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Smart-ish Glasses That Don’t Look Dumb

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 00:00

An eyewear and vision-insurance company is building activity-tracking glasses that look a lot like regular specs.

Why wear a special activity-tracking wristband if you can get the same features from the glasses you’ve already got on your face?

The Exoskeletons Are Coming

Thu, 07/16/2015 - 00:00

Some workers could soon strap on a power-assist suit before maneuvering heavy objects.

Even if you lack the resources of Tony Stark, you can obtain a high-tech suit to enhance your natural abilities, or at least help you avoid a backache. Mechanical outfits, known as exoskeletons, are gaining a foothold in the real world.

Self-Charging Phones Are on the Way, Finally

Wed, 07/15/2015 - 00:00

A handful of companies are coming up with ways to extend your phone’s battery life when you’re far from a power outlet.

The case that Will Zell slides onto his iPhone doesn’t look that unusual, but it’s doing something pretty out of the ordinary: capturing some of the radio waves that the phone transmits when connecting to cell-phone towers and Wi-Fi routers, converting them to electricity, and feeding that power back to the phone’s battery.

A Biodegradable Computer Chip That Performs Surprisingly Well

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 00:00

Researchers show that devices based on a material derived from wood work as well as the communications chip in your smartphone.

Biodegradable, wood-based computer chips can perform just as well as chips commonly used for wireless communication, according to new research.

Minecraft Shows Robots How to Stop Dithering

Mon, 07/13/2015 - 00:00

A new approach to robot learning was tested in Minecraft, the popular open-ended computer game.

The computer game Minecraft, which depicts a world made up of retro, pixelated blocks that can be modified and rearranged in endless architectural configurations, has been praised for teaching young players about creativity, problem solving, and survival skills (in certain modes you have to avoid threats including zombies). Well, it turns out even inexperienced robots can learn a thing or two by playing the game.

Why Environmentalists Aren’t Winning the War with Natural Gas

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 00:00

Despite a recent victory, environmental groups have had little luck slowing the boom in new natural-gas power plants.

Environmental groups won a major victory in California in late June when the group proposing a 600-megawatt natural-gas-fired power plant near Avenal said it would abandon the project. Slated to cost nearly $2 billion, the Avenal plant was the subject of a dozen years of controversy and legal wrangling, and last year a federal appeals court vacated environmental approvals for the project.

Facebook Instant Articles Just Don’t Add Up for Publishers

Thu, 07/09/2015 - 00:00

Publishers like the New York Times should be having an existential crisis over Facebook’s instant articles. Instead they’re embracing it.

Here are some key numbers for content licensors in digital media: Netflix will pay approximately $3 billion in licensing and production fees this year to the television and film industry; Hulu is paying $192 million to license South Park; Spotify pays out 70 percent of its gross revenues to the music labels that hold the underlying rights to Spotify’s catalogue.

Dreams of an Automotive Industry in Uganda

Wed, 07/08/2015 - 00:00

The east African country of Uganda hopes to establish an automotive industry to boost its economy and provide employment for its young, fast-growing population.

The Ugandan government has backed a project that began at Uganda’s Makerere University, which participated in a Vehicle Design Summit launched by MIT students in 2006. Now known as the Kiira Motors Corporation, the project has produced electric and hybrid concept vehicles, and Ugandan researchers are now working on a solar-powered electric bus as part of a joint venture with the Indian auto manufacturer Ashok Leyland. It has also summoned help from international advisors and seeks hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign investment to build a sprawling auto plant.

Inside Amazon’s Warehouse, Human-Robot Symbiosis

Tue, 07/07/2015 - 00:00

Amazon’s newest warehouse is testing the limits of automation and human-machine collaboration.

Trenton, New Jersey, isn’t the industrial powerhouse it once was, even if the slogan “Trenton Makes, the World Takes,” first installed in 1935, still stands in 10-foot-tall letters across a bridge that spans the Delaware River to Pennsylvania. But a few minutes east of town, inside a warehouse belonging to Amazon, there are signs of another industrial transformation.

Probing the Dark Side of Google's Ad-Targeting System

Mon, 07/06/2015 - 00:00

Researchers say Google’s ad-targeting system sometimes makes troubling decisions based on data about gender and other personal characteristics.

That Google and other companies track our movements around the Web to target us with ads is well known. How exactly that information gets used is not—but a research paper presented last week suggests that some of the algorithmic judgments that emerge from Google’s ad system could strike many people as unsavory.

Should Babies Have Their Genomes Sequenced?

Thu, 07/02/2015 - 00:00

The BabySeq project in Boston has begun collecting data to quantify the risks and benefits of DNA sequencing at birth.

For 51 years, newborn babies have gotten a heel-prick test in which their blood is screened for dozens of congenital disorders. Routine newborn screening has basically eliminated the risk of death or irreversible brain damage that some of these disorders can pose if they are not identified right away.

How Ads Follow You from Phone to Desktop to Tablet

Wed, 07/01/2015 - 00:00

Advertisers are increasingly using technology that targets users across multiple devices, and it’s working.

Imagine you slack off at work and read up online about the latest Gibson 1959 Les Paul electric guitar replica. On the way home, you see an ad for the same model on your phone, reminding you this is “the most desirable Les Paul ever.” Then before bed on your tablet, you see another ad with new details about the guitar.

At a Crossroads, Biofuels Seek a New Path Forward

Mon, 06/29/2015 - 00:00

New microbes and new techniques show promise for advanced biofuels, but the industry is still years away from real progress.

Attempting to chart a path forward for the beleaguered biofuels industry, a group of researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, have devised what they describe as a novel method for producing renewable jet fuel. Using sugarcane and the sugarcane waste called bagasse, the new process (described in a paper in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) could enable green refineries to put out a range of products, including bio-based aviation fuel and automotive lubricant base oils.

Inside India’s Phablet Revolution

Fri, 06/26/2015 - 00:00

In India, bigger is better when it comes to mobile phones, but Apple is lagging behind competitors like Samsung and Xiaomi.

Zanish Khan runs a tiny shop in Delhi’s Basrurkar Market, where India’s middle class comes to buy life’s essentials. All around him, other merchants offer everything from electric fans to dried lentils that shoppers can scoop from 100-pound burlap bags. By contrast, Khan’s merchandise is kept under glass and packed with state-of-the-art electronics.

Why Liquid Biopsies in Cancer Treatment Are Still Experimental

Wed, 06/24/2015 - 21:14

New diagnostics can find the DNA that drives a tumor, but evidence that they help patients is missing.

A year ago I interviewed Deborah Fletcher, a 54-year-old manager at Deloitte who was fighting inflammatory breast cancer with all her professional skills. She carried a briefcase of spreadsheets, documenting treatments, bills, research, notes about who’d said what and what her plans were.

Speeding Up 3-D Printing

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 00:05

A company’s novel technology could make custom medical devices and car parts— not to mention shoes that fit just right.

3-D printers can make objects that are impossible or expensive to make with molding, milling, and other conventional manufacturing processes. However, these printers work too slowly to be widely used in factories.

Rebooting the Automobile

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 00:05

Automakers and tech companies are racing to bring safer and more useful smartphone-style interfaces to cars. Can any of them go further and reprogram vehicles completely?

“Where would you like to go?” Siri asked.

The Wait-for-Google-to-Do-It Strategy

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 00:05

America’s communications ­infrastructure is finally getting some crucial upgrades because one company is forcing ­competition when regulators won’t.

It’s too often said that some event “changed everything” in technology. But when it comes to the history of broadband in the United States, Google Fiber really did. Before February 2010, when Google asked cities to apply to be first in line for the fiber-optic lines it would install to deliver Internet service to homes at a gigabit per second, the prospects for upgrading Americans’ wired broadband connections looked dismal. The Federal Communications Commission was on the verge of releasing its first National Broadband Plan, which stressed the importance of affordable, abundant bandwidth and the need to spread it by “overbuilding”—stringing fiber to houses and businesses even if they already had service over cable and phone lines with relatively low capacity. Yet at the time, as Blair Levin, executive director of the broadband plan, told me, “for the first time since 1994, there was no national provider with plans to overbuild the current network.”

50 Smartest Companies 2015

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 00:05

These companies are shaping the technology landscape, in everything from massive solar panel factories to human stem cells.

Sometimes we hear that technology companies have lost their ambition. Too many great minds are pouring their energy into the next app for the affluent, the argument goes. Where is the daring?

China’s Climate Challenge

Tue, 06/23/2015 - 00:05

Rapid industrialization and rising standards of living have made China the world’s top emitter of carbon dioxide. Preventing a runaway increase will require the country to keep per capita emissions at a relatively low level.