Briefs: Technology

Cloud Robotics: Distributed Robot Intelligence

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Just a decade ago, the concept of robots communicating with a central computer “brain” was more science fiction than science fact. This vision was often portrayed in dystopian views of the future; for example, the sentient computers in the world of “The Matrix” and the implacable Borg in the “Star Trek” universe.

But researcher groups, including some at Google, are now looking seriously at the idea of robots that tap the processing power and data made available by cloud computing, seeing it as a way to create “lighter, cheaper, and smarter” robots.

The fruits of research into cloud robotics are just beginning to emerge from the laboratory, and some early examples of robotic systems that use the cloud approach seem more like toys than serious working robots. But these systems may in fact be the precursors of a new generation of robotic devices that will have broad commercial and consumer impacts.Read more…

How Technology Will Change Business: Disruptions Through 2020

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New developments in information technology have had a profound effect on the way organizations operate. In what spheres of business and government will technology have the greatest impact over the next decade? Which parts of organization life will undergo the greatest changes? Will technology be even more disruptive going forward, or has the impact of IT plateaued?

To answer these questions, the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) interviewed a number of well-known technology and business leaders and thinkers about the impact of technology on business over the next decade. The EIU also surveyed 500 senior executives from a wide variety of industry and government organizations in more than 25 countries. The results paint a broad picture of ongoing, even accelerating, technology-enabled change.Read more…

Integrated Solutions, Diversity of Vehicles

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As cities grow ever larger, more numerous, more congested, and more polluted, consumers, governments, and automakers are looking for transportation solutions that move beyond the conventional personal auto.

The goal of so-called micromobility solutions is to provide convenient transport in congested urban areas (e.g., for short urban commutes or shopping trips) and to solve the “first/last mile connectivity” problem — the need to connect public transportation points of entry/exit to homes, workplaces, shopping, and other destinations.

While there are a wide variety of possible solutions — including walking, biking, and ride-sharing — that can meet these needs to various extents, this brief explores personal transport vehicles that are smaller than a conventional auto and are powered by a drivetrain other than a simple internal combustion engine. These types of vehicles may become a more important part of integrated urban mobility solutions over the next decade and beyond.Read more…

Wildcard—Massive Solar Storm: Threats to Power, Communications, and Navigation

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THE WILDCARD: On September 1, 1859, astronomer Richard Carrington watched a massive solar flare erupt from the surface of the sun. The “Carrington event” sent a stream of charged particles toward Earth—producing the largest disturbances in Earth’s magnetic field ever recorded, lighting the night sky with beautiful auroras visible as far south as Cuba, and causing major telegraph outages.

The probability of an extreme solar-weather event as large as the Carrington event of 1859 occurring in the next decade has been estimated at about 12%.

The intensity of solar weather peaks on an eleven-year cycle, with the next expected peak in 2012–2015.

Measured elements of solar weather include solar flares, coronal mass ejections, solar wind, and solar energetic particles.

Solar flares emit streams of charged particles; when the particles reach Earth, they cause changes in the planet’s magnetic field and electrical environment that can, for instance, induce DC currents in power grids with the potential to disrupt and damage electrical systems.Read more…