Quantum Computing

Up until now, quantum computers have been merely science fiction, relegated to TV shows and sci-fi novels, and the dreams of scientists and computer geeks the world over. But that could soon change. As our computing technology becomes faster and smaller we are coming ever closer to the elusive quantum computer.

The basic difference between classical computing and quantum computing will be the speed at which the computer is able to solve problems. With classic computers, the general thought is that problems that we can’t solve in any reasonable amount of time with just good old plain human brain power, can be solved relatively quickly. But with quantum computers the size of the problems we will be able to solve will seem astronomical compared to what today’s computers are capable of.

For the average person, a quantum computer may not do much to change their everyday lives, or at least not in the way that most people use computers today. Record keeping, sending emails and social media will likely not be changed much by these amazing new computers, but the way we interact with encrypted data will certainly see some changes. What will change for sure is the way scientists solve major problems, things like how to cure diseases, discovering new medicines, changing the molecular structure of materials like plastic (think of all those water bottles in landfills and what would change if they were biodegradable) and maybe even finding new ways to travel to other planets, or solve major world issues like poverty.

Beyond the question of what we will actually be able to do with a quantum computer is how exactly to build one. The biggest obstacle will likely be how to transport information within the computer. There are two options and to understand either you have to know that qubits (quantum bits) in classic computers can be 1 or 0, whereas in quantum computing the qubits can be both at the same time.

But perhaps the most important thing that quantum computing will bring to our current technological state is the new tech that we will have to create in order to build a quantum computer. The National Science Foundation has announced plans to officially pursue the knowledge necessary to get us there with their new STAQ (Software-Tailored Architecture for Quantum co-design) project. The project will be bringing together scientists, programmers, engineers, and physicists from around the country to get the job done, with a cool $15 million dollar budget and a 5 year set proposal to see the world’s first quantum computer.

The NSF is not the only agency to be on the path to quantum computing though – IBM and Google are both on the bandwagon as well. But the NSF is an academic study, whereas the privatized companies that are making their own way towards quantum computing may have some limitations to what they can delve into and how their quantum computing could be used. Regardless of who builds the first quantum computer, it seems that the future is very close indeed.


Segway Transport

Segway Inc., founded in the US by Dean Kamen in 1999, is synonymous with personal transportation on a level unlike anything we had seen before. When the Segway PT was unveiled in December of 2001, many people claimed it was the wave of the future. This two-wheeled self-balancing personal transport machine allowed for faster-than-walking travel and was marketed to tourists, businessmen, police officers, military and security personnel and warehouse workers.

Despite not reaching sales goals, the companies investors remained positive. In 2006, all Segway PT’s sold since launching were recalled due to a software malfunction that caused the machines to reverse and had the potential for injuring riders. In late 2009, millionaire businessman Jimi Heselden bought the company but then died in a freak accident just a few months later when the Segway he was riding went off a cliff.

In 2015, after some disputes over patent infringement, a Chinese robotics manufacturer, Ninebot, acquired ownership of Segway Inc. and announced that production would be moved from New Hampshire to China. With ownership of these new patents and technology, Ninebot has made it clear that they intend to move Segway into the future.

The newest product to be released as part of Segway’s personal transportation line seems to be geared more towards young adults though, and is reminiscent of the freeline skates that tried to take hold of the skating scene in the early years of the 2000’s.

The company crowdfunded more than 30 times what they needed for research and development (with two weeks to spare in their funding campaign) and is now taking pre-orders on Indiegogo for the skates with hopes to begin shipping in October of this year. Named the Drift W1, these electronic skates feature only one wheel. The platform for your foot to rest on is hinged on this wheel allowing the rider to balance and turn simply by moving the ankle, while keeping the legs free of each other true to more traditional skate forms.
The skates are touted as self-balancing and are aimed at taking over the hoverboard market. Coming in at just under 8 lbs. per skate, the company claims they are lightweight and easy to carry in your backpack or bag. They come with a dual-charger, so you can conveniently charge both skates simultaneously, and claim a 45-minute session is possible per charge. They also come with a $400 price tag.

While it seems the company has been revived by its new owners and is likely to see some better sales with these newer products and better marketing (after all, the original Segway PT only sold some 30,000 units), it seems a bit unclear whether these new e-skates will really be the personal transport of the new generations.

Undoubtedly, they will be on lots of Christmas lists this year, and we are likely to see some younger people zipping around town on them. But until the customer reviews start rolling in, it is unclear if the Segway Drift W1 will really hit the mark for electronic personal transportation this time.

First Flying Taxi

Drones have become increasingly popular of late, particularly among hobbyists, photographers and cinematographers. They started appearing in the commercial market only in the last 20 years, even though the military has been utilizing UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles) since WWII.

More recently though, the development of drones for use in the delivery of goods has been explored. Companies such as Amazon are looking for ways to enable a fleet of drones to deliver products directly without involving a human delivery person.

And the technology keeps growing.

With the idea of transporting commercial goods, came the thought that drones could be used to transport people as well. In recent years, the number of people using planes as a means of transportation has risen dramatically, creating a considerably larger carbon footprint than in the past.

In 2016 the first drone capable of carrying people, the Ehang 184, was unveiled in China at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) that year. In June of this year, a British aerospace company tested their idea, dubbed the eVTOL (electric Vertical Take-Off and Landing) vehicle.

This company, Vertical Aerospace, aims at providing trip distances somewhere in the 60-90 mile range. This eVTOL, which takes off vertically, is powered by four large rotors and can reach speeds up to 50 mph. Plans are to carry 2-4 passengers from city to city or directly from their door to their desired destination by 2022.

The company’s founders wanted to provide a more efficient means of transportation which mirrors the way we travel now, by taxi and air bus, only much advanced. By offering an electric passenger vehicle for this purpose they have opened the door on the very near future.

Vertical Aerospace is dedicated to decarbonizing air travel and making medium distance travel possible at a lower cost to the transportation company, environment and ultimately the customer.

The mission is virtuous to be sure, but the industry has a long way to go. With their first test run out of the way, Vertical Aerospace is certainly on the leading edge, but there are still obstacles to overcome and the future is a bit uncertain.

The potential is visible in clips from their first test flight, which made them the first company in the UK to test a flying taxi prototype. While they may be the first currently, with technology advancing at it’s ongoing rate, there will certainly be other companies filling the market soon. In fact, Uber is also on track to employ air taxis in the future too.

Uber unveiled their prototype for the same category of vehicle, VTOL, in May of this year and they have plans to begin test flights in 2020. Uber’s prototype has room for a pilot and four passengers and will reach speeds of 150-200 mph up to 60 miles.

Even with the technological hurdles yet to be overcome, it seems almost certain that in the days ahead we will see this service come to life. The only question we’re left wondering is not if there will be flying taxis, but rather, who will be the first to actually offer the first flying taxi for everyday use?

Electronic Tattoos

Science fiction has given birth to many new technological advancements simply by inspiring curiosity. As our technological knowledge has increased we have been able to explore even more possibilities. We have now reached a point where nano-technology has merged with 3D printing and bio-MEM research to create an entirely new playground for the physicists of our time.

There have been movies alluding to advancements in meshing humans and technology; cyber-humans. Nanshu Lu began to make this sci-fi reality with her research into and development of Flexoelectricity of Nanomaterials on Deformable Substrates. Lu’s idea was that by upgrading our capabilities in the combining of electrical and mechanical technologies at a nanoscale level, we can turn mechanical action into electrical impulses.

From her research we have reached into the world of augmented humans in real life. With the aid of new developments in 3D printing, mainly being able to use mediums other than hard plastic, we are now able to create printable electronics. And what’s more, when computer scanning technology is added to the 3D printer, printing on skin becomes a viable option.

So, now we have a printable ‘tattoo’ that can perform electronic functions. These devices are referred to as tattoos because they stick to the skin the same way that a temporary tattoo does. But these polymer structures adhere and move with the skin, as well as being completely customizable on a cellular level, tailored to each individual’s needs.

In fact, this aspect of the technology is so exciting, that there is work being done to create bio-synthetic organ replacements for people needing transplants. It is already possible to match the exact size and shape of whatever body part is needed. And the implications for the medical community are countless. The printer is fairly inexpensive ($400) and fits in a backpack. Imagine being able to administer to a patient at the scene of an accident instead of transporting them to a hospital.

We already connect everything to our phones; what if you never lost your phone and it was always charged – because it was always on your wrist.  If you add a medical monitor and sync that to your doctor’s office, they can track your health in real time, allowing for faster diagnoses and shorter treatment times; and you can receive health advice just as fast.

Perhaps this is the beginning of a future where humans even have augmented senses – eyesight like an owl, or the hearing capability of a bat. A future where we can start to wipe out some of the most common medical issues we face. A technology that can grow with us and perhaps even lengthen our lifespan.

Realistically, we could be looking at bio-electrical devices in a lot of new applications very soon. The technology has already been developed enough to allow biocompatible material to engage seamlessly with skin. It seems to be only a matter of improving upon this already amazing technology and developing new ways of integrating our current systems to what are likely to become the systems of the future.

Robotic Surgeons: From Science Fiction to Science Fact

From gallbladder procedures to prostate surgery, robots have gone on to become pretty much the mainstays in the operating room of many advanced surgical hospitals. Now, they are also being used for otherwise highly complicated eye surgery as well.

Back in 2016, several researchers who were working on the literal ‘cutting edge’ of advanced medical surgery, commenced a clinical trial so that they could test the “PRECEYES Surgical System”. This system consisted of a robot that has been designed for the express purpose of performing advanced surgery on the human retina i.e. the surface located at the back of the eyeballs. The results of this robot-assisted surgery of the eye have been published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

Operating the PRECEYES system involves the human surgeon using a joystick to control a highly mobile mechanical arm. In this case, the doctors have the ability to attach multiple instruments onto the arm. Due to the fact that the entire system is electronically operated, the robotic arm would not suffer from any jolt or tremor that can plague even the steadiest handed surgeon around.

In the original trial, the researchers from University of Oxford’s Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences enlisted around a dozen patients who each needed a thin membrane removed from their eye’s retina. In terms of eye surgery, this is a fairly routine procedure. In this trial, six doctors performed the operation manually, while the remaining six performed the same procedure with the help of the PRECEYES Surgical System.

Surgery typically starts with a very tiny incision that is made just above the eye’s pupil. The incision is made in order to insert a tiny flashlight to help the surgeon in his work. However, when the robotic arm is doing the job, the surgeon gets a chance to insert the flashlight via an incision that is less than 1 mm in diameter.  The arm then proceeds to separate the membrane from the retina and then proceeds to remove it from the eye. The arm then exits via the same hole through which it had entered.

However, when the same surgery is conducted without the help of the robot, the surgeon has to do the job by hand, while manipulating microsurgical instruments, even as he looks through a powerful operating microscope.

All of the surgeries in the trial were completely successful. However, in cases where the robots were used, they made the surgeon far more effective than usual.

PRECEYES is the tip of the iceberg and now there are several robot surgeons that are in the developmental stage. While it is certainly true that they are not as fast as their human counterparts, they make up for it in precision and reliability. In the process, they have managed to usher in a whole new system of surgical refinements.

The Ghost Particle: Unraveling the Deep Mysteries of the Universe

If we were to make a list of really unusual cosmic phenomenon, then the odds are that neutrinos will end up ranking pretty high on that list. As a matter of fact, these particular subatomic particles do not pack an electrical charge or any specific mass at all. Nevertheless, they are practically everywhere and they have the remarkably uncanny ability to pass though just about anything and everything. As a matter of fact, it has been estimated that around 100 trillion of them easily pass through the human body just about every second or so.

The scientific community had initially started theorizing about the existence of neutrinos around 80 years back and by the mid-50s, there was official confirmation of their existence.

The Primary Sources of Neutrino Particles

There are two primary sources of neutrinos; the supernova SN 1987A and our very own Sun. However, in 2013, many researchers were able to discover a hitherto unknown type of neutrino that was dubbed the “high-energy neutrino”. While its existence was not doubted, no one really knew where it had actually originated from, that is until now.

Researchers at the giant ‘Ice Cube’ Neutrino Observatory that is located at the South Pole had been able to detect very high energy neutrinos that were observed to be emanating from one specific area in space. Once the general area of the cosmos had been identified, around twenty other observatories quickly swung into action and concentrated on the position. Finally, after many months of hectic observation, all of these observatories came together to collectively determine the exact source of this very high energy neutrino particle.

It has originated from TXS 0506+056. This is a ‘blazar’ that is located approximately 4 billion light years from our planet. In cosmological terms, a blazar can be defined as a specific type of elliptical galaxy that has a fast spinning black hole located at its very center.

What Does the Discovery of a High Energy Neutrino Mean for Astronomy as a Whole?

This very first evidence of an active galaxy being able to emit these neutrino particles actually means that it is possible that we may soon be able to observe the universe around us, using the knowledge we glean from neutrinos and learn more about these elusive particles in various different ways. This would otherwise be absolutely impossible with just light and radio-based astronomy alone.

By identifying a real source of these high-energy neutrino particles, the work of these observatories has effectively helped usher in an entirely new epoch in the science of astronomy, as it exists today.