A monthly digest of technologies, developments and trends that will shape our lives. (If you would prefer not to receive these digests, flip back 'NO THANKS' and you will be removed from the list).

At Last! The Personal Jet Pack Is Here

Futurists are often asked why we don't have jet packs or nuclear vacuum cleaners yet, when they were promised by scientists as long ago as the 1950s.

Finally a personal strap-on jet pack is available commercially for you to buy and, once you've learned how to fly it, amaze your friends. Made by Martin Aircraft in New Zealand the jet pack is capable of 30 minutes of sustained flight and costs a mere US$86,000.

The Jetpack is constructed from carbon fibre composite, has a dry weight of 250 lbs (excluding safety equipment) and measures 5 ft high x 5.5 ft wide x 5 ft long. It's driven by a 2.0 L V4 2 stroke engine rated at 200 hp (150 kw), can reach 8000 ft and each of the two 1.7 ft wide rotors is made from carbon/Kevlar composite.

Mine is on order.

Turn Your Skin Into A Touchscreen

If you find yourself getting annoyed at the tiny touchscreens on today's mobile devices, you might think about using your own body as an interface.

A new skin-based interface called Skinput allows users to use their own hands and arms as touchscreens by detecting the various ultra low-frequency sounds produced when tapping different parts of the skin.

In Skinput, a keyboard, menu, or other graphics are beamed onto a user's palm and forearm from a pico projector embedded in an armband. An acoustic detector in the armband then determines which part of the display is activated by the user's touch. Variations in bone density, size, and mass, as well as filtering effects from soft tissues and joints, mean different skin locations are acoustically distinct. The controlling software matches sound frequencies to specific skin locations, allowing the system to determine which 'skin button' the user pressed.

Stuttering And Stammering Genes Identified

An international team of researchers has identified three genes that are linked to stammering or stuttering, a speech defect that affects millions of people worldwide.

The three genes lie in a single chromosome, researchers from the Centre for Excellence in Molecular Biology (CEMB), University of Punjab, Lahore, and the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD) under the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) report.

NIH says the cause of stuttering, which affects one per cent of adults worldwide, has baffled scientists for hundreds of years and its study is the first to pinpoint the genetic links. Current therapies focus on reducing anxiety, regulating breathing and rate of speech, and using electronic devices to help improve fluency. The long-term goal of the researchers is to look for a potential drug for patients who cannot be treated with existing psychological therapies.

Turning Used Tea Leaves Into Biofuel

Waste tea leaves could be a cheap source of biofuel that does not compromise food security, according to Pakistani scientists.

Researchers from the Nanoscience and Catalysis Division at Quaid-i-Azam University used a nanocatalyst (metal nanoparticles that accelerate reactions) to produce biodiesel from used tea leaves.

The scientists converted used leaves from the tea plant Camellia sinensis. Firstly, in a process called gasification, the dried spent tea was mixed with a Cobalt nanocatalyst and heated in a chamber to 300 degrees Celsius. Then, the liquid extract underwent a second process to produce 40 per cent ethyl ester — the biodiesel.

Polythene Becomes A Heat-Conducting Material

Most plastics - materials made of long, chain-like molecules - are very good insulators for both heat and electricity. But a team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found a way to transform the most widely used polymer, polyethylene, into a material that conducts heat just as well as most metals, yet remains an electrical insulator.

The new process causes the polymer to conduct heat very efficiently in just one direction, unlike metals, which conduct equally well in all directions. This may make the new material especially useful for applications where it is important to draw heat away from an object, such as a computer processor chip.


The Futurist Magazine's Top 10 Predictions For The Next Decade

The Futurist Magazine (published since 1985) publishes it's top ten predictions at the start of each new decade. For the 2010s the predictions are:

1) Everything you say and do will be recorded by 2030. By the late 2010s, ubiquitous, unseen nanodevices will provide seamless communication and surveillance among all people everywhere. Humans will have nanoimplants, facilitating interaction in an omnipresent network.

2) Bioviolence will become a greater threat as the technology becomes more accessible. Emerging scientific disciplines (notably genomics, nanotechnology, and other microsciences) could pave the way for a bioattack. Bacteria and viruses could be altered to increase their lethality or to evade antibiotic treatment.

3) The car’s days as king of the road may soon be over. More powerful wireless communication that reduces demand for travel, flying delivery drones to replace trucks, and policies to restrict the number of vehicles owned in each household are among the developments that could thwart the automobile’s historic dominance on the environment and culture.

4) Careers, and the college courses for preparing for them, are becoming more specialized. An increase in unusual college courses may foretell the growth of unique new career specialties. Instead of simply majoring in business, more students are beginning to explore niche majors such as sustainable business, strategic intelligence, and entrepreneurship.

5) There may not be world law in the foreseeable future, but the world’s legal systems will be networked. The Global Legal Information Network (GLIN), a database of local and national laws for more than 50 participating countries, will grow to include more than 100 counties.

6) Professional knowledge will become obsolete almost as quickly as it’s acquired. An individual’s professional knowledge is becoming outdated at a much faster rate than ever before. Most professions will require continuous instruction and retraining.

7) The race for biomedical and genetic enhancement will — in the twenty-first century — be what the space race was in the previous century. Humanity is now ready to pursue biomedical and genetic enhancement.

8) Urbanization will hit 60 percent by 2030.
As more of the world’s population lives in cities, rapid development to accommodate them will make existing environmental and socioeconomic problems worse.

9) The Middle East will become more secular while religious influence in China will grow. Popular support for religious government is declining in places like Iraq, according to a University of Michigan study. Separate reports indicate that religion in China will likely increase as an indirect result of economic activity and globalization

10) Access to electricity will reach 83 percent of the world by 2030. Electrification has expanded around the world, from 40 percent connected in 1970 to 73 percent in 2000, and may reach 83 percent of the world’s people by 2030.

(Please note, I don't necessarily agree with these third-party projections.)

Convicts May Get New Form Of 'High' In Vertical Prisons

A new type of vertical prison has been designed by Malaysian architecture students which uses height to separate the inmates from society.

Their project examines the possibility of creating a prison-city in the sky, where the inmates would live in a 'free' and productive community with agricultural fields, factories and recycling plants that would be operated by the offenders as a way to give back to the community and support the host city below them.

'SenseCam' Jogs Memory For Dementia Sufferers

A new device called SenseCam jogs the memory of dementia sufferers by using digital pictures and audio to archive an experience such as a weekend visit from the grandchildren, creating a summary of the resulting content by picking crucial images, and reviewing them periodically to awaken and strengthen the memory of the event.

The hardware is a little black box worn around the neck which contains a digital camera and an accelerometer to measure movement.

The researchers behind the product came up with some broad rules for identifying and retrieving images likely to serve as memory triggers. For a people-based experience like a family reunion, the system selects photographs in which faces are clearly discernible; for a location-based experience like a visit to a museum, it uses geographical positions provided by GPS and accelerometer data to judge what images might be most salient — for example, when a subject might be hovering at one spot, like in front of a painting.


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