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The Latest Highlights & Trends in Tech

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First Flower blooms in outer space!

The orange zinnia plant, which is part of NASA's plant growth system on board the International Space Station, is finally flowering! The experiment began on November 16, 2015, when the zinnia's “Rooting pillows” were activated by NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren. The zinnias looked like they were in some serious trouble, in late December, so the astronaut proposed a plan to restructure the flower's care. He said: “You know, I think if we’re going to Mars, and we were growing stuff, we would be responsible for deciding when the stuff needed water. Kind of like in my backyard, I look at it and say ‘Oh, maybe I should water the grass today.’ I think this is how this should be handled.” The previous protocol was dropped and the gardening team on Earth established new guidelines for the astronauts, known as “The Zinnia Care Guide for the On-Orbit Gardener.” Kelly's zinnias began blooming soon after on January 12, making it the first zinnia flower grown on the ISS. It might not sound particularly important of course, but apparently it's particularly important for NASA to figure out how plants behave in microgravity, as deep space astronauts will have to grow their own food in the future. Anyone who saw The Martian could tell you that though!

AOL consider a new name*

AOL has fallen far since the halcyon days of the late 90's, to the extent that the name might mean nothing at all to most millennials. Hence why it's genuinely surprising that the mass media corporation has waited this long to seriously consider a name change. According to reports, the company is seriously considering changing its name and undergoing a complete rebrand in order to unify all of its owned companies, which include The Huffington Post, technology blog TechCrunch and social network app Bebo.

AOL is seriously considering a name change and complete rebranding

The company’s chief marketing officer Allie Kline has said that the company would be investing in the brand this year, to enable consumers to associate AOL with its acquisitions. However, it was not yet certain whether the company would keep the current brand or bring a new brand to market. She said that the AOL brand “Has a lot of legacy and meaning” and that the company “Shouldn’t move away from it,” but then also added that it was also possible the brand needed a new name. Wolff Olins previously rebranded the company in 2009, which saw a refreshed logo, with a new typeface sat on top of changing imagery. The website was also redesigned last year, with a greater focus on video content. AOL was also bought by telecoms company Verizon for $4.4 billion (£2.8 billion) in 2015.

Drone sets Guinness World Record

A group of students from the University of Oslo in Norway have a world record using an unmanned drone. The appropriately Megakopter drone claimed its Guinness World Records title for “Heaviest payload lifted by a remote-controlled multi-copter” after lifting 134lbs and 7.6 oz. In order for the feat to count, the lowest part of the lifted payload needed to be at least 1 metre off the ground for at least 30 seconds. The Megakopter is made up of 8 smaller drones held together by an aluminium and plywood frame. Altogether, it features 48 motors, 13 propellers, and 4 inflatable exercise balls to make rough landings a little softer. The entire project took around 18 months to complete.

Sperm sample classification changes forever by new innovation

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Whilst I wasn't aware that improper sperm classification was a problem until this morning, it would appear that thanks to Cambridge Industrial Design, biological samples of all shapes and sizes will never again be confused, as the design studio has developed a new digital tagging technique for cryogenic human tissue samples that they hope will replace traditional labelling. Biological samples such as sperm or brain tissue can be stored in an “easier, faster, safer” and more user-friendly way with their new products, which use RFID tagging technology provided by Cryogatt. RFID is the same technology used in contact-less payment and Oyster cards, and Cryogatt has developed a patented RFID system that can be used instead of handwritten labels or barcodes and works at -196°C. Using this system, samples containing RFID tagged vials and fertility straws, cryogenically stored in laboratories and fertility clinics, can be quickly and accurately identified and processed.

CID has developed a new digital tagging technique for cryogenic human tissue samples

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The products have been designed with usability and ergonomics in mind. There are time saving benefits for technicians, which is a key advantage as samples cannot be taken out of subzero storage for too long or they perish. The products are also easy to clean and have been given a look that fits into the working environment. Cambridge Industrial Design design director Tim Evans said: “There’s absolutely no reason that a device for reading RFID tags on sperm samples shouldn’t be as aesthetically pleasing as an iPhone 6. The Cryogatt family of RFID readers demonstrates this, combining innovative technology with an ergonomic, user-friendly design that makes it straightforward and simple to operate.” The products are currently being trialled in hospitals, bio banks and fertility clinics across the UK.

Elon Musk's Hyperloop goes into production

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The Hyperloop transportation system designed by Elon Musk is finally going to see the light of day. The Hyperloop Transportation Technologies company announced this week that it has filed the proper paperwork with Kings County, California to begin construction on the 5-mile test track. The track will be built along Interstate 5 around Quay Valley, California. HTT is currently in the process of choosing a company to construct the track, and plans to begin building later this year. The Tesla Motors CEO initially announced the Hyperloop project back in 2013.

DICE 2016 Summit launches with magical Penn Jillette presentation

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Bringing together the worlds of magic and video games, Penn Jillette (the talkative half of Penn and Teller) has been confirmed as the opening speaker (alongside Gearbox Software CEO and president Randy Pitchford) at this year's DICE Summit. The DICE summit is an annual multi- day gathering of video game executives, and the 2016 summit will open with a presentation by Jillette and Pitchford discussing “Assumptions and Expectations with Interactivity and Magic,” and performing a magic trick that will “Move from the live theatre to virtual reality.” The magic trick will come at the end of a session exploring many of the most crucial aspects of stage magic, including misdirection, disrupting expectations, and “Just plain old-fashioned lying.” How this will tie into gaming exactly is unclear right now, but the surprise is surely half the fun right?

Penn Jillette has been confirmed as the opening speaker at this year's DICE Summit

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In addition to the keynote from Jillette and Pitchford, other topics will further explore the “Art of engagement.” EA Chief Creative Director Rich Hilleman, meanwhile, will lead “Automobiles, the Next Mobile Platform,” exploring innovations in open computing systems, new transportation service models, along with self-driving automobile technology and gaming's role in this evolving platform. “Franchise Fever: Pursuing Big Ideas and Big Audience” will look into the challenges present in high concept, big idea properties with avid fan bases, and will be hosted by Vertigo Entertainment President Roy Lee, Hitman film producer Adrian Askarieh, and Collider Editor-in-Chief Steven Weintraub. Other speakers will include Ubisoft new IP editorial director Tommy Francois, Tomb Raider writer Rhianna Pratchett and Fallout 4 director Todd Howard. Fallout 4 and The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt are among the games nominated for a DICE award this year. The event is scheduled for February 16-18 in Las Vegas.

New Crutch design aims to make walking with crutches completely painless

Two designers in the US have redesigned the crutch with the aim of making it more comfortable. Mobility Designed was founded by industrial designers, and husband and wife, Max and Liliana Younger, who wish to give people a better quality of life through improved mobility through creating mobility devices that provide a painless experience. These specially designed crutches take pressure off a users' wrists and armpits, instead allowing them to support their weight on their forearms and elbows through an arm slot. The armrests contain foam padding and armbands which hold the person into the crutch, so they stay with the user at every step. They're also stretchable, which allows people to pull out them easily, for example if they fall over and need to grab onto something else. A hands-free mode is also available, with handles that can be adjusted via a button. Its feet are shock-absorbent and contoured, allowing them to grip to the ground. There is also an interchangeable foot for ice and snow. Max was inspired to start the project after his father had a leg amputation, and struggled with using regular crutches.

Two US designers have redesigned the crutch to make it more comfortable

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Max said of their design: “Our mobility crutch supports your body differently. As people get older, they often can’t support their weight with a regular axillary crutch, and so switch to other things such as wheelchairs and scooters. When my dad uses regular crutches, he expends a lot of energy and it wears him out , even if he just wants to get up to make a coffee in the morning. With these, he’s able to use a set of crutches that benefit him physically but also look quite interesting. We wanted to make it more useful for people, and also make it something people wanted to wear. We used injection-moulded nylon to control the shape, as we wanted to get away from the medical aesthetic.” KickStarter originally funded the project, but Max and Liliana have since sought contribution from private investors. Mobility Designed hopes the crutch will be available internationally, online and via medical equipment distributors. It is expected to launch by June this year, at an estimated cost of around £200.

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