Can edible and bio-degradable food packaging replace plastic wrapping?

Original news release was issued by the American Chemical Society.
Foods and beverages come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and flavors. But there is one thing they usually have in common: plastic packaging. On one hand, this kind of wrapping undeniably offers a vast array of benefits such as airtight protection from damage, ease of use and opening, the ability to be molded into seemingly limitless shapes, or aesthetics. On the other hand, plastics create a lot of non-recyclable and non-biodegradable waste, and are also not great at preventing food spoilage. It is estimated that 299 million tons of plastics were produced in 2013 with 22 – 43% being disposed of in landfills and 8 million metric tons of our plastic waste enter the oceans from land each year.
Now, researchers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture have taken steps to address these issues. They are developing an environmentally friendly packaging film made of milk protein casein. These casein-based films are up to 500 times better than plastics at keeping oxygen away from food and, because they are derived from milk, are biodegradable, sustainable and edible. On top of that, the milk-based packaging has smaller pores as opposed to some commercially available edible packaging, thus creates a tighter network that keeps oxygen out. The researchers believe this casein packaging could hit the shelves within 3 years.

After a few additional improvements, the casein-based packaging looks similar to plastic wraps bought in stores, but is less stretchy and far better at blocking oxygen. The material is edible and made almost entirely of proteins. The researchers say that nutritious additives such as vitamins and also flavorings could be added in the future.

“The coatings applications for this product are endless,” says Laetitia Bonnaillie, Ph.D., co-leader of the study. “We are currently testing applications such as single-serve, edible food wrappers. For instance, individually wrapped cheese sticks use a large proportion of plastic — we would like to fix that.”

In addition to being used instead of plastic wraps, casein coating could also be sprayed onto food, such as cereal flakes or bars. To prevent soggy cereals, casein-protein coating could be used instead of all that sugar. The spray could also be used as a lamination step for food boxes to keep the grease from staining the packaging. Since the perfluorinated substances that used to coat the containers got banned, this type of casein coating could prove to be a safe, biodegradable alternative.


Airbus reveals ambitious plan for autonomous flying taxis

Original press release was issued by Airbus, written by Beata Cece.
Imagine a couple of travellers just dropped off at an airport after a long flight. The tediousness only now settles in, as they step outside the arrivals hall and observe the congested traffic and tens of drivers in cabs or buses, their faces shrouded in frustration. It is going to be a long day before they finally drop their bags and relax. Now scrap that thought. How about a reality in which you booked a ride in a flying drone-like vehicle with your smartphone, hopped in and glided over all the traffic jams for about the same cost as a regular taxi? If this ambitious plan didn’t come from Airbus, world’s second largest aeronautical company, it could sound too much as science fiction.

“Many of the technologies needed, such as batteries, motors and avionics are most the way there,” says Airbus engineer Rodin Lyasoff.

Dubbed the “Vahana” project, Airbus plans to create an autonomous network of flying taxis that would not only relieve urban congestion — particularly in “megacities” with upwards of ten million inhabitants — but also be environmentally sustainable and offer a thrilling aerial experience. The company appears to be serious about it, with plans to begin testing as early as 2017. While initially it would be operated by a pilot – similarly to a helicopter – to allow for quick entry into the market, it would switch over to full autonomous operations once regulations are in place.

“No country in the world today allows drones without remote pilots to fly over cities – with or without passengers.” says Bruno Trabel, an engineer from Airbus Helicopters

Let’s go through how Airbus envisions this marvel to work: You arriving at, say, airport would book a seat on a so-called zenHop “CityAirbus” drone, then proceed to arrive to your destination — landing on a chosen zenHub. No need to worry about the cost, zenMove got you covered. It has found a couple of other travellers who are sharing your destination. As a result, the flight costs no more than a taxi ride. On top of that, your luggage would be delivered by zenLuggage and the whole thing would be safeguarded by, drum rolls please, zenCyber.

Source: Airbus Group, Infographic: Beatriz Santacruz

Airbus is also working on a drone delivery service named Skyways, which aims to help evolve current regulatory constraints. Airbus already received allowance to test the service on the campus of the National University of Singapore in mid-2017. Should the team manage to safely demonstrate the operation, this could provide tangible proof to authorities and the general public that commercial drones can indeed operate safely over urban areas.
So far, the company is keeping much of the CityAirbus design “under the wraps”. There are not yet many details revealed on how safe will such an aerial vehicle be, how quiet and in what way would the vehicles communicate with each other. Several technologies, for example see-and-avoid would have to be put in place, before the electric aircraft can become fully unmanned. Airbus is nonetheless determined the idea is feasible and they will drive us towards transportation revolution.


Prototype batteries could make consumer electronics last twice as long

Original press release was issued by MIT, written by Rob Matheson
We all know the drill. you charge up your smartphone overnight, make a couple of phone calls during the day, play a generic game for a few minutes on a lunch break, and surprise, surprise, by the time you make it back to bed, the batteries are prone to be charged again. Life expectancy of batteries is just as frustrating as it is tricky to prolong. However, SolidEnergy Systems, winner at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition’s Accelerator Contest, founded by Qichao Hu ’07, MIT alumnus and former postdoc, managed to develop a prototype lithium metal battery, that is twice as energy-dense, yet just as safe and long-lasting as the lithium ion batteries that power many of today’s consumer electronics, drones and electric cars among them.

“With two-times the energy density, we can make a battery half the size, but that still lasts the same amount of time, as a lithium ion battery. Or we can make a battery the same size as a lithium ion battery, but now it will last twice as long,” says Hu.

Researchers sought to make batteries like that for decades. “It is kind of the holy grail for batteries,” says Hu. Their prototype essentially swaps out a common battery anode material, graphite, for very thin, high-energy lithium-metal foil, which can hold more ions — and, therefore, provide more energy capacity.  Due to chemical modifications, the lithium metal batteries are also made rechargeable and safer to use. SolidEnergy plans to bring the batteries to smartphones and wearables in early 2017, and to electric cars in 2018. But the first application will be drones, coming this November.

The road to creating the prototype was a bumpy one. Hu’s team needed to address some major issues such as shrinking the battery in size and also making it work at room temperature. They developed an innovative ultrathin lithium metal foil for the anode, which is about one-fifth the thickness of a traditional lithium metal anode. That shrunk the battery in half. Furthermore, the battery only worked at 80 degrees Celsius or higher. To tackle this issue, Hu developed a solid and liquid hybrid electrolyte solution. He coated the lithium metal foil with a thin solid electrolyte that doesn’t need to be heated to function.

“Industry standard is that electric vehicles need to go at least 200 miles on a single charge. We can make the battery half the size and half the weight, and it will travel the same distance, or we can make it the same size and same weight, and now it will go 400 miles on a single charge.” proposes Hu.

Back in 2012, the landscape didn’t look good for battery companies. A123 Systems, The well-known MIT spinout developing advanced lithium ion batteries filed for bankruptcy. However, SolidEnergy was blessed with the opportunity to use the A123’s then-idle facilities — which included dry and clean rooms, and manufacturing equipment — to create the prototype. When A123 was acquired by Wanxiang Group in 2013, SolidEnergy signed a collaboration agreement to continue using A123’s resources. After three years of sharing A123’s space, SolidEnergy moved its headquarters to a brand new facility this month, with aims of ramping up production for their November launch.


How internet is increasingly taking over human memory

Original news release was issued by Taylor & Francis.
Almost every day we find our memory engulfed in a vortex of information. Be it phone numbers, scheduled events or a need for particular facts, there is a lot of information to be remembered. Given the imperfections of human memory, some knowledge falls prey to forgetfulness. In the event we need to access some information quickly without too much recalling or when our memory fails, we tend to rely on the vastness and informational depth of internet.

“Memory is changing. Our research shows that as we use the Internet to support and extend our memory we become more reliant on it. Whereas before we might have tried to recall something on our own, now we don’t bother. As more information becomes available via smartphones and other devices, we become progressively more reliant on it in our daily lives.” said Dr. Benjamin C. Storm, lead author of the study.

A recent study by researchers at the University of California, Santa Cruz and University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign finds that our reliance on internet to retrieve answers increases after each use and is affecting our thought processes when it comes to solving problems and learning. The authors of the study, Benjamin Storm, Sean Stone & Aaron Benjamin conducted several experiments to determine our likelihood to reach for a computer or smartphone to answer questions. They divided 60 undergraduate participants into two groups, challenging them to answer some trivia questions. The first group was told to use just their memory while the second group used Google. Subsequently, all participants were then given the option to answer some more easier questions by the method of their choice.
The results revealed that participants who consulted internet for answers were significantly more likely to revert to it for the subsequent questions as opposed to those who relied solely on their heads. Moreover, the participants also spent less time consulting their own memory before commencing the internet search and they were not only more likely to do it again, but have done so twice as fast. Remarkably, 30% of the participants who opted for Google failed to even attempt to rely on their own knowledge.
This research suggests that using a particular method for fact-finding might have a significant influence on future repeat behaviour. It remains to be seen, however, whether reliance on internet differs from any other type of reliance on information sources such as books or people.

Inside Hyperloop News

Dubai joins in on the Hyperloop Challenge

The time has come for Hyperloop One to enter into the Dubai territory. As Hyperloop One seeks new collaborations with cities and corporations in order to accelerate the process of bringing their idea to the market, it comes as no surprise to see the lucrative city of Dubai increasing involvement. Specifically, according to Business Insider reports, the Dubai-based and trading focused organization by the name of DP World entails the latest partnership with Hyperloop One.
DP World’s global presence is noteworthy – their marine ports and terminals are located across the most valuable trading regions, including but not limited to, Asia Pacific, Americas, Europe and Russia. One of the integral parts of their business includes the handling of containers. This is where Hyperloop One steps in.

“By eliminating the barriers of time and distance, we believe we can increase the volume of freight DP World moves through the port using a Hyperloop to a new inland depot, which supports more revenue and profit for all stakeholders,” said Rob Lloyd, Hyperloop One’s CEO, in a press statement. “A Hyperloop system fits very seamlessly with existing transportation corridors, minimizing any impact on urban Dubai and reducing freeway congestion and emissions”

A rendering of a Hyperloop tube within Dubai’s port infrastructure (Image source: Hyperloop One)

Partnering with such an extensive corporation, Hyperloop One may pave its way into new high-growth markets on a macroscopic level. The future of transportation, in congruence with smart cities and alternative energy sources, is a fruitful market in itself. Bravo to Hyperloop One who thought outside the box as they attempt to incorporate underwater transportation with their existing innovative challenges.
The aims of such explorations in the innovative sector is detailed by the Managing Director of Dubai Future Foundation, Mohammed Al Gergawi:

“This [collaboration] will eventually lead to massive global economic growth, and we aim to keep pace with the rapid developments by focusing on smart application of services and innovation in all fields”

Collaborative design event, Build Earth Live issued a challenge to the research community that is to help “shape the future of the Hyperloop.” This contest supplies a platform where researchers may submit their proposals through the cloud during a 48 hour period, all the while community visitors are encouraged to participate. Guess where the newest contest will be hosted? Dubai.


Low-cost electric cars proven to be ready for our daily driving needs

Original news release was issued by MIT, written by David L. Chandler.

We have grown accustomed to the general idea that electric vehicles (EVs) still have ways to go before they can completely replace those with combustion engine. And while the two still can’t compete in some respects (although the high-end of EVs is catching up), even the lower tier of electric cars could actually replace 90% of all American cars at this very moment – and our comfort would not take a hit. At least not nearly as much as climate change would.

Driving range is one of the issues that gets brought up the most when people eunumerate drawbacks of current EVs. But after investigating daily driving habits of American drivers, researchers at MIT found that 90% of them would not be affected by switching to an electric vehicle, provided that they charge it overnight. Simply put, today’s electric cars are more than capable of supporting the vast majority of American drivers on their daily commute without driving range ever becoming an issue. And the impact on climate change mitigation would be considerable.
The study was published yesterday in the journal Nature Energy by Jessika Trancik, the Atlantic Richfield Career Development Associate Professor in Energy Studies at MIT’s Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS), along with graduate student Zachary Needell, postdoc James McNerney, and recent graduate Michael Chang SM ’15.

“Roughly 90 percent of the personal vehicles on the road daily could be replaced by a low-cost electric vehicle available on the market today, even if the cars can only charge overnight,” Trancik says, “which would more than meet near-term U.S. climate targets for personal vehicle travel.”

Overall, when accounting for the emissions today from the power plants that provide the electricity, this would lead to an approximately 30 percent reduction in emissions from transportation. Deeper emissions cuts would be realized if power plants decarbonize over time.
The team spent four years on the project, which included developing a way of integrating two huge datasets: one highly detailed set of second-by-second driving behavior based on GPS data, and another broader, more comprehensive set of national data based on travel surveys. Together, the two datasets encompass millions of trips made by drivers all around the country.
The detailed GPS data was collected by state agencies in Texas, Georgia, and California, using special data loggers installed in cars to assess statewide driving patterns. The more comprehensive, but less detailed, nationwide data came from a national household transportation survey, which studied households across the country to learn about how and where people actually do their driving. The researchers needed to understand “the distances and timing of trips, the different driving behaviors, and the ambient weather conditions,” Needell says.
By working out formulas to integrate the different sets of information and thereby track one-second-resolution drive cycles, the MIT researchers were able to demonstrate that the daily energy requirements of some 90 percent of personal cars on the road in the U.S. could be met by today’s EVs, with their current ranges, at an overall cost to their owners — including both purchase and operating costs — that would be no greater than that of conventional internal-combustion vehicles. The team looked at once-daily charging, at home or at work, in order to study the adoption potential given today’s charging infrastructure.
But it is appropriate to curb our enthusiasm at this point, as there are hurdles to overcome.
Even though EVs are more than ready to handle our daily commute, longer trips are still out of the question – be it for holidays or business trips. Furthermore, efficient use of electric cars would also become more complicated in times when the need for heating or cooling would take a significant chunk out of the driving range on a single charge. Such situations would necessitate a second car, but they also open avenues for business model innovation, wherein efficient car-sharing services could mitigate the inconveniences.
One way or another, such quantification of effects that electric vehicles would have on the environment is immensely useful for further research, as well as for guidance in policy-making. We will be interested to see where the future of transportation takes us in the future, as recent developments show promise of a decent shake-up in the next couple of years.


"Chemtrails" are definitively not real, atmospheric science experts confirm

Original press release was issued by The Carnegie Institution for Science.

It’s one of the more definitive kinds of proof. When 76 leading atmospheric scientists agree that there is no evidence of chemtrails in our skies, you can start feeling very safe in your conviction against this particular conspiracy theory. But if you ever had doubts, we can now resoundingly say “no there is no secret large-scale chemical spraying of population going on”.

But let’s take a step back and look at what exactly chemtrails are – allegedly, in case you haven’t heard of them.
Chemtrails are a part of a fairly popular conspiracy theory according to which governments and/or powerful private organizations use aircraft to spray us with chemicals, spreading spreading viruses, allergies, but also controlling the weather. Effects can differ greatly depending on which camp you are a part of. These chemicals are supposedly mixed into jet fuel, and result into a slowly expanding condensation trail left behind an airplane. In a recent international study, 17% of people said that the existence of chemtrails is true or partly true, which more than warrants repeating of facts.

“We wanted to establish a scientific record on the topic of secret atmospheric spraying programs for the benefit of those in the public who haven’t made up their minds,” said Steven Davis of UC Irvine.  “The experts we surveyed resoundingly rejected contrail photographs and test results as evidence of a large-scale atmospheric conspiracy.”

It’s one of those issues that will never leave the mindshare of certain groups or individuals no matter how definitively you disprove them. Which is all the more frustrating when well-understood physical and chemical processes can explain how condensation trails come to be.
In the spirit of never giving up, Carnegie Science, University of California Irvine, and the nonprofit organization Near Zero, have conducted a survey of the world’s leading atmospheric scientists, who categorically rejected the existence of a secret spraying program. The team’s findings, published by Environmental Research Letters, are based on a survey of two groups of experts: atmospheric chemists who specialize in condensation trails and geochemists working on atmospheric deposition of dust and pollution.
The survey results show that 76 of the 77 participating scientists said they had not encountered evidence of a secret spraying program, and agree that the alleged evidence cited by the individuals who believe that atmospheric spraying is occurring could be explained through other factors, such as typical airplane contrail formation and poor data sampling.
The research team says they do not hope to sway those already convinced that there is a secret spraying program—as these individuals usually only reject counter-evidence as further proof of their theories—but rather to establish a source of objective science that can inform public discourse.
“Despite the persistence of erroneous theories about atmospheric chemical spraying programs, until now there were no peer-reviewed academic studies showing that what some people think are ‘chemtrails’ are just ordinary contrails, which are becoming more abundant as air travel expands. Also, it is possible that climate change is causing contrails to persist for longer periods than they used to.” Caldeira said. “I felt it was important to definitively show what real experts in contrails and aerosols think. We might not convince die-hard believers that their beloved secret spraying program is just a paranoid fantasy, but hopefully their friends will accept the facts.”


Wearable cloud jacket could bring about less expensive and more powerful mobile computing

Original news release was issued by the University of Alabama at Birmingham, written by Tiffany Westry.
There is no denying that cloud computing is an excellent means of personal online data storage and processing. However, privacy of the data leaves many people scratching their heads. With all the smart devices loosely linked with cloud computing, that’s plenty of data flying off into an unknown server. Yet another issue is if one chooses to become “fully smart”. Given the variety of individual devices, such as smartphones, smart glasses or smart watches, the whole package may get rather expensive. That’s where the concept of the researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham steps in — a wearable personal cloud — ready to wrap you up into a lightweight jacket, embedded with microcomputers.

Source: University of Alabama at Birmingham

Let’s break it down. The developed prototype is built with 10 Raspberry Pi computers (known for their small size and low cost), three power banks and a remote touchscreen display. The idea behind it is to create an ultimate smart device. Mobile apps are becoming more complex, more powerful mobile and wearable devices are thus required to keep up the pace. This results in increased prices. However, the wearable cloud is designed to do the power lifting instead of all the individual devices. Bearing that in mind, the smart devices would have no need for an expensive processor, ultimately becoming cheaper. This means they would be also “dumber”, only tasked with the role of input controllers, communicating with the cloud jacket via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. In addition, the jacket provides the wearer with a private network, so most or all of the personal data stays on their person. On top of that, the cloud jacket also sports roughly 10 gigabytes of RAM and 320 GB of storage space, making it far more superior than any commercial smartphone.

“Our overall approach is to create a generic atmosphere or platform that users can customize to fit their needs,” said Rasib Khan, Ph.D. “The wearable cloud can act as an application platform, so instead of modifying or having to upgrade hardware, this wearable model provides a platform, and developers can build anything on top of it.”

The wearable cloud is not only limited to clothing. The concept could also be applied on other items worn on a daily basis, such as backpacks, purses or briefcases. Interestingly enough, the developers are contemplating even more uses. For example, hospital patients could wear a comfortable jacket instead of being wired into a bunch of monitors. This way doctors could collect some valuable info even while the patients are on a walk. The portable cloud could even aid first responders willing to share info about a disaster or soldier communicating on a battlefield.

“With seven to 10 people wearing such a cloud together, they create what we call a hyper-cloud, a much more powerful engine,” said Ragib Hasan, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer and information sciences in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences “The jacket can also act as a micro or picocell tower. All of its capabilities can be shared on a private network with other devices via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. If a first responder is out in the field and doesn’t have complete information to act on a mission, but someone else does, it can be shared and updated through the cloud in real time.”

With an array of applications, spanning safer and less expensive sharing of data, hospitalization or streaming information about a disaster, Hasan and Khan are determined to turn this concept into a reality. Because sharing is caring.


Issue #8 of EAI Endorsed Transactions on Scalable Information Systems is out!

The EAI Endorsed Transactions on Scalable Information Systems provide a common forum to publish high quality papers, and to offer readers a single source to get inspiring ideas and important findings in this area. It is our pleasure to present the eighth issue of dedicated transactions on Scalable Information Systems.
As the data volumes continue to increase and the ways of information dispersion across the globe continue to diversify, new scalable methods and structures are needed for efficiently processing those distributed and autonomous data. Grid computing, P2P technology, distributed information retrieval technology, and networking technology all must be merged to address the scalability concern.
The eighth issue of the journal is now available for free via EUDL with topics ranging from Cooperative Data Caching, Neural Networks, wHealth, and much more.
If your research meets the topics of the journal, do not hesitate to submit it.


Prototype chip could carve the path for practical quantum computers

Original news release was issued by the Massachusetts Institute of Technologywritten by Larry Hardesty.
Once thought to be unattainable, quantum computers are slowly growing to overthrow the current computing leaders. With superior processing power and overall computing speed, these hypothetical devices could offer hope for solving problems in wide variety of fields which require more robust computing, such as cryptography, software engineering, information systems and many more. Quantum computers could potentially pocket their conventional baby brothers by performing some calculations much more rapidly with quantum bits, or qubits, which can represent 0 and 1 simultaneously.
Even though the development of quantum computing is still in its infancy, researchers from MIT and MIT Lincoln Laboratory report an important step forward toward practical quantum computers, presenting a prototype chip that can trap ions in an electric field and, with built-in optics, direct laser light toward each of them. The key difference that propels this research beyond what was already researched and tested lied in devising a new method of trapping ions, which is considered to be the most widely studied qubit technology. The previously used — standard ion trap — looks like a tiny cage, whose bars are electrodes that produce an electric field with ions lined up in the center. The new surface trap consists of a chip with electrodes embedded in its surface and ions hovering 50 micrometers above them. While the cage trap is limited in size, the surface trap could, in principle, be extended indefinitely, allowing for many more qubits to be stored inside.

If you were wondering where the major obstacle to be overcome is, here comes the tricky part. Performing a quantum computation requires precisely controlling the energy state of every qubit independently, via laser beams. In a surface trap, the ions are only about 5 micrometers apart so hitting each ion with an external laser without disturbing the neighboring ones is incredibly difficult. However, two research groups managed to successfully tackle the problem. The group led by Rajeev Ram, an MIT professor of electrical engineering and one of the senior authors on the paper, designed and built a suite of on-chip optical components that can channel laser light toward individual ions. The other group, under the supervision of Jeremy Sage, who together with John Chiaverini leads Lincoln Laboratory’s trapped-ion quantum-information-processing project, accommodated the surface trap with integrated optics without compromising its performance.

“Typically, for surface electrode traps, the laser beam is coming from an optical table and entering this system, so there’s always this concern about the beam vibrating or moving,” Ram says. “With photonic integration, you’re not concerned about beam-pointing stability, because it’s all on the same chip that the electrodes are on. So now everything is registered against each other, and it’s stable.”

Although the prototype proved to be a success, there is still a long way to go before the first conventional quantum computer sees the light of day. The addition of light modulators is in the works, which would allow qubits to simultaneously receive light of different, time-varying intensities, thus making the programming more efficient. “Arguably, the most important area in which progress needs to be made is technologies which will enable the systems to be scaled up to larger numbers of qubits, as was so impressively addressed by this research” said David Lucas, a professor of physics at Oxford University. It would appear, the era of practical quantum computers might be nearing us qubit by qubit.