Archive for October, 2014

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fun of Google and in particular Google {X}.  I mean, how can you not be a fan of a secretive lab working on various moonshots that could change our lives several times over?  And that’s no exaggeration.  We’re talking about driverless cars, augmented reality glasses, world wide internet access and even a cure for aging.

I’ve even written about Google X at length in the past.  Here’s part of what I had to say at the time as I speculated about what could be next for this game changing lab:

“What other far off moon shots might we see?  Spray on Wi-Fi perhaps?  Or maybe it’ll be a new mode of high speed transportation similar to Elon Musk’s rumored hyperloop? As we all know, trying to predict the future is an exercise in futility.  The world we live in just five years from now will be far different than the one we reside in now.  Rather, as computer scientist Alan Kay once said, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.  Thankfully, Google[X] is doing just that.”

And they’re at it again as now word comes out that they’re working on creating nanoparticles that could enter our bloodstream and detect cancer and other diseases and do so even earlier than is currently possible.

As Extreme Tech explains, “The core technology will be an army of magnetic nanoparticles that are circulated through your bloodstream. From there they will bind to any suspicious proteins, sugars or other molecules, and then report to a magnetically-active wristband where further interrogations can take place. Pending favorable FDA review, Google hopes the initial incarnations of the platform could be ready in about five years.”

TechCrunch adds that, “Detecting cancer could be as easy as popping a pill in the near future. Google’s head of life sciences, Andrew Conrad, took to the stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital conference to reveal that the tech giant’s secretive Google[x] lab has been working on a wearable device that couples with nanotechnology to detect disease within the body.

‘We’re passionate about switching from reactive to proactive and we’re trying to provide the tools that make that feasible,’ explained Conrad. This is a third project in a series of health initiatives for Google[x]. The team has already developed a smart contact lens that detects glucose levels for diabetics and utensils that help manage hand tremors in Parkinson’s patients.”

So what does it all mean?  Essentially, it means that urine and blood samples will soon be a thing of the past.  Instead all we’d have to do to test for disease is swallow a pill on a daily basis and monitor the results.  We could even upload the data and send it to our doctor for feedback without the hassle of actually going to see the doctor in person.  No more doctor office waiting rooms!!! No more hoping that other patients don’t catch you staring at that issue of Highlights magazine that you really want to pick up.  No more making a mess of the plastic sheet put out over the table before the doctor even enters the room!  No more having to pee in a cup when you don’t have to go!!!

But the best part is what this could mean for early detection.  Instead of waiting for a heart attack to strike without any notice we could monitor our bodies on a daily basis and detect the enzymes that are given off by the heart prior to the heart attack actually happening.  That notice may only be a few hours or it could be a few days but either way if we could have a heads up that  something bad might be on the verge of happening that could save countless lives.

I can’t wait to find out what Google {X} has in store for us next!


Is detecting disease from within our bodies before it strikes the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I have a world changing idea.  All I need to pull it off is millions of dollars, thousands of acres, hundreds of man hours, and one really big leap of faith from all of you.  But bear with me because it’s a really good idea involving something that can only be described as the Greatest Place On Earth!  Intrigued?  I thought you would be.  So allow me to explain.

There are a lot of things that I would love to do in my lifetime that I’m never going to be able to do.  Things that are probably on your bucket list too.  Things like seeing the Great Pyramids in Egypt, exploring ancient Mayan ruins, going to Stonehenge, etc.  Then there are things that I would love to do that I’m never going to be able to do that probably aren’t on your bucket list.  Things that probably only I would want to do.  Things like finding my way through a labyrinth, swinging from the mast of a pirate ship, floating in zero gravity, or diving on a shipwreck in search of the captain’s log.

If I’m lucky maybe I’ll get to do one of those things.  Maybe I’ll get to go through a cornfield maze at a pumpkin patch.  Maybe I’ll get to go near an ancient ruin but not inside of it.  If everything breaks my way, if all the stars align, maybe, just maybe I’ll wind up with a few photos, a selfie or two, some long lasting memories, and a new Facebook profile picture.  Chances are though that all I’ll really wind up with is some deathbed regrets.

There’s a really simple solution to my conundrum though.  A way for me to live out of all of my fantasies, to see all of the wonders of the world, to visit all of the places that I’ve only ever wondered about, to get out of my dream world and into the real world.  And that’s to create the Greatest Place On Earth.

What I’m envisioning is a glorified theme park of sorts.  A collection of various adventures that you could go on.  Want to explore ancient ruins and search for buried treasure?  You can do that here!  Want to dive on a shipwreck or look for clues that the lost city of Atlantis was real?  You can do that here!  Want to explore the control room of an alien space ship that crash landed in the desert?  You can do that here!

Anything and everything that you can think of you can do.  Every adventure.  Every scenario.  Every far flung locale.  Every type of terrain.  Every fantasy.  The Greatest Place On Earth would have it all.

A few examples:

  • A puzzle house with rooms like the video game Portal that you have to solve your way out of.
  • Pyramids that you can actually go into – can you find the hidden entrance way to the pharaoh’s tomb?
  • Labyrinths – have a reservation out our five star restaurant? Gonna have to find it first.
  • Haunted house – once inside there’s only one way out – through a hidden passageway!
  • Pirate ship – just like in Goonies this would be in a lagoon so you can swing from ropes, walk the plank, and get shot out of a cannon shaped water tube.  (Okay so that last part wasn’t like Goonies but it would be totally awesome).
  • Underwater shipwreck – first you scuba dive to the site, then you have to find the important message written on the captain’s log.
  • Murder mystery dinner theater – there would be no normal restaurants on premise.  So it makes sense that a murder mystery dinner be on the menu.
  • Space ship – Not only do you get to explore a space craft from another universe but you also get to experience weightlessness in a Zero G chamber.
  • Famous movie reenactments like the boulder chasing scene from Indiana Jones or a tour through Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory.
  • An abandoned town filled with Zombies – can you survive the night?

But wait it gets better.  The Greatest Place On Earth wouldn’t just be your average run of the mill theme park.  Rather the entire enterprise from top to bottom would be one giant fantasy.  I’m talking about one of the on site hotels being a haunted mansion and the other an ice castle.  Hidden restaurants would be baked into their environments. Character actors would be disguised as park goers so that you never know who is in on the fun and who isn’t.

There would also be an additional gaming section featuring:

  • Wiffleball fields designed to look like miniaturized versions of real parks
  • A trampoline park
  • Obstacles courses including the water course from the TV show Wipeout and the tennis ball gun finale from American Gladiators
  • Paintball in various settings
  • Oculus rift trials

Oh and did I mention that the only way to get from one section to another is via a lazy river?  This place would be epic!!!

Critics of this idea are likely to poo-poo upon it and say that living out your fantasies like this is just what Disney World is for.  Um, no it’s not. Disney World is for seven year olds to ride tea cups and pretend they are princesses.  The Greatest Place On Earth is for everyone else to do everything they’ve always wanted to and never could.  Literally everything.  You could even customize your very own experience if there’s something that you want to do that’s not offered.

Critics might also suggest that this is a dumb idea since some of this stuff is available in other locations.  If you want to see pyramids go to where there are pyramids!  But that criticism misses the point.  I don’t just want to create knock off replicas of famous sites for photo ops.  This isn’t going to be the Vegas strip.  What I want to do is create immersive environments that you can interact with.  Places that you can crawl into, climb over, take control of.  Not treasured historical landmarks that you’re not allowed to go near.  Plus the Greatest Place on Earth would be taking all of those far flung locales, each of which would be extremely expensive to travel to in of themselves, and combining them all into one convenient location.  A one stop shop for wish fulfillment.

All of which begs the question: who’s with me and when do we get started??!?!

Is a theme park featuring mazes and other adventures that you could go on the Greatest Idea Ever?

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#560 – The Adaptable House

Our living situations are in a constant state of flux.  Significant others come and go.  Friends and in-laws stay over for extended periods of time unexpectedly.  Families of three become families of four.  Sometimes planned.  Sometimes not.  Whatever the case may be from divorce to pregnancy life is always ready to throw us another curve ball at a moments notice.  Shouldn’t we be ready for it?

That’s the premise behind The Adaptable House, a fully customizable abode capable of adapting on the fly to meet our ever changing needs.  Have a house guest?  Shrink the size of your living room and add another bedroom.  One of your kids heading off to college?  Don’t just convert their bedroom into an office.  Get rid of it entirely! The possibilities are endless.

Fast Company details how this is possible:

“Inside the two-story house, flexible walls allow rooms to be reconfigured, and standard components can be moved from room to room without throwing anything out or requiring new materials. Downstairs, the kitchen and two living areas can be divided into three separate rooms or stretched into one large space. Upstairs, movable cabinet walls can create another large space, or bedrooms, a playroom, an office, and a walk-in closet. Stick-on outlets can be placed anywhere along the wall.”

But that’s not all.  The article goes on to add that, “The designers considered every likely scenario for a modern family, including single-parent homes and blended families. ‘The house can adapt to these different family constellations very easily and quickly and at a low cost,’ Kongebro says. The garage, for example, can be turned into a separate apartment for a struggling single parent to rent out, so they don’t have to move to a new home.”

What’s great about this concept is aside from the obvious benefits to our quality of living is that there are additional benefits too such as cost savings when it comes to home renovations as well as a reduced carbon footprint.  Forget about a win-win situation.  This is a win-win-win situation.

Well, not entirely.  You’re still on your own when it comes to dealing with those unwanted house guests.

Is The Adaptable House the Greatest Idea Ever?


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I love inventions that have unique names based on something of historical significance.  So you can bet that I love the Pico, a new password protecting device named after famed Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola who was well known for his incredible memory.  Essentially, the way that the device works is that it remembers all of your useful passwords so that all you have to do is wave it in front of a screen to unlock access to your personal information.  But what if someone steals this device you ask?  Well here’s the rub: it only works within the presence of your electronic aura, a hypothetical area surrounding your body wherein your devices work for you and you alone.  What the what?!?!!?

As crazy as that sounds it may actually be possible to achieve.  I’ll let the Guardian explain:

“According to Frank Stajano, reader in security at Cambridge University’s computer laboratory, each of us needs an electronic aura, a field that would extend no more than two or three feet from our bodies and which could be generated in a similar way to a Wi-Fi signal, only over a very short distance. Crucially, signals generated within the aura would uniquely identify its owner and permit only his or her electronic devices to work when they are close to that person.  Outside your electronic aura, your electric car keys would not be able to function, for example. You could drop them in a supermarket but they would be of no use to a thief, because the keys could only operate in the presence of your aura.

Even more ambitiously, Stajano is designing a handheld device that can remember thousands of log-in names and passwords.  This device – which he calls a pico, after the Italian philosopher Giovanni Pico della Mirandola, who was famed for his prodigious memory – would interact automatically with websites for banks, theatres, cinemas, rail companies and others. You would simply hold the device over your screen to access one of your accounts.  The device would, again, be perfectly secure because it could only function inside an individual’s electronic aura. If one was dropped or lost, it would provide no security threat and would be simply replaced by a backup.”

Got all that?

While it’s clear that we need a more secure way to access our digital information, preferably one that doesn’t involve remembering twenty different passwords that we have to constantly change, it remains to be seen whether or not the Pico and Electronic Auras are the solution to that problem.

But there’s no denying the fact that having our very own electronic auras sure would be pretty cool!

Is an Electronic Aura the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Flying cars.  Holograms.  Emotionally intelligent robots.  Meatloaf that doesn’t taste like meatloaf.  There are a lot of obstacles that we have yet to overcome but we may be on the verge of overcoming one of them: precision indoor mapping.  Despite our best efforts it’s a technological hurdle that we have yet to overcome.

As Wired puts it, “Smartphones are dumbest when it comes to the world immediately surrounding them. Think about it: The miracle device in your pocket can summon up any fact you could conceivably want to know about Dunkin’ Donuts, and it can instantly render a map of every Dunkin’ Donuts in your greater metropolitan area, but as to the fact that you’re actually, physically standing in line at Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s utterly oblivious.  That won’t likely be the case for long. A new generation of sensors, powered by a low-energy flavor of Bluetooth, stand to give our phones a rich awareness of the physical world.”

That awareness is going to be made possible by a new company known as Estimote and their new game changing beacons that you place strategically around a physical location.  For example, you would place one on each wall inside a store.  A smartphone app then calibrates each beacon and viola you have precision indoor mapping at your disposal!

But then what?  Indoor mapping sounds cool and all but what would we actually use it for?

As Wired states, “it’s far from clear what the killer app for indoor location will be. Beacons have steadily appeared in the real world without exactly redefining our mobile experience. One early adopter was Major League Baseball, which blanketed ballparks with the tiny radios to help offer seat upgrades and location-specific concessions specials. Department stores like Macy’s will soon be using beacons to send personalized deals to smartphone users.”

Shopping aside there are plenty of other uses for Estimote’s beacons.  Here’s one idea: my location within a location locator.  Lets say you’re meeting some friends at a crowded venue.  Perhaps a concert.  It’s too crowded to spot them and it’s too noisy to call them.  You try to text them but still can’t figure out where they are. What recourse do you have other than to wander around aimlessly?  Well with the location within a location locator powered by Estimote you could now pinpoint their exact location.

Another possibility is to put them in banks or other high risk areas.  If there’s ever a hostage situation the police could use these beacons to figure out exactly how many people are inside and where they are located.  Alternatively, movie theaters could use them to cross reference ticket sales and see if anybody has snuck into one of their theaters.  A more interesting possibility is to put them inside of a bar and pare them with a dating app.  That way you could find out exactly how many single people are inside an establishment before deciding whether or not to enter.

It’s clear though that the most obvious use for this technology is in regards to retail.  From location aware coupons that show up exactly when you arrive within the proximity of an item to providing store owners with accurate renderings of how foot traffic moves throughout their stores it’s clear that the way we shop is about to change.

The only question that remains is what else will change?

Is accurate indoor mapping the Greatest Idea Ever?

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I love biomimicry, the practice of taking things found in nature and designing useful applications from that inspiration.  I even have a theory that every animal, every plant, every species of everything is here for a specific reason.  Some of those lessons we’ve figured out and applied.  Others we’re just barely scratching the surface of.  And others we are still years away from figuring out and may never figure out.

Well, if I’m right about my theory we can cross the Mantis shrimp off the list.  That’s because our friend from the sea has a very useful skill: the ability to detect cancer just by looking at it!

How do they do it?

According to sciencealert.com, “Mantis shrimp can see cancer, and the activity of our neurons, because they have unique eyes, known as compound eyes. This type of eye is superbly tuned to detect polarised light – a type of light that reflects differently off different types of tissue, including cancerous or healthy tissue.”

As it turns out this skill is not unique to the Mantis shrimp.  Scientists are finding out that lots of animals are equipped with compound eyes.

Why is this important you ask?  Well it’s because scientists from the University of Queensland in Australia are working on a camera that aims to detect polarized light and they one day hope that the technology from that camera makes its way into your smartphone’s camera!

A selfie that can save your life?  Now that’s a great idea.


Is a cancer detecting camera based on the vision of Mantis shrimp the Greatest Idea Ever?

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Having the ability to cloak an object is equal parts exciting and terrifying.  Exciting because of the pure awesomeness of the concept.  Terrifying when thinking about how this technology could be used by the military or other nefarious organizations.  So far the awesomeness seems to be winning out because every few weeks or so we hear about a new development that pushes this staple of science fiction fantasy closer towards becoming a reality.

However, in spite of our best efforts there hasn’t really been a major breakthrough that completely cloaks an object from all angles.  That may be about to change though thanks to a new breakthrough that uses, get this, four standard lenses to get the job done.  No high tech wizardry.  No fancy new super materials.  Nothing special at all.  Just ordinary, readily available, run of the mill lenses.

As Phys.org explains:

“Many cloaking designs work fine when you look at an object straight on, but if you move your viewpoint even a little, the object becomes visible…previous cloaking devices can also cause the background to shift drastically, making it obvious that the cloaking device is present.  In order to both cloak an object and leave the background undisturbed, the researchers determined the lens type and power needed, as well as the precise distance to separate the four lenses. To test their device, they placed the cloaked object in front of a grid background. As they looked through the lenses and changed their viewing angle by moving from side to side, the grid shifted accordingly as if the cloaking device was not there.  There was no discontinuity in the grid lines behind the cloaked object, compared to the background, and the grid sizes (magnification) matched.”

What’s really interesting about this breakthrough though is the potential it has for what I will call reverse cloaking.  This is when rather than hiding an object from view you instead use the device to see around something that is actually there.  The Phys.org article for example suggests that the device could be used to let a surgeon look through his hands to see what he was operating on or to remove blind spots when driving.

If that is indeed what this cloaking device is going to be used for then I need to change my answer.  Cloaking is now officially more exciting than terrifying.

‘Cloaking’ device uses ordinary lenses to hide objects across range of angles

Is a cloaking device made from four standard lenses the Greatest Idea Ever?

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