New Technology – October 2017

I’ve run across some amazing new technologies that hopefully will make it to market someday.

Molecular Data Storage. A team of scientists at the University of Manchester recently made a breakthrough with a technology that allows high volumes of data to be stored within individual molecules. They’ve shown the ability to create high-density storage that could save 25,000 gigabits of data on something the size of a quarter.

They achieved the breakthrough using molecules that contain the element dysprosium (that’s going to send you back to the periodic table) cooled to a temperature of -213 centigrade. At that temperature the molecules retain magnetic alignment. Previously this has taken molecules cooled to a temperature of -259 C. The group’s goal is to find a way to do this at -196 C, the temperature of affordable liquid nitrogen, which would make this a viable commercial technology.

The most promising use of this kind of dense storage would be in large data centers since this storage is 100 times more dense than existing technologies. This would make data centers far more energy efficient while also speeding up computing. This kind of improvement since there are predictions that within 25 years data centers will be the largest user of electricity on the planet.

Bloodstream Electricity. Researchers at Fudan University in China have developed a way to generate electricity from a small device immersed in the bloodstream. The device uses stationary nanoscale carbon fibers that act like a tiny hydropower generator. They’ve named the device as ‘fiber-shaped fluidic nanogenerator” (FFNG).

Obviously there will need to be a lot of testing to make sure that the devices don’t cause problems like blood clots. But the devices hold great promise. A person could use these devices to charge a cellphone or wearable device. They could be used to power pacemakers and other medical devices. They could be inserted to power chips in farm animals that could be used to monitor and track them, or used to monitor wildlife.

Light Data Storage. Today’s theme seems to be small, and researchers at Caltech have developed a small computer chip that is capable of temporarily storing data using individual photons. This is the first team that has been able to reliably capture photons in a readable state on a tiny device. This is an important step in developing quantum computers. Traditional computers store data as either a 1 or a 0, but quantum computers store also can store data that is both a 1 and 0 simultaneously. This has shown to be possible with photons.

Quantum computing devices need to be small and operate at the nanoscale because they hold data only fleetingly until it can be processed, and nanochips can allow rapid processing. The Caltech device is small around the size of a red blood cell. The team was able to store a photon for 75 nanoseconds, and the ultimate goal is to store information for a full millisecond.

Photon Data Transmission. Researchers at the University of Ottowa have developed a technology to transmit a secure message using photons that are carrying more than one bit of information. This is a necessary step in developing data transmission using light, which would free the world from the many limitations of radio waves and spectrum.

Radio wave data transmission technologies send one bit of data at a time with each passing wavelength. Being able to send more than one bit of data with an individual proton creates the possibility of being able to send massive amounts of data through the open atmosphere. Scientists have achieved the ability to encode multiple bits with a proton in the lab, but is the first time it’s been done through the atmosphere in a real-world application.

The scientists are now working on a trial between two locations that are almost three miles apart and that will use a technology they call adaptive optics that can compensate for atmospheric turbulence.

There are numerous potential uses for the technology in our industry. This could be used to create ultrahigh-speed connections between a satellite and earth. It could be used to transmit data without fiber between locations with a clear line-of-sight. It could used as a secure method of communications with airplanes since small light beams can’t be intercepted or hacked.

The other use of the technology is to leverage the ability of photons to carry more than one bit of data to create a new kind of encryption that should be nearly impossible to break. The photon data transmission allows for the use of 4D quantum encryption to carry the keys needed to encrypt and decrypt packets, meaning that every data packet could use a different encryption scheme.

New Technology – Medical Applications

Medical_Software_Logo,_by_Harry_GouvasThis month I look at some technology advances in medicine.

Robot Drug Researcher. A team at the University of Manchester has developed an AI system they call Eve which is designed to assist in drug research. Eve is a combination of a computer and a system of mechanical arms that lets Eve mix various chemicals to search for new compounds. The drug industry has already developed sophisticated software that helps to visualize chemical compounds, and Eve adds the ability to ‘learn’ on top of the existing software platforms.

During the original test of concept for Eve, the computer found a possible useful compound for fighting drug-resistant malaria. Eve found a chemical called TNP-470 that effectively targets an enzyme that is key to the growth of Plasmodium vivax, one of the parasites that causes malaria. Many drugs do their job by ‘fitting’ a chemical into a disease agent to block its function, in the way that a key fits into a lock. Drug chemists often search for cures by looking at classes of chemicals that might work in a given application based upon the shapes. But then they have to slog through hundreds of thousands of tests to find the perfect solution. Eve can automate and speed up that search process. The team was not really expecting this kind of immediate breakthrough, but it shows the potential for automating the searching process.

Microchips Deliver Drugs Precisely. Biomedical engineer Robert Langer has developed a system that will allow an implanted chip to release drugs in response to a WiFi signal. The chips have up to a thousand tiny wells and can hold many doses of the same drug or a number of different drugs. Each little well has a cover that can be opened in response to a wireless signal.

This technology could be useful in treating some forms of cancer as well as certain kinds of diabetes where small timed releases of drugs are the only effective treatment as compared to a large injection from a shot or a pill. With 1,000 possible doses the device could deliver drugs over a long period of time and might also be useful for such things as birth control.

Organs-on-a-Chip. Fraunhofer, a German research company, recently announced that it has developed what they are calling organ-on-a-chip. The company has developed chips where human cells from various organs are put into tiny wells and connected by tiny canals. The chips, when fully functioning, can then represent a functioning human for the purposes of testing the effects of various drugs.

The promise for the technology is that it will be able to greatly speed up the drug testing process, and can possibly replace having to test drugs on animals before a drug can be tested on humans. Normal drug testing can take years, and researchers have never been fully enamored with animal testing since they have always known that many drugs affect humans differently than animals; this testing method can give more precise feedback. The hope is that the organs-on-a-chip will knock years off of the testing process for promising drugs while also more quickly identifying drugs that have a detrimental effect on human tissues.

Robot Orderlies. The University of California, San Francisco’s Mission Bay wing is testing a robot orderly they have named Tug. The robots are being used to shuttle things around the hospital, and they deliver such things as clean linens, meals or drugs to rooms as needed. The hospital plans on having a fleet of 25 of the robots by this month. Already each of the robots at the hospital is logging 12 miles of hallway travel per day.

The robots navigate using built-in maps of the hospital. They are programmed to not be intrusive and, for example, will patiently wait to get past people who are blocking a hallway. The robots take the elevators which they call by wireless signal. There have been trials of robot orderlies before, but this is the largest trial to date and the robots are taking over a host of orderly services.

Smartphone as Medical Monitor. Apple has teamed up with a number of leading hospitals to conduct trials where they will use the iPhone 6 and smart watches to monitor patients. The idea is to monitor patients 24 hours per day after they have been released from the hospital for treatment of major health problems. The monitoring will give the doctors the ability to watch key metrics such as heart beat, blood pressure, blood sugar, and other important indicators, much as they would have done if the patient was still in the hospital.

Apple is calling the technology package HealthKit and it puts them far ahead of rivals such as Samsung and Google since over a dozen hospitals are now trialing the technology. The trials are to help doctors determine the degree to which tracking patients’ symptoms will help their treatment. For now the trials are working with critically ill patients, but the eventual plan is to develop routine tracking for the general population that will help to spot health issues before they become otherwise apparent. You can envision someday getting a call from your doctor asking you to come in since your blood pressure or blood sugar are outside normal bounds.