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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.

The Struggle for Accurate Measurements on Your Wrist

Mon, 06/22/2015 - 00:00

Wearable devices are getting more advanced, but can today’s technology really measure our health?

Until recently, I didn’t know a thing about how my roughly 25-minute bike commute across San Francisco—or any other part of my day, really—affects my body, other than that I inevitably arrive at work sweaty and a bit out of breath when I’m in a big rush. How high is my heart rate? Do my sleep habits affect it? How many calories do I burn?

Injectable Implants Could Help Crack the Brain’s Codes

Fri, 06/19/2015 - 00:00

A new type of flexible electronic device shows promise for long-term brain mapping and could be a more effective way to provide therapeutic stimulation.

To understand how the brain works—or doesn’t, as the case may be—depends on deciphering the patterns of electrical signals its neurons produce. Recording them requires inserting electrodes into the tissue. But the rigid devices traditionally used to record these signals, or to therapeutically stimulate certain regions, can damage the brain and elicit an immune response, and they tend not to work for very long.

Biotech’s Coming Cancer Cure

Thu, 06/18/2015 - 00:00

Supercharge your immune cells to defeat cancer? Juno Therapeutics believes its treatments can do exactly that.

When Milton Wright III got his third cancer diagnosis, he cried until he laughed. He was 20 and had survived leukemia twice before, first when he was eight and again as a teen. Each time he’d suffered through years of punishing chemotherapy.

Soft Robotic Glove Could Put Daily Life Within Patients’ Grasp

Wed, 06/17/2015 - 00:00

The latest in assistive technology is a lightweight glove that helps patients with limited mobility grab and pick up objects.

Engineers at Harvard have developed a soft robotic glove that allows people with limited hand mobility to grasp and pick up objects. The device could help the estimated 6.8 million people in the United States who have hand mobility issues, whether from a degenerative condition, stroke, or old age.

Who Will Own the Robots?

Tue, 06/16/2015 - 00:00

We’re in the midst of a jobs crisis, and rapid advances in AI and other technologies may be one culprit. How can we get better at sharing the wealth that technology creates?

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of articles about the effects of software and automation on the economy. You can read the other stories here and here.

Smartphones (and Motorcycles) Fuel Hyperlocal E-Commerce in India

Mon, 06/15/2015 - 00:00

Entrepreneurs using couriers and mom-and-pop shops hope to outmaneuver Amazon with ultrafast deliveries in India’s big cities.

The heat wave gripping India on a day in late May feels particularly intense in the booming Delhi suburb of Gurgaon. Temperatures have soared to 109 °F by 12:30 p.m., and they aren’t done rising. Lizards are looking for shade. A profusion of new office parks, roads, and malls has obliterated any vegetation that might have preserved a little of the previous night’s coolness. And yet Albinder Dhindsa is smiling as he looks out his window, because this sort of weather is perfect for business.

How to Avoid Real Objects While in a Virtual World

Fri, 06/12/2015 - 00:00

Occipital wants to interrupt virtual-reality scenes with what’s coming at you in real life to prevent surprises and spills.

How will you walk around virtual worlds without smacking into actual walls?

Energy Storage Gets a Boost from Nanotechnology

Thu, 06/11/2015 - 00:00

Manufactured materials could lead to breakthroughs in batteries, supercapacitors, and eventually carbon-capture systems.

A group of Stanford researchers have come up with a nanoscale “designer carbon” material that can be adjusted to make energy storage devices, solar panels, and potentially carbon capture systems more powerful and efficient.

Designer Carbons Are Getting a Boost from Nanotechnology

Thu, 06/11/2015 - 00:00

Manufactured materials could lead to breakthroughs in batteries, supercapacitors, and eventually carbon-capture systems.

Typically made from coconut shells or wood chips, activated carbon has a variety of uses, from refrigerator deodorizers to water filters to batteries. Its primary characteristic is its Swiss-cheese-like structure: it’s riddled with tiny holes or pores that increase the material’s surface area, enhancing its ability to catalyze chemical reactions and store electrical charges. But activated carbon has significant drawbacks: the pores are randomly sized and unconnected, and it tends to have high levels of impurities.

Cyber-Espionage Nightmare

Wed, 06/10/2015 - 00:00

A groundbreaking online-spying case unearths details that companies wish you didn’t know about how vital information slips away from them.

On a wall facing dozens of cubicles at the FBI office in Pittsburgh, five guys from Shanghai stare from “Wanted” posters. Wang Dong, Sun Kailiang, Wen Xinyu, Huang Zhenyu, and Gu Chunhui are, according to a federal indictment unsealed last year, agents of China’s People’s Liberation Army Unit 61398, who hacked into networks at American companies—U.S. Steel, Alcoa, Allegheny Technologies (ATI), Westinghouse—plus the biggest industrial labor union in North America, United Steelworkers, and the U.S. subsidiary of SolarWorld, a German solar-panel maker. Over several years, prosecutors say, the agents stole thousands of e-mails about business strategy, documents about unfair-trade cases some of the U.S. companies had filed against China, and even piping designs for nuclear power plants—all allegedly to benefit Chinese companies.

Why Robots and Humans Struggled with DARPA’s Challenge

Tue, 06/09/2015 - 00:00

The falls and fumbles of robots in the DARPA Challenge point to the remaining hurdles for human-robot interfaces.

When some of the world’s most advanced rescue robots are foiled by nothing more complex than a doorknob, you get a good sense of the challenge of making our homes and workplaces more automated.

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.