, then manipulate electric vehicles with mechanical arms to shake, and therefore pollinate, plants by vibrating their stems. Instead of using traditional methods, which can force honey bee populations into traditionally wild bee areas, or affect biodiversity when bee populations sag, BloomX’s technology is looking to mitigate the impact of humans on bees and their natural patterns, and help farmers better manage the pollination process (it would also help avoid devastations like pests or chemicals killing off local bee populations).


Designed to help combat issues like mortality rates of honey bees in almond fields (especially in California, where most of the world’s almonds are produced), and alleviate the other environmental stresses faced by bees and the biosystems that rely on them, BloomX’s technology could become an important tool in the future of agriculture across the world, as we adapt to our ever-changing word.

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The Future - In Real-Time

Back in August 2022, Unity announced a partnership with Azure to bring cloud capabilities to its real-time 3D engine (commonly known as RT3D), for a variety of applications - many of which, surprisingly, didn’t include building gaming worlds (though, as seen in this October fireside chat with Unity’s Marc Whitten, is certainly not excluded).


Beyond building immersive 3D fantasies and AR-assisted feats of wizardy, Unity’s RT3D technology, combined with Azure’s cloud, offers a number of intriguing use cases, both for efficiency (according to industry reports, the construction industry spends $450 billion a year caused by fractured workflows and inefficiencies), and for smarter design (for example, building a hospital based on real-time simulations of traffic, topographical analyzation, and maximum solar power impact,to name a few).


The technology also provides real-time interactive content designed in VR: from safety trainings, to real estate showings, to “real-time digital twins” of objects (exactly as sci-fi as it sounds), Unity’s intriguing, powerful technology could not only be transformative for the future of the virtual gaming worlds we inhabit - but have material effects on the real world, the rare technology that could truly deliver on its promise of being disrupting innovative across multiple industries and disciplines. 

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Harvesting Electricity… Out of Thin Air?

As scientists, researchers, and companies all try to solve the various energy-related crises facing the world in the 21st century, new and exciting processes and technologies are being developed to harness, store, and create energy - including, from a group of researchers at University of Massachusetts Amherst, using nanopores to harvest clean electricity… out of thin air.


It sounds like magic; what it really is, is called the “generic Air-gen effect” - and uses tiny nanopores (aka a nanometer-sized hole) to pull the natural electricity in the Earth’s air. The nanopores allow water molecules to pass through, creating a charge imbalance - and according to the study, essentially forming a batter that runs continuously, as long as there is humidity in the air.


While this isn’t a solution for every climate on Earth, the potential is obviously boundless - according to the scientists involved, any kind of material can harvest electricity from the air, as long as it has holes smaller than 100 nanometers - or less than 1/1000th the width of a human hair. It may be decades before we see nanopore-based electricity harvesters available in our local hardware store, we’re clearly in a new age of innovation when it comes to powering future life on our planet.

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The Wireless Yellow Brick Road

On March 28th, Amazon announced it would be opening up its Sidewalk IoT (Internet of Things) network to developers, noting 90% of the United States population was already covered by the low-bandwidth, long-range wireless network. Using Echo and Ring devices (who share a small part of their owner’s bandwidth), Sidewalk’s promise is in its purported ability to connect to devices that can’t reliably connect to a Bluetooth or Wi-fi signal.


Amazon has started shipping hardware and software kits to developers, allowing them to access the service’s raw data. With an abundance of application potential - from environmental sensors and leak detectors, to smart locks and more accurate package tracking - and built-in integration with existing 200+ AWS services, is a digital canvas with a lot of untapped potential for developers.


Though it remains seen whether Sidewalk is a true challenger to 5G wireless networks or other technologies (like SpaceX’s Starlink), the impact low-bandwidth connective technology could have on various industries, from agriculture, to medical, to transport, is enormous - and could potential deliver on the internet’s promise of a completely connected world accessible to anyone, anywhere.


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The (Virtual) Impacts of Conflict

The Ukraine/Russia war has had a devastating global impact on economies, the energy industry - and, in some unexpected ways, technology. Some of the impacts are obvious, with IT companies and firms working on emerging technologies scaled back, or departed, Russia - some of them, like interruptions to Kyiv-based GSC Game World’s development on the video game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, have been less mainstream, but still held an undeniable impact on the people of the region, and the world. And as people like Appian CEO Matt Calkins call for a ban on software sales in the region, it’s clear the technological conflicts are just beginning.


In response to this, Russia has tried to reduce their reliance on foreign software platforms,  as sanctions and societal backlash - as well as a law banning the use of foreign software in state institutions after January 1st, 2025 - means Russia is looking inward for a new generation of engineers to develop proprietary software, a very difficult technological shift to conjure.


Meanwhile, Ukraine’s IT services exports grew nearly 10% over the first 10 months of 2022, a rare sector of the company’s economy thriving under the current difficult economic conditions. In December 2022, Adaptavist’s acquisition of Rozdoum marked the first time a resident of Diia City (the technology hub city established in Ukraine weeks before the war began) was acquired by a foreign corporation.


One thing is clear: there is no neat solution to ensuring the citizens of Russia and Ukraine both stay connected to the world, which presents an interesting, unique set of challenges for tech companies (and governments) to navigate. In addition, SpaceX announced they were no longer going to pay for the operation of 20,000 Starlink satellites donated to Ukraine, further threatening the company’s access to critical global services, forums, and infrastructure - a prescient reminder that in 2023, war is no longer confined to the physical battlefield.

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In December, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Apollo 17 - which, as of today, is the last time anyone from Earth has stepped foot on the Moon. But after the successful launch of Orion - an unmanned spacecraft built with the world’s most powerful rocket - this week, there is hope that the half-century drought will come to an end soon.


After two aborted attempts in August and September, Orion’s Space Launch System was given the ‘go’ to depart from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida at 1:47pm local time on Wednesday, November 16th. After the rocket performed a number of specific maneuvers to set it on the correct trajectory to the moon, NASA is considering the first phase of the mission a success.


The ambitious new space program, titled Artemis, is driven by a 100-meter tall spaceship, and holds some lofty goals for both NASA and the European Space Agency. Through a series of increasingly complex missions, the goal of Artemis is to establish surface habitats, and even eventually a mini space station in orbit around the Moon (at one point, it will even become the furthest a ‘human-rated’ spacecraft has ever traveled from Earth).


If the rest of the mission - which involves orbiting the moon before returning to the atmosphere and landing in the Pacific Ocean on December 11th - is a success, it is the first planned step in a decades-long program.  Those dreams are still a long way away; but with its success, will open the door to a new age of space travel.

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Restoring Forests, with the Power of Drones

Every year, millions of acres of land are lost to wildfires, wiping out entire ecological systems, capable of isolating entire areas from the surrounding biosytems - fields unable to seed trees, limiting vegetation and discouraging animals and other creatures from reinhabiting (and reinvigorating) an affected area.


Since 2019, DroneSeed has been trying to help with this problem, utilizing drones to disperse seeds on fire-affected areas in Washington, Oregon, California, and Montana. The first company approved by the FAA to use heavy lift drones, DroneSeed’s customers include timber companies, tribal nations, and non-profits around the Northwest, often for their unique, technology-enriched approach, using 8-foot drones capable of seeding 1/4th of a football field with one payload. 


In 2021, the company purchased a private seed supplier to offset a shortage in seeds - and is now using drones and cameras to identify pine cones, to enrich their supply of seeds, which grows more important as wildfire seasons continue to get longer and larger. Though they’ll never be able to keep up with the amount of burned acres around the world at any given time, DroneSeed’s embrace of technology has brought some much-needed hope to the reforestation efforts being taken up around the world.

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Wi-Fi 7: The End of Wired Internet?

Every year, the world moves closer to a truly wireless existence; one can only imagine a world of connectivity, where vehicles are charged wirelessly, and the constraints of cabled living become extinct. This week marked the release of the first Wi-Fi 7 capable router in China - which, though the world is still a year or two away from the infancy of Wi-Fi 7 adoption, represents another important step in that direction.


Wi-Fi 7, based on the upcoming 802.11be wireless protocols, offers both multi-link operation (think: uploading and downloading at the same time)and a much wider bandwidth of operation, up to 46 gigabytes per second, or about 40x faster than the current limits of fiber optic-based internet service. 


Though it will be a long time before this technology makes its way into commercial and retail products from companies like Plume and Netgear - client vendors won’t even begin having Wi-Fi 7-capabilities until next year. However, with each important step, a world free of tripping over wires and dealing with technology degradation becomes a bit clearer, and more exciting.

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As the world looks to new, innovative ways to preserve our global environment, scientists at the University of Cambridge have designed a new supercapacitor, capable of both providing rechargeable energy - and also removing harmful carbon dioxide from the air around it.


Built in part using coconut shells, the design (written about in the May 2022 issue of Nanoscale) uses two electrodes of positive and negative charge, allowing the supercapacitor - itself like a longer lasting, smaller storage version of a rechargeable battery - to capture carbon dioxide, and dissolve into an water-based electrolyte akin to seawater.


To this point, carbon capture has been a notoriously expensive, difficult and energy-intensive process; with a supercapacitor the size of a quarter, however, the potential for a more affordable product, made from abundantly available organic materials, could potentially be a breakthrough for a young industry trying to think outside the box in fighting climate change.

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Our Steak-Printing Future Has (Almost) Arrived

As alternative meats continue to grow in popularity (and necessity), innovative companies are starting to rethink the production process of plant-based meats. One of those companies is Mooji Meats, a food tech startup that recently raised $3 million in funding to accelerate its 3D printing technology, for the use of producing alternative meats at scale (or as the company formally defines it, an alternative to existing texture technologies).


Leveraging numerous bits of technology – including a printing technology developed by a Harvard team – Mooji's meat-printing system is designed to mimic the cut-based animal meat industry, while delivering a more inexpensive, scalable option than the limited capacity of today's production devices used by companies like Impossible and Beyond. More importantly, their device is designed to produce whole cuts of meat, rather than strictly focusing on ground meat, as most of the industry currently does.


The project is still in early development – Mooji estimates they are six months away from their first meat prototype, though the recent round of investments have the company aiming to have printers on the market in the next eighteen months, which means we're only potentially a few years away from the science fiction kitchens of The Expanse and The Jetsons becoming a vivid (and tasty) reality.

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The Peace of Tech-Assisted Silence

According to the European Environmental Agency, 48,000 people a year develop ischemic heart disease every year, due to long-term exposure to environmental noise, despite the EU’s attempts to install counter measures, like the 2002 Environmental Noise Directive. But for many, ear plugs and noise-canceling headphones only offer temporary reprieve - which, in a world of constantly-humming devices and non-descript background noise, can make for a maddening lack of quiet tech companies are looking to fix.


Israeli company Silentium is taking a particularly interesting approach to innovating noise interference technology, with their “Quiet Bubble” system. Consisting of a speaker and microphone, Silentium’s is designed to be installed anywhere; bedroom headboard, living room wall, garage ceiling… anywhere you need interference, the Quiet Bubble system takes the active noise cancellation from headphones and brings it to room-scale, offering light sleepers potential relief from the loud snorers and late-night TV watchers in the home.


Through the use of computer algorithms testing (and matching) an area’s sound wave output, noise canceling technology is something with untested potential in many applications; on airplanes, in noisy malls or parks - or even on a personal level, to help counter those who have disorders like misophonia, which can trigger negative emotional responses to sound. With active noise cancellation and other burgeoning tech like directional sound sound projection, the future is bright… and more importantly, quiet.

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Countertop Composting with Lomi

As the world continues to search for more sustainable ways of existence, a company called Pela is trying to integrate composting technology into everyday life, with the Lomi - a device small enough to sit on a countertop, that turns everyday compost into usable soil.


Though it sounds like magic, the process is quite simple; using household food scraps and the probiotic content of the proprietary LomiPod, Lomi purportedly turns organic waste into odor-free dirt within 3 hour - and in 16-20 hours, can produce fertilizer for plants and gardens. 


Weighing in at 22 pounds (and using about 14 cents of electricity per cycle)and retailing for $499, the Lomi offers an interesting recycling proposition, especially for those living in urban environments without regular access to compost piles. More importantly, with a scent-free container (thanks to the powers of activated carbon), the Lomi provides all the benefits of composting - without any of the pungent drawbacks. 

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Driving a Chameleon Car

The 2022 Consumer Electronic Show took place in Vegas from January 5th to January 7th, and offered the usual collection of exciting new technology, from robot vacuums and TVs to cell phone and PC technology. In recent years, cars have also become a focal point of the show, especially around EV-related tech. 


Every major car manufacturer and software developer had something to show at CES 2022, including Chrysler announcing its vehicles would be entirely electric by 2028. But perhaps the most exciting reveal was the BMW iX Flow, which uses a patented E-ink technology to create a color-changing vehicle.


The monochromatic iX Flow is currently a concept vehicle, using a special electrophoretic wrap that makes the panels capable of shifting through every shade of the grayscale spectrum. From cooling the cabin in summer time, to making cars easier to notice in massive parking garages, E-ink as car paint is still unproven technology - but is easily the most exciting thing to happen to car paint in decades.

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Letting the Internet Light the Way

This week, one of Ireland and Europe’s largest telecommunications infrastructure companies announced a new collaboration with a lighting firm to massively expand wireless communications in outdoor spaces - through the use of street lights.


On December 20, Vantage Towers and Signify agreed to convert outdoor lighting in all eight Vantage Towers’ controlled entities across Europe, using Signify’s smart poles and IoT-connected lighting system to turn regular street lights into beacons of the future. The project begins with a three-month pilot project in Spain, expected to start in early 2022.


Not only will this provide park goers and walkers with the essential modern combination of light and data; it will also enable the development of neural host networks in both urban and rural environments, helping to combat the growing demands for connectivity across the world.

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The biggest digital trends of 2021 have been around cryptocurrency and NFT art; as the first country to use Bitcoin as legal tender, El Salvador continues to look for ways to remain at the forefront of the cutting edge. 

This month, President Nayib Bukele announced plans for a “Bitcoin city”, built in the shape of a large coin and utilizing the geothermal energy of the Conchagua volcano to power its Bitcoin mining. And though the country’s adoption of cryptocurrency has been controversial, Bukele’s ambitious plans for a city completed “devoted to Bitcoin” as its only form of currency is one that will certainly draw the attention of venture capitalists and international economists.


Bukele did not announce a timeline for the city’s opening in the southeastern region of La Unión, but estimated the cost of public infrastructure would be about 300,000 Bitcoins (or, at $60,000 per coin, approx. $1.8 trillion).

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Wind Turbines: Putting the Mega in Megawatts

As alternative power sources continue to generate power (and funding), the next generation of wind turbines are beginning to take shape in Europe. This week, Vestas announced its latest wind turbine prototype, the V236-15 MW, which will be the tallest device of its kind when it begins generating electricity in the fourth quarter of 2022. 


Set to be installed in a facility in Western Jutland, Denmark, the 15 Mega Watt turbine would stand 280 meters tall, with 115.5m long blades - a massive contraption capable of generating enough electricity to power 20,000 European homes. 


And Vestas is not the only company scaling up the size and capability of their wind-harnessing technology; GE Renewable Energy is currently operating their own 260-meter tall prototype in Rotterdam, Denmark, which started generating 14 MW of power in October 2021. 


Another company, MingYang Smart Energy, announced a 16 MW offshore wind turbine, which falls in between GE and Vestas’ size at 264 meters tall. Wind energy is a growing industry, one with growing equipment and ambitions - and most importantly, growing potential in building a sustainable future.


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With the Electric Ultium Drive, GM Looks Forward

Though the burgeoning age of the electric vehicle has proven to be an exciting time, its limitations - and potential dangers to the environment - have held the industry back from truly establishing itself as the technology of the future. With concerns around rare earth minerals needed for computer chips and electric batteries, consumers are looking for the next generation of EV’s to provide something safer and more sustainable; with the Ultium Drive, GM is one of the first to take a step forward.


Beyond the impressive specs of its three various motors (which range up to 255kW of power), GM’s new EV design is part of its goals towards a healthier ecosystem, which aims to have 100% of US facilities using renewable energy by 2030, and 100% of their global operations by 2040. With these ambitious goals come a new, ambitious motor system; a more flexible design promising more torque, more horsepower - and most importantly, less reliance on cobalt and other controversial rare earth minerals, an important step for every automaker to consider as we head into the Electric Age.

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