-- by guest blogger Michele Bowman
(Bowman is the chairman of the Association of Professional Futurists and co-host of the podcast FringeHog)
While I’m not a fan of re-blogging, Technology Review’s “10 Emerging Technologies 2007” list (featured in their March/April edition) deserves some (digital) ink if only because the articles tend to be, shall we say, heavy on the geek factor. So, here is the cheat sheet.
The Problem: The Internet is headed toward a giant data traffic jam. Today video content and applications account for more than 60 percent of Internet traffic; some say that figure could climb as high as 98 percent in just a few years, causing downloads to slow to a crawl. In short, the information superhighway is increasingly being clogged up by bandwidth-guzzling SUVs in the form of “Lost” reruns, YouTube videos and webisodes of beer commercials. The Solution: Peer-to-Peer (P2P) “mesh” networks which distribute data across a networks of user’s PCs rather than through a content-owner’s central server, saving bandwidth in the Internet’s core. P2P networks such as Gnutella, Kazaa and BitTorrent have been hugely successful with users – and maligned by content owners who see them as just another word for piracy. But several projects underway including Pittsburgh-based start-up Rinera Networks are developing new models, such as adding a “toll booth” for P2P networks for heavy users, that aim to stabilize the traffic flow and ensure smooth surfing.
Quantum Dot Solar Power
The big idea: Quantum dots – tiny crystals of semiconductors just a few nanometers wide – could finally make solar power cost-competitive with electricity from fossil fuels. Arthur Noziak, a senior research fellow at the DOE National Renewable Energy Laboratory calculates that a photovoltaic device based on quantum dots could have a maximum efficiency of 42 percent, far better than the 31 percent achieved by silicon semiconductors used in today’s PV cells. (Ted Sargent discussed quantum dots at the TED conference the other day, see this previous post).
Key to understanding the chemical imbalances underlying depression and other neurological disorders is identifying which cells are responsible. Researchers have developed a novel way of doing just that by literally lighting up specific neurons in the brain. Karl Deisseroth and his team at Stanford Medical Center have genetically engineered neurons to produce a protein which, when exposed to light, triggers activity in the neurons (literally turning them ‘on’). The “light switch” lets scientists turn selected parts of the brain on and off may open the door to precisely targeted treatments for psychiatric and neurological disorders.
The ability to control bleeding in an operating room or at an accident site would represent a paradigm shift in medicine, saving thousands of lives and making surgery faster and safer. Today about 50 percent of the time spent in a typical surgery is trying to control bleeding, and the methods doctors use today – such as clamps, cauterization and vasoconstriction – are invasive and often cause collateral damage. Which is why researchers at MIT and Hong Kong University are excited about the potential of a simple biodegradable liquid which has been shown to stop bleeding in wounded rats in seconds. When the liquid, composed of protein fragments called peptides, is applied to open wounds, the peptides self-assemble into a nanoscale protective barrier gel that seals the wound and halts bleeding. Once the injury heals, the nontoxic gel is broken down into molecules that cells can use as building blocks for tissue repair. While the research is considered very preliminary, if tests go well it could be approved for human use in three to five years.
You’re in Rome, staring at a centuries-old sculpture that has obvious historical significance – but the plaque describing the piece isn’t in English and your high school Italian is more than a little rusty. What to do? Well, if you happen to have a prototype of Nokia’s Mobile Augmented Reality smart phone in your hand, you’re in luck. The prototype sports a GPS sensor, a compass, and accelerometers. Using data from these sensors, the phone can calculate the location of just about any object its camera is aimed at. Users can then download additional information, such as the name of the sculpture (in your native tongue) as well as the location of nearby souvenir shops that sell replicas. While Nokia’s system uses locative sensors to superimpose digital information on the real world, other applications in development use a different approach; Total Immersion in Suresnes, France and Google’s recently-acquired Neven Vision are betting on image-recognition software to do the trick. After decades of lab research “augmented reality” apps are ready to hit the street. Coming soon to a phone near you: your world, annotated. (Note: While TR’s piece focused on Nokia, the company is just one of the players in the emerging field known as “collaborative cartography”)
Personalized Medical Monitors
MIT researchers are developing algorithms to help doctors efficiently interpret electrocardiograms, electroencephalograms and other ever-growing masses of medical data and quickly perceive patterns that might otherwise be buried. Future applications include personalized medical monitors which can sense – and stop – an oncoming seizure in an epilepsy patient.
Using a technique known as compressive sensing, Rice University engineers have developed a camera that uses a single image sensor to collect just enough information to let a novel algorithm reconstruct a high-resolution image. The technology could produce MRI systems that capture images up to 10 times as quickly as today's scanners, and tiny mobile-phone cameras that produce high-quality, poster-size images.
Artificially structured metamaterials (composites made up of precisely arranged patterns of two or more distinct materials) are opening up an entirely new approach to optics. By manipulating electromagnetic radiation (including light) metamaterials have the potential to transform a range of industries such telecommunications, data storage and even solar energy.
Who needs Netflix? Researchers have created light-focusing optical antennas that could lead to the development of DVD-like discs that store 3.5 terabytes of data – the equivalent of 750 of today’s recordable DVD’s.
Single Cell Analysis
Norman Dovichi’s lab at the University of Washington is pioneering the science of single cell biology. The techniques he and his colleagues have developed to isolate cells and reveal specific molecules inside are exposing the differences between individual cells and could lead to better, more precise diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as cancer and diabetes.