We keep an eye on the latest technology developments so you don’t have to. Here are some of the things we’ve spotted recently that are changing our world - or at least, helping us raise a smile in challenging times.

Electric planes

All forms of transport are slowly embracing the possibilities of going electric, but battery technology does not yet exist that can get a plane off the ground (and, let’s face it, who wants to worry about a low battery when you’re halfway over the Atlantic). But this hasn’t stopped researchers at MIT investigating the possibilities of a new hybrid-electric plane in the drive for net-zero aviation. While the plane’s main source of thrust is still a conventional gas turbine, this would drive a generator to produce electricity, which would in turn power wing-mounted electric propellers.\ https://futurism.com/the-byte/mit-hybrid-electric-airliner

Beyond Lidar

With a recent article suggesting that the UK was about to become the first territory to allow fully autonomous car journeys (where the driver is eating, watching a screen or otherwise occupied), driverless car safety is on everyone’s minds. Key to this is enabling a vehicle to ‘see’ what is around it, and until now, Lidar has been the predominant technology used. However, as this fascinating round-up shows, there are many options other than Lidar, and in future visible light, near-infrared, thermal imaging and radar - or a combination of these - could be used in conjunction with, or instead of, Lidar. The sheer number of competitors in this space suggests that the race for truly autonomous vehicles is well and truly on.\ https://techcrunch.com/2021/01/16/startups-look-beyond-lidar-for-autonomous-vehicle-perception/

Jetpack ice skating

ice-skating along frozen stretches of rivers and lakes is a common winter pursuit in Canada - but not many people strap a home-made motor and propellor to their back to make it even more scary. Skaters in Ottawa have been subjected to the frankly terrifying sight of one Brydon Gibson (and occasionally his friends and family) whizzing past at speeds of up to 40kph. With no protective equipment. Wonder how long before some adventure-sports company picks up on this?\ https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ottawa-inventor-jetpack-propeller-skates-frozen-river-1.5871621

Robots cleared to fly

Until now, the potential application of drone technology in the real world has been hampered by the need to have human observers supervising flights, and keeping the drone in their line of sight at all times. Now the US airspace regulator has given a limited go-ahead in specific geographic areas to allow drones to operate without a human pilot or observer. Naturally, the legislation has plenty of safety provisions, such as the requirement that a human runs through a pre-flight safety checklist, and the drone is fitted with safety apparatus to allow it to avoid other aircraft, but it is an intriguing step towards the mainstream use of this technology.\ https://www.theverge.com/2021/1/15/22234029/faa-american-robotics-beyond-visual-line-of-sight-remote-observer-waiver

Augmented hearing

Research into wireless earbuds has benefits for people beyond simply offering the latest cool audio experience. The new breed of ‘hearables’ can offer solutions for the estimated 466 million people globally who suffer from some kind of hearing loss. Traditional hearing aids work by simply amplifying sound, whereas modern hearables use artificial intelligence to isolate and enhance specific sounds and conversation, while blocking out ambient noise. They cost a lot less to buy and service than traditional hearing aids, as well as winning on the design front and also offering a better music listening experience. \ https://www.digitaltrends.com/home-theater/hearbles-hearing-loss-ces-2021-nuheara-oticon-olive/

Online art

Berlin is one of the most exciting centres in Europe for arts and culture, as anyone who has visited there will know. While Germany may be under lockdown restrictions, this does not mean that events are not happening - in the virtual world, at least. Berlin Art Link provides an invaluable resource for digital exhibitions and events that we can enjoy from the comfort of our living rooms, wherever we are in the world. Add some of these to your calendar and be inspired!\ http://www.berlinartlink.com/2021/01/07/art-online/

Written by Rhian Lewis