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Updated: 2 hours 42 min ago

Quest to Mine Seawater for Lithium Advances

Mon, 06/08/2015 - 00:00

Predicted lithium shortages are leading to novel technologies for recovering the element, now found mostly in salt lakes in South America.

Researchers at Japan’s Atomic Energy Agency have come up with a new method of processing seawater to extract lithium—an element that plays a key role in advanced batteries for electric vehicles and one that, if current predictions for the EV market prove accurate, could be in short supply before the end of the decade.

The Quest to Engineer the Perfect Potato

Fri, 06/05/2015 - 00:00

Researchers in the U.K. aim for a new commercial potato that resists many of the worst vulnerabilities of potato crops around the world.

Super spuds are coming.

DARPA's Robot Challenge May Equip Robots to One Day Walk Among Us

Thu, 06/04/2015 - 10:55

The DARPA challenge, designed to make robots disaster-ready, could have far-reaching technological benefits.

Few people ever need to deal with a stricken nuclear reactor, but that skill could turn out to be important for the evolution of smarter robots.

Rebooting the Human Genome

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 00:00

The official map of the human genome can’t tell you everything about your genes. Does graph theory offer a better way?

The Human Genome Project was one of mankind’s greatest triumphs. But the official gene map that resulted in 2003, known as the “reference genome,” is no longer up to the job.

New Device Could Be a Safer Alternative to Lung Ventilators

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 00:00

A new device that precisely mimics blood vessels in the lungs could be a safer way to treat patients with lung failure.

A new technology that re-creates important characteristics of the structures in the lung where blood exchanges carbon dioxide for oxygen could eventually be a safer alternative to certain types of respiratory and cardiac machines.

EmTech Digital 2015

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 15:15

Full coverage of EmTech Digital in San Francisco, June 1-2, 2015.

EmTech Digital: Project Loon Head Details How the Balloons Interact
Project Loon, Google’s plan for Internet via floating balloons, uses RF for the balloons to connect with each other.

AI Supercomputer Built by Tapping Data Warehouses for Their Idle Computing Power

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 00:00

Sentient claims to have assembled machine-learning muscle to rival Google by rounding up idle computers.

Recent improvements in speech and image recognition have come as companies such as Google build bigger, more powerful systems of computers to run machine-learning software. Now a relative minnow, a private company called Sentient with only about 70 employees, says it can cheaply assemble even larger computing systems to power artificial-intelligence software.

Power Sector Finds a New Set of Customers: Cars

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 00:00

Giving power companies the ability to invest in electric-vehicle charging infrastructure could bolster the EV market.

Lawmakers in Washington state this month passed a bill that opens up the electric-vehicle charging sector to a group of players who have thus far been mostly absent: power utilities.

Fixing China’s Coal Problem

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 00:00

China has rapidly cleaned up its coal plants. Now comes the hard part.

When William Latta first came to China, in 2005, he intended to look for companies to acquire for the French power giant Alstom. He wound up creating his own.

Food Technology for All

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 00:00

We may be heading toward a new food economy that’s more competitive and innovative.

For years, the most important food technologies were all about scale. How could we feed a fast-growing population at less expense? By doing everything bigger: food grown on bigger farms was sold by ever-merging global food giants to grocery chains of superstore proportions.

Robots Start to Grasp Food Processing

Tue, 05/26/2015 - 00:00

Advances in robotics make it possible to automate tasks such as processing poultry and vegetables.

It is less striking than Deep Blue’s victory over chess champ Garry Kasparov, but Richard van der Linde says that his robotic hand’s mastery at picking up cabbage is something of a milestone for machines. With the aid of five cameras, plus sensors in its wrist to monitor the resistance it encounters, the three-fingered gripper can carefully pick up a cabbage, reorient it, and place it into a machine that removes the core. “In industry, only humans can do that at the moment,” says van der Linde.

Mobile Call Quality Gets a Long-Overdue Upgrade

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 00:00

Wireless companies and a few ambitious startups are racing to make your cell-phone calls better.

While apps have turned smartphones into digital Swiss Army knives that can do everything from tracking your heartbeat to hailing you a cab, the phone part of the smartphone hasn’t gotten much better over the years.

Firefox Maker Battles to Save the Internet—and Itself

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 00:00

Mozilla helped an open Web flourish in the 2000s. Now it’s struggling to play a meaningful role on mobile devices.

In Silicon Valley, most pioneers pursue big ideas and giant personal fortunes with equal zeal. Then there’s Mozilla, an innovation dynamo that refuses to get rich.

Internet of Farm Things

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 00:00

Companies are competing to turn data into advice on how to farm better, and attracting investments from the likes of Google Ventures and Monsanto.

For more on how technology is changing food, please read our upcoming Business Report, High-Tech Food Chain, this coming Tuesday.

Oculus Rift Hack Transfers Your Facial Expressions onto Your Avatar

Wed, 05/20/2015 - 00:00

Facebook teams with researchers to transfer your smiles and frowns into virtual reality.

Virtual reality is set to get a vital dash of social reality.

Leaderless Bitcoin Struggles to Make Its Most Crucial Decision

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 00:00

Bitcoin’s most influential developer has proposed a controversial fix that would help it handle more transactions.

In a test of Bitcoin’s ability to adapt to its own growing popularity, the Bitcoin community is facing a dilemma: how to change Bitcoin’s core software so that the growing volume of transactions doesn’t overwhelm the network. Some fear that the network, as it’s currently designed, could become overwhelmed as early as next year.

Single Cells Analyzed at Unprecedented Scale

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 00:00

Scientists launch a microscopic quest to find out what we’re really made of.

How many types of cells are there in the human body? Textbooks say a couple of hundred. But the true number is undoubtedly far larger.

Startup Beams the Web’s Most Important Content from Space, Free

Fri, 05/15/2015 - 00:00

The world’s poor could benefit from a system that is blanketing half Earth’s surface with a signal that provides free access to Wikipedia and other useful websites.

What do you get if you cross a satellite TV receiver with the Internet? According to startup Outernet, a way to bring billions more people the benefit of online information.

Can You Improve Your E-Mails by Analyzing Recipients’ Personalities?

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 00:00

Startup Crystal claims it can help you write better e-mails by mining recipients’ online data for clues to their personality.

It can be hard to figure out just what to say in an e-mail to someone you don’t know very well. A startup wants to make this easier by correcting messages as you type, suggesting changes that may make the recipient more receptive to what you’re saying. These suggestions are gleaned from data gathered about the recipients online.

The Lake That Could Light Up Central Africa

Wed, 05/13/2015 - 00:00

In a first-of-its-kind endeavor, electricity-starved Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo are trying to get power from a lake—and avert catastrophe.

This video is a companion to Lake Kivu’s Great Gas Gamble.