Science, technology & design

Sensor motes

Sensor motes are tiny coin-sized devices that sense what’s going on in the physical world and send information to the people that need to know. In other words, they are the eyes and ears that link the real world with the virtual. For example, if you own a sewer or an oil pipeline you need to know if there’s been a leak or if someone has been tampering with your network. Traditionally this meant sending an engineer out to inspect the pipe work in person, which was time consuming and costly. Not anymore. Simply sprinkle your pipe network with tiny motes and they will spring into life and tell you what’s happening if and when required. We’re already familiar with video surveillance and motion detectors but this is dumb technology compared to what these little critters can do. Primary applications are industrial processes and installations but who knows where they’ll end up.
Ref: Red Herring (US), 19 December 2005, ‘Top 10 trends: sensor motes’,
Links: sensor motes, RFID, monitoring, telemetry, networks

The rise of the clones

First there was Dolly the sheep (c 1996). Since then we’ve cloned mice, cows, rabbits and even horses. Now a South Korean research laboratory has created the world’s first cloned dog (an Afghan hound) which Time magazine (US) recently voted the ‘invention of the year’. Why all the fuss? Primarily because cloning dogs is actually quite difficult and also because if you can clone a dog you can pretty much clone anything. The procedure involved taking a single cell from the ear of an adult dog and then injecting a skin cell into an empty donor egg, which was then transferred to a surrogate dog mother. So what’s next? A human clone isn’t far away although it’s unlikely that this will come from a US or Western laboratory due to the cloud of legal and ethical questions. While we’re on the subject of dogs, designer dogs are very much flavour of the month at the moment. Business Week recently voted designer dogs (eg, puggles and labradoddles) one of its ‘best ideas’ for 2005 but we can expect a backlash on this idea as animal rights activists point out that a dog is for life – and not just a quarterly fashion statement.
Ref: Time (US) 21 November 2005, ‘The Most amazing inventions 2005: Dogged pursuit’. Business Week (online) 6 January 2005, ‘Best of 2005: Ideas, How much is that (designer) doggie in the window?’
Links: clones, dogs

Nature versus nurture

Epigenetics is the emerging field which studies how particular genes act based on chemical and environmental factors. It’s significant because previously scientists thought that genes (and the DNA from which they’re made) are ‘fixed’ – in other words, DNA is destiny. The new theory is that environmental factors can influence how a specific gene acts. Moreover, the so-called ‘junk DNA’ that makes up 98% of all DNA possibly isn’t junk at all and can influence cell function. On a related note, there are a small but growing number of people looking into how genetics may influence behaviour. For example, is there a criminal gene and if so can it be changed using genetic treatments?
Ref: Business Week (online) 19 December 2005, ‘Best of 2005: Idea ‘DNA is not necessarily destiny after all’.
Links: epigenetics, DNA

Top technological trends

Here’s yet another list of what’s going to be hot in 2006, this time from the folks at the San Jose Mercury News c/o
1.Wireless networks – what started off as hot spots and soon spread to hot zones will soon cover entire cities. Also expect the slow emergence of wi-max to replace wi-fi.
2. Cell phone ubiquity – they’ll be everywhere and do everything.
3. Internet phone calls – coming to you from Google, Yahoo and Microsoft.
4. Web offices – the contents of your office (emails, documents, spreadsheets, files) will all move onto the web and be accessible from anywhere (yes, even from home).
5. Stem-cell research (if the ethical and legal wrangles get sorted out).
6. Flu vaccines – is HN51 bird flu panic the new Y2K? Let’s hope so.
7. Mini multi-nationals – small start-ups will go global from day one.
8. Videoblogs – a picture tells a thousand words, especially for Gen Y.
9. On-demand video – why let all those old TV shows and movies go to waste?
10. Clean tech investing – expect solar power and water treatment to be hot.
Ref: San Jose Mercury News (US) 25 December 2005, ‘Top 10 tech trends for 2006’. See also
Links: trends, tech trends