Welcome to this week’s 21st Century Technology headlines. Each week I select a few interesting stories about technological innovation that can help us tackle the problems we face this century. As always I encourage you to comment, ask questions and provide input on topics I write about or feature. This week focuses on drip irrigation in India, biomedical technology that could replace doctors, using computers as a prescription against dementia, a new filtering technology that could help clean up oil spills, and some novel concepts for supersonic commercial aircraft. Enjoy the read.
Agriculture Update: Netafim Irrigation Technology – A Scarce Water Solution
A leaky water pipe and a flourishing tree revolutionized irrigation over 50 years ago and what was discovered by accident has led to the development of micro-irrigation products by a company in Israel called Netafim. Its micro-drip technology adapts to operational and environmental conditions maintaining directed water flow to field or greenhouse crops. Today the company is providing training and assistance to farmers in 110 countries developing micro-irrigation solutions that increase water use efficiency to 95%. In April Netafim opened a new facility in India to assist more than 50,000 farms in the country. India, a country with 1.2 billion people , 17% of the world’s population, contains only 4% of its fresh water. With 77% of that water designated for agriculture, maximizing water use is critical to increasing crop yields. Crops under micro-drip irrigation include cotton, sugarcane, potatoes and bananas grown in open fields as well as green houses.
Hey Doc – You May Soon Be Replaced by a Machine
At the Health Innovation Summit in late August in San Francisco, Vinod Khosla, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and a partner in a health venture capital firm, described a future in which applications on smartphones would replace 80% of physicians. Khosla demonstrated AliveCor’s ECG Heart Monitor, a low-cost mobile device that enables a patient to monitor his or her heart health anywhere, anytime and that attaches to an iPhone. The monitor is one of a number of consumer-oriented medical products that Khosla’s firm is funding that allow consumers to measure and assess their own wellness. And with Watson (see last week’s headlines) learning to become a medical whiz on behalf of WellPoint Inc., machine learning systems may soon prove to be better at diagnosis than most doctors.
Using Computers to Stave off Dementia
Today dementia affects 13.3 per 1,000 population. But here is a prescription you can take if you are getting to your senior years like me. “Take one personal computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone session a day and call me in the morning because you’ll remember my number. According to a research study done by the University of Western Australia, regular computer use is a formula for lowering incidents of dementia in older males. The study followed 5,506 men between the ages of 69 and 87 for a period of up to 8 1/2 years. The results, a decrease in dementia rates of 40%. Computer usage was measured by frequency and type of activity. Follow up showed a correlation between frequency of computer use and cognitive abilities.
Environmental Technology Update: New Filter Separates Oil From Water
Imagine a filter that cleans up oil spills in the ocean or separates oil from water in fresh water treatment plants. In the past membranes separating water and oil have fouled up after a few hours. But not this technology created by engineers at University of Pittsburgh. The filtering agent consists of two compounds: POSS (fluorodecyl polyhedral oligomeric silsesquioxane) and PEGDA (polyethylene glycol diacrylate). When applied to surfaces such as wire screening, filter paper or fabric, water passed through while oil was blocked. Tests in the lab on canola oil and diesel fuel produced optimal results. Next in the plans, a field test in the ocean. Where are you BP?
Transportation Update: Is There a Supersonic Flying Wing in Your Travel Future?
NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts Program has awarded engineers at University of Miami $100,000 in funding to turn their bi-directional flying wing idea into a reality. The wing looks like a Ninja warrior’s star with four wings at 90 degrees to each other. When in subsonic flight the aircraft uses one set of wings. When in supersonic flight it rotates and uses its other set. The jet engines atop the aircraft re-align for the type of desired flight. For passengers on board, a 5-second rotation would create g-forces less than those experienced during commercial jet flights today.
Not to be outdone, engineers at Tohoku University in Japan have come up with a supersonic biplane concept that produces no sonic boom. Supersonic commercial air travel ended with the Concorde. Will we see it revive? Most experts believe concepts like these will take 20 years to go from the drawing board to commercial use. My bet is we will see sub-orbital commercial rocket service between New York and Tokyo before either of these two interesting airplanes ever fly.
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