Friday, May 8, 2020

Videos, presentation slides and a textual summary from our Tuesday webinar, “Logistics and Supply Chains: Four Timely Start-ups,” will be in the archive shortly.

Speaking of (virtual) events, calling all TTI/Vanguard members: Being in our own personal spaces is no excuse not to venture afield on a virtual TTI/Vanguard field trip at 1 pm EDT, Tuesday, May 26. This outing will be to the Long Now Foundation's home, The Interval, where Alexander Rose will share the organization's perspective on time, persistence, and responsibility, and provide both a video tour of the full-scale Clock of the Long Now, which is under construction in a mountain in western Texas, and an actual tour of an eight-foot prototype (Stewart Brand, Pasadena, Feb 2002). Register here:

To be sure, a number of supply chains are not exactly intact right now, notably the one that takes food from farms to our tables via grocery stores. Kroger is doing its part to redress that by buying hundreds of thousands of gallons of milk from dairy farmers and giving it to a national network of food banks

Might a University of Washington, Tacoma, researcher have been lurking in the back of the conference ballroom when Dominic Suciu (Seattle, Mar 2020) spoke about the potential for tracking the spread of the novel coronavirus by looking at sewage?

There are plenty of conspiracy theories that the coronavirus was created by one or another country’s germ warfare lab; but in reality it might work the other way around: A DARPA lab normally devoted to researching methods to rapidly diagnose germ or chemical warfare poisoning may have come up with a better test for the virus, one that might even diagnose it before an infected person can infect others. (Alicia Jackson, San Francisco, Dec 2015)

Did you catch last week’s podcast interview with Stephen Wicker on the Apple–Google contact-tracing API? The two companies have now released some initial code. Podcast:

How much microscope can you get for twenty bucks? If you have access to a 3-D printer and a new University of Bath design, it can now be “laboratory-grade.”

Dials and knobs versus touchscreen? A recent test on SpaceX’s Dragon went well. It’s certainly easier to update the system, and the astronauts say they can get used to it. (Dave Mindell, Pittsburgh, Jun 2019)

On the other hand (literally), human control of a robotic hand may not be steady enough for surgery (Catherine Mohr, Boston, Apr 2014). A Texas A&M group has improved steadiness “by delivering small, yet perceptible buzzes of electrical currents to fingertips.” (C. Karen Liu, Boston, Apr 2017; Dustin Tyler, San Francisco, Dec 2016)

It’s well-known that perovskite solar cells can turn water and sunlight into oxygen and hydrogen that can be used as fuel at up to 25% efficiency. But that requires the use of platinum and other expensive components. A Rice University group has come up with a catalytic system—basically an artificial leaf—that has better than 6% efficiency at much lower initial and operating costs. (Xiangkun (Elvis) Cao, Berkeley, Mar 2019)

Will big iron come to the rescue? Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory hope so: “In just 22 days, using the SARS-CoV-2 protein sequence and known antibody structures for SARS-CoV-1, a lab team … used a computational platform combining machine learning, bioinformatics, experimental data, structural biology and molecular simulations to drastically narrow down the possible antibody designs predicted to target SARS-CoV-2.” After more than 200,000 CPU hours (and 20,000 GPU hours) on two high-performance computers, that had made nearly 180,000 free-energy calculations of candidate antibodies. (Amanda Randles, San Diego, Feb 2015)

How close are we to full (level 5) autonomy in self-driving cars? A recent ride in the streets of San Francisco, as reported in the Washington Post, suggests we’re nowhere close. (Simon Tong, Brooklyn, Jun 2018; Adam Millard-Ball, Berkeley, Mar 2019; Steve Jurvetson, San Francisco, Dec 2018). But research continues, and recently got a boost when Ford made available a year's worth of self-driving car data, collected in a variety of weather conditions, in the Detroit area. (George Hotz, Berkeley, Mar 2019).

Were you affected by the storm of app-crashes caused by an update to Facebook’s SDK? Even if they didn’t use Facebook to log into them, users saw Spotify, TikTok, GrubHub, and countless other apps rendered unusable. Two lessons here: be wary of social logins anyway, and of any company still operating with the “Move Fast and Break Things” software-development mindset (Jonathan Taplin, Boston, Apr 2017; Roger McNamee and Jonathan Taplin, Los Angeles, Mar 2018).

Even as the coronavirus pandemic has briefly slowed down global warming, cloud providers are continuing to reduce their already-high carbon profile (Lotfi Belkhir, Washington, D.C., Sep 2018). Case in point: A new Microsoft initiative will install solar panels on hundreds of rooftops in Singapore—enough to power the company’s data center there.

“The race is not always to the swift, nor the battle to the strong. ” — Ecclesiastes 9:1. Our hearts go out to the families of the recently deceased, and to the recently unemployed.

Author: Steven Cherry

Director of TTI/Vanguard, “a unique forum for senior-level executives that links strategic technology planning to business success. In private conferences that are part classroom, part think-tank, and part laboratory, its members—corporate and government leaders, entrepreneurs, researchers, and academics—explore emerging and potentially disruptive technologies.”

Twenty years experience as a technology journalist and editor, at the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). Founded the award-winning podcast series, Techwise Conversations covering tech news, tech careers and education, and the engineering lifestyle. Teaches an intensive writing class as an adjunct instructor at NYU. Previously taught essay writing and creative writing at The College of New Rochelle.

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