Technology

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The Latest Highlights and Trends in Tech

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First off the bat, let me take this opportunity to wish all my fellow Creativepoolers a happy and prosperous new year! 2015 was certainly an exciting one in the tech world, but with a 2016 looking to herald the dawn of mainstream virtual reality, the rise of cognitive computing (that's literally controlling computers with your brainwaves to you and me) and the first road-worthy smart cars, there's certainly plenty to look forward to.

Next week, I'll be of course delving into the delights of the CES 2016 showcase in Las Vegas, but for now, let us look back at some of the most interesting stories that occurred over the Christmas break, because whilst the rest of the world slept (and/or drank themselves into a stupor) the tech world is always buzzing. Oh, and if you're wondering about the header image; it's actually a recent picture taken by NASA'a Hubble Space Telescope showing a new-born star that just so happens to look a little bit like a Star Wars lightsabre! If that's not a good sign of things to come this year, I don't possibly know what could be!

Satellites designed to self-destruct in space

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The European Space Agency announced recently that it plans to re-design its satellites so that they can self-destruct in space in an effort to keep the skies clean. These “D4D” (or designed for demise) satellites are part of the Clean Space Programme, which the ESA struck upon as a response to the fact that there are currently more than 500,000 pieces of debris orbiting the Earth. This “Space pollution” might seem like a whole lot of nothing of course, but it can actually get in the way of missions, and could potentially end up hurtling towards the earth and posing a threat to us mere mortals back on terra firma. Stijn Lemmens, Space Debris Analyst at the ESA, said: “There are regions near Earth where there are so many debris fragments that the operation of spacecraft would no longer be an option.” Lemmens says that these new regulations are being put in place to clean up the Earth’s orbit, which will force satellites to re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. He added: “The grand hope is of course a spacecraft that poses zero risk to people and structures on the ground.”

The European Space Agency announced recently that it plans to re-design its satellites so that they can self-destruct in space

Parts of satellites that are made out of materials with high melting points, such as titanium and stainless steel, can survive re-entering the atmosphere and end up landing on Earth. The D4D initiative is currently testing materials like aluminium alloys to see if they are more likely to destruct before reaching earth. Materials are being tested virtually, using software, and physically, by blasting hypersonic air jets and heat at them in wind tunnels. The ESA will be implementing a programme called CleanSat to have designs like D4D ready for the re-entry stage of the space agency’s upcoming missions.

Domino's bring one-touch ordering to Apple Watch

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Domino’s Pizza lovers with Apple Watches can now order their pizzas with one tap. The easy order app for Apple’s smart watch automatically picks the nearest location to the wearer and orders their favourite pizza right there and then. Simon Wallis, head of sales at Domino's UK, said: “Pairing the new easy order with the Apple Watch is a match made in heaven. The possibilities of smart watch ordering mean our pizza fans will never be further than a wrist tap away from their emergency pepperoni passion or Texas BBQ.” I'm all for convenience of course, but I'm also not too sure about this one. I once ordered a Dominos' through my Xbox once by accident, so if I had a pizza button installed on my watch, I'd probably end up buried in pizza boxes by the end of the first week.

Homemade BB-8 Droid? It could only be another 3D printing masterwork!

As wonderful as the new Star Wars film was (if you disagree you're either lying or have no taste whatsoever), it wouldn't have been have as much fun without the charming presence of the insanely cute BB-8 Droid, remote controlled miniature versions of which were amongst the top Christmas presents this season. One former Ubisoft Montréal employee has gone a step further, however by recreating the robot himself with 3D printing. Measuring in at about half the size as the real BB-8, J.R. Bedárd, a Canadian software engineer, was inspired to make the robot after seeing it at Star Wars Celebration last April. After 3D printing the head and body, he used self-balancing wheels and a component that allows BB-8 to be controlled remotely. When it was all pieced together, he used orange and metallic nail polishes to paint the bot and give it a thick, metallic look.

One former Ubisoft Montréal employee has recreated the now iconic BB-8 Droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens with 3D printing

It took Bedárd around 50 hours, 656 feet of white plastic filament, and presumably a lot of patience to build the BB-8 unit, and he also hopes to make a new version in the future that has a magnetic head, which can spin around on the body, as seen in the film. Bedárd said: “I've completed a couple of 3D-printing projects before and wanted to create my own (remote-controlled) version of this droid, on wheels Being on wheels meant that I could add more 3D details and elements on the shell of the robot, as it doesn't need to be flat for rolling.” Soon, after Bedárd fully completes the BB-8 model, he hopes to share it online with others who want to build one themselves, but I'm willing to bet it's nowhere near as easy as he makes it look!

IKEA and the 3D printed meatballs

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Speaking of the wonders of 3D printing, IKEA apparently thinks we'll all be eating 3D printed meatballs in the not so distant future. Space10, IKEA's green-living design lab, is reportedly looking for “Tomorrow's Meatball,” a healthy and sustainable meatball that'll satiate our unsustainable appetites for meat. The logic behind these mutant balls (chortle) is that our increasing demand for food is creating serious problems for our planet, so, we need to be smarter and more efficient about the way we produce it.

Space10, IKEA's green-living design lab, is looking for a healthy and sustainable meatball that'll satiate our unsustainable appetites for meat

They are referring to the need for sustainable, but still tasty foods made from artificial meat, which is grown in a lab from algae, leaves, and even insects (yes, really). Kaave Pour from Space10, one of the project's founders, said: “We used the meatball's shape and size as a canvas for future foods scenarios, because we wanted to visualise complicated research in a simple, fun and familiar way. There’s hardly any culture that does not cook meatballs; from the Swedish meatball, to Italian/American spaghetti meatballs to spiced up Middle Eastern kofta.” Of course he left out the whole “Cooking with bugs” thing there, but who can blame him.

Google asked to clamp down on pirate links

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Google was asked to remove 558 million links to allegedly pirated material in 2015 according to a new report. The search giant does not report annual figures for Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notices, but TorrentFreak found that the number of URLs submitted by copyright holders last year surpassed the 558 million mark. It claims the total of 558,860,089 links represents a 60% rise on 2014's number of requests, with the majority coming from the film and music industries. The majority of the links were removed but Google sometimes takes no action if the links do not infringe on copyright material or if they had already been taken down earlier.

China create telekinetic cars

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A team of researchers from China have apparently gone a step further than mere automation, and have actually found a way to control vehicles with their minds. The team from Nankai University in Tianjin, China first demonstrated their work in mid-November, after working on it for two years. Using a wireless headset and a program developed to choose and translate the necessary signals, a car can be told (via brainwaves) to move forwards, go backwards, stop, and lock/unlock itself. The project was initially started in an attempt to help those with disabilities that can't steer a vehicle, but Associate Professor Duan Feng, who led the project, believes it can be incorporated into driverless cars, like the ones made by Google.

A team of researchers from China have apparently found a way to control vehicles with their minds

Feng said of the project, which currently has no plans as far as production actually goes: “Driverless cars' further development can bring more benefits to us, since we can better realise functions relating to brain control with the help of the driverless cars' platform. In the end, cars, whether driverless or not, and machines are serving the people. Under such circumstances, people's intentions must be recognised. In our project, it makes the cars better serve human beings.” Did anyone else get chills?

Fancy being swallowed by an earthquake-proof bed?

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Chinese inventor Wang Wenxi (catchy name right?) has designed a bed that effectively swallows its owner in the event of an earthquake. Wenxi first received a patent for his creation back in 2010, but has been working on it over the years to provide more protection and to allow people to store supplies and food. There are several pertinent questions that need to be asked of course, such as how you trigger it, or what happens if you share your bed with someone else? Also, how would you actually install the thing? Of course, I live in the UK, so it's no skin off my nose, but for those living in areas affected by earthquakes it might be a better alternative to hiding under the bed.

Oculus Rift UPDATE

A cutesy virtual reality platform adventure called Lucky's Tale will come bundled for free with every Oculus Rift VR unit. Lucky's Tale developer Playful Corp has been invested in VR since the beginning, with founder and CEO, Paul Bettner, backing the headset's original Kickstarter campaign. Since then, the Playful team has created a bunch of game prototypes for the system. Playful is the original creator of Words with Friends, and Oculus VR saw a lot of potential in the company and its games as well. Palmer Luckey, the inventor of Oculus Rift, has said that Lucky's Tale was one of the defining experiences in VR for him. To be honest, it looks like a generic platform game to me, but then so did Banjo Kazooie and look how that turned out!

A virtual reality platform adventure called Lucky's Tale will come bundled for free with every Oculus Rift VR unit

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In slightly less wonderful news, the launch date of Oculus Touch has been pushed to the second half of 2016. In a post its official blog, the company provided an update on the development of the Touch, noting the team has made significant advances in ergonomics. Currently the company is working to improve hand pose recognition and make the device more comfortable, reliable, and natural. For those unfamiliar with the Touch, it's essentially a wireless controller similar to the Nintendo Wii remote that you attach to the Rift and use to control movement in games. It looks very cool indeed, but early reports have not been generous. There's still no set release date for the Oculus Rift, but the company says that the system (and Lucky's Tale) is still on track for a Q1 2016 release.

Benjamin Hiorns is a freelance writer and struggling musician from Kidderminster in the UK.

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