The Future IRL: Robot farmers do the dirty work

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The US is facing an agricultural worker shortage, along with aging farm owners, at the same time it juggles demand in food from a global population boom. If we’re being blunt, those elements added together would mean farmers and production are straight screwed. Luckily, some engineers and researchers are creating robots that are already beginning to ease the load.

Blue River Technology in Sunnyvale, California is testing “See and Spray”– machine learning and AI software inside a robotic tractor attachment that aims to change the chemical game. The program can recognize the difference between crops and weeds, then sprays herbicide only on the unwanted plant.

Traditionally, farmers applying herbicide and other chemicals spray the entire field. CEO and co-founder Jorge Heraud says using his AI and machine learning sprayer would cut chemical costs a tenth of the cost. If a mid-sized operation is about 700 acres, only spraying the weeds on a farmer’s fields could knock herbicide costs down from about $100,000 to $10,000.

“You can save on the impact that we have to the environment, right now we are frankly overusing chemistry… about 80 percent of the chemicals we use don’t end up in the right place,” Heraud said.

The machine was tested all over the South this summer, beginning with long sun-brightened slogs on cotton fields in Texas. The engineers at Blue River Technology are proud of their prototype, since it was able to withstand temperatures more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit. But eventually, Heraud wants the machine to do even more. Rather than just spraying herbicide on an entire plant, he wants to be able to spot treat it with multiple chemicals. That way, the machine only needs to do a single pass to cover all the problems that may ail a solitary plant.

The company got its start in robotics a few years ago, beginning with a lettuce weeding bot that kills off extra lettuce plants in a far more effective way than the previous hand-hoeing only method. That Robot-as-a-Service offering comes at roughly $165 an acre. RaaS might not have the same ring as Software as a Service (SaaS), but it’s autonomously coming for us all, soon.

Blue River Technology is by no means the only player in the space. There are so many tech companies or research departments at universities building robots that we couldn’t round them all up in this episode of The Future IRL. And that doesn’t even begin to address what traditional agricultural machinery companies like John Deere and Case are doing, as they all race towards the goal of full autonomy in farming machines.

As the step-daughter of a Midwestern farmer, I could not be more excited to see what gifts autonomy brings farming next.

Carphone Warehouse says a lack of ‘innovation’ is hurting sales

Your smartphone is probably the most important technology purchase you’ll ever make. It travels everywhere you go, delivers the sum of total human knowledge and helps you capture important memories with photos and video. In fact, they’re so good at providing these features that you might not feel the need to upgrade when the time comes. That, or the next-generation devices designed to replace them simply don’t innovate enough.

It’s a trend that many technology enthusiasts already recognise. But now one UK retailer is loudly echoing that sentiment. On Thursday, Dixons Carphone — owner of the Currys PC World and Carphone Warehouse brands — issued a trading update, warning that profits would not meet its previous expectations. Electrical sales are performing well, up 6 percent, but “a more challenging UK postpay mobile phone market” is playing havoc with the company’s balance sheet.

Dixons Carphone forecasts that the rising price of premium handsets and lower EU roaming charges will cause profits to drop to between £360 million and £440 million, which is significantly down from £501 million it recorded last year. “Currency fluctuations have meant that handsets have become more expensive whilst technical innovation has been more incremental,” the company said in its statement. “As a consequence, we have seen an increased number of people hold on to their phones for longer.”

This week, the pound hit its lowest level against the euro since 2009. The currency has weakened considerably since the Brexit vote in June 2016, which has resulted in higher import costs and higher inflation. Since the vote, the world’s biggest technology companies — including Apple, Microsoft, Sonos and HTC — have raised the prices of their products.

But that doesn’t take away from the fact that smartphones, at least over the past couple of years, have largely failed to innovate. All mid-to-high handsets now have big vibrant displays, camera sensors that capture an insane amount of detail and enough RAM to put a PC to shame. Samsung’s snazzy Note 8 event yesterday showed that while smartphones continue to improve, it’s basically a bigger Samsung Galaxy S8+ with smattering of small feature upgrades.

Is that enough to tempt Britons into upgrading to the latest and greatest? Dixons Carphone does believe that the smartphone market will return to normal, but it might take a while. The Samsung Note 8 and the upcoming iPhone 8 launches might help, but the company reckons it’s too early to say whether the flagships can reverse the negative trend it’s experiencing.

Trying to Find a Healthy Diet? Look to Your Genes

The latest trend in nutrition isn’t a fad diet or newly discovered supplement; it’s your DNA.

Unlocking the secrets of one’s genetic code used to be confined to the laboratory, but increasingly, the big business of DNA is now going after your eating habits.

Scientists already know that variations in our genes determine how well our bodies metabolize certain compounds — for example, people with a variation of the CYP1A2 gene metabolize caffeine more slowly, and are at an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension if they drink more than a couple of cups of coffee a day.

Companies now want to take the buzz over DNA testing one step further and market the tests as a way to determine how people’s bodies handle nutrients. And tech firms are stepping up to fill that demand. More and more genetics startups are getting into nutrition, with tests that claim to help people choose the best food to eat to feel good and even lose weight.

Genetic testing service 23andMe has genotyped more than 2 million customers to determine ancestry and genetic health risks, and Nutrigenomix offers tests designed to help medical professionals make recommendations for a person’s intake of sodium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, and — yes, caffeine.

Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto and the founder of Nutrigenomix, points to research that shows the “one-size-fits-all model of nutritional guidance” is not the most effective way for people to eat healthily or lose weight.

“There’s research now showing that people who get DNA-based dietary advice are more likely to follow recommendations. So not only are people getting more accurate dietary advice, but they are more likely to follow it,” said El-Sohemy.

Disrupting the Diet

Now, there’s a new kid on the block: Oakland-based personalized nutrition company Habit.

“We think we’re going to disrupt the diet industry,” Habit founder and CEO Neil Grimmer told NBC News. “When you think about moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to food to something that’s highly personalized, it changes everything. It changes the way you shop. It changes the way you eat. And quite frankly, it even changes the way you think about your own health and well-being.”

Habit’s home testing kit containing DNA cheek swabs, three finger-prick blood tests, and a special shake. The bloodwork is designed to show how your body metabolizes the huge amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the shake. Chiara Sottile

At Habit, it’s not just DNA data they’re using to make diet recommendations. For $299, Habit sends customers an at-home test kit containing DNA cheek swabs, three finger-prick blood tests, and a “metabolic challenge shake” loaded with 950 calories. Users take one blood test prior to drinking the shake, and two more timed blood pricks afterwards. The bloodwork is designed to show how your body metabolizes the huge amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the shake.

“You layer in your blood work, your fasting blood work, and you layer in your metabolism, and all of a sudden you have a really clear picture of what’s going on inside yourself,” said Grimmer.

The Habit test kit also asks you to measure your waist circumference and provide information about your weight and activity level. Users send in the DNA swabs and blood sample testing cards sealed in a pre-paid envelope, and then get their results back a couple weeks later.

Surprising Results

Health-conscious San Francisco resident Michelle Hillier was introduced to Habit through a friend. When she received her test results, she was surprised to learn she is a diet type Habit calls a “Range Seeker” — meaning she should eat about 50 percent of her daily calories in carbohydrates, about 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein.

“You hear so much about how you need so much protein, and I’m a pretty active person so I had been really upping my protein. And to find out that I’m supposed to have more carbs than anything else was really surprising to me,” said Hillier, who is not affiliated with the company.

She also learned that she has genes that are impactful for lactose and caffeine sensitivity, something she had suspected. Like all Habit users get for the $299, after she received her test results, Hillier had a 25-minute phone consultation with a registered dietitian from the Habit team.

Michelle Hillier, pictured, learned she is a “Range Seeker,” which means she should eat about 50 percent of her daily calories in carbohydrates, about 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein. Chiara Sottile

The Habit test kit is now available nationally (except in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, because of regulatory restrictions). In the San Francisco Bay Area, Habit users get an added perk: the company will cook you fresh meals in their Oakland kitchen based on your diet recommendations and deliver them to your door weekly.

Hillier receives about three dinners a week — costing between $10 and $15 a meal — and she can choose her meals with Habit’s online dashboard.

For Hillier, the Habit meals have been a positive addition to her already healthy lifestyle, though she admits: “The shake was awful,” referring to the metabolic challenge shake. “It was like drinking seven coffees, four avocados, and a scoop of ice cream,” said Hillier with a laugh.

Blood pricks and a “Challenge Shake” that lives up to its name could be barriers for some people but, Hillier says, it was well worth it for her.

“I’ve noticed that my clothes are looser on my body, I feel better. I noticed that I have more energy, honestly, since I started doing the meal plans,” said Hillier in an interview, noting she’s lost about seven pounds since she started receiving the Habit meal plans in May.

Controversial Customization?

Kristin Kirkpatrick is a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, where they offer DNA testing kits from Nutrigenomix.

“Many of my patients have mentioned to me that it [nutrigenomics] has truly changed the way that they eat. But I don’t think it’s the first step. I think seeing a professional and going over what those important goals and barriers are is definitely what you want to do first,” said Kirkpatrick in an interview with NBC’s Jo Ling Kent.

As some urge potential consumers to do their homework and speak with their own healthcare professional before they take the plunge into their genetics, the market for DNA-based products is racing ahead. Just last month, Helix, a personal genomics company, launched the first online “marketplace.”

Customers who have their genome sequenced with Helix get access to a slew of services from other emerging genomics companies — ranging from Vinome,which aims to pick wine for you based on your genes, to EverlyWell, which offers food sensitivity and metabolism tests.

“People are very interested to go beyond the generalities that they’ve seen and get more specific to what’s actually impacting their genes,” said Kirkpatrick, though she warns this kind of testing “may not be ready for primetime.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agrees, writing in a 2014 opinion paper that, “…the use of nutrigenetic testing to provide dietary advice is not ready for routine dietetics practice.” In the same paper, the Academy did also characterize nutritional genomics as insightful into how diet and genes impact our phenotypes.

“I don’t think it’s going to answer every single question that you may have about your health and it’s definitely not going to answer things that are very specific to health ailments that you may have,” Kirkpatrick told NBC News.

“Will it put you in the right direction towards knowing what foods you need to increase? What foods perhaps you should have less of and what’s the best source of protein or fat related to weight loss? Absolutely,” Kirkpatrick continued.

An Expanding Market

By 2020, the genomics market is expected to generate a staggering $50 billion globally, and diagnostic tools, health tech, and wireless wearables are expected to boom from $2 billion to $150 billion globally, according to one analysis.

“I think this is the start of a highly personalized future,” said Habit CEO Neil Grimmer. “What we really hope to do is actually dispel a lot of the myths, get rid of the fad diets and actually get something that’s personal to you.”

Michelle Hillier says her Habit “nutrition coach,” a registered dietitian, also advised her that she should consider factors beyond just her test results.

“She said take the results with a grain of salt, because you have to first see how you feel when you eat this way. It’s not meant to be the ‘end all be all,’ but it is a guide like anything else,” said Hillier.

Arianna HuffingtonTech Addiction Is More of a Problem Than People Realize

We are at an inflection point in our relationship with technology. Technology allows us to do amazing things that have immeasurably improved our lives. But at the same time, it’s accelerated the pace of our lives beyond our ability to keep up. And it’s getting worse. We’re being controlled by something we should be controlling. And it’s consuming our attention and crippling our ability to focus, think, be present, and truly connect with ourselves and the world around us.

The numbers only confirm what we all know to be true — we’re addicted. A 2015 Bank of America report found that over 70 percent of Americans sleep next to or with their phone. This addiction comes at a cost. A Pew study from the same year found that 89 percent of phone owners said they’d used their phones in their last social gathering, and 82 percent felt that when they do this it damages the interaction.

It’s gotten so bad that the phone doesn’t even need to be turned on for it to negatively affect our relationships. One study found that when two people are in a conversation, the mere presence of a phone can have, as the authors write, “negative effects on closeness, connection, and conversation quality,” leading them to conclude that the mere presence of mobile phones can create a psychological hindrance.

There’s also plenty of research suggesting a link between heavy social media use and depression, especially in young people.

The problem lies not with our desire to connect, but with our form of connection. Our technology gives us a form of connection with the whole world, but at the same time it can limit the depth of our connection to the world around us, to those closest to us, and to ourselves. Technology has been very good at giving us what we want, but less good as giving us what we need.

And what we need is to re-calibrate our relationship our technology. This is one of the most important conversations of our time. And ironically, conversation is the very thing our addiction to our screens prevents. We’re so busy scheduling our lives, documenting them, logging them, tracking them, memorializing and sharing them that we’re not actually living them.

Importantly, our ability to have this conversation won’t last forever. The rise of AI, and the increasing hyper-connectivity of our daily lives, has the potential to erode our humanity even further.

Isaac Asimov saw this coming back in 1988. “The saddest aspect of life right now,” he wrote, “is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” And right now, we’re drowning in data, but starved for wisdom.

Wisdom would require thinking about the qualities we consider essentially and uniquely human – about what is sacred and irreducible about our humanity — and then thinking about how can we redraw and protect the borders of that humanity as technology is mounting a full-scale invasion.

And the answer isn’t to stop technology or go backwards. That ship has sailed — and mostly for the better. The answer is smarter and better technology. In fact, I think this is going to be one of the next frontiers in technology — and it’s one of the things we’re doing at Thrive Global with our technology platform — creating apps and tools and even AI that helps rebuild those barriers around our humanity, and reclaim the time and space needed for real connection.

The increase in automation and AI, what some are calling the Fourth Industrial Revolution, is obviously going to bring profound changes. In the workplace, it’s going to put a premium on essential human qualities like creativity, intuition, decision-making, and wisdom.

The paradox is that these are the exact qualities that are impaired by our addiction to technology. So our ability to succeed in the technology-dominated workplace of the future depends, in no small measure, on our ability to — right now — take back control of our technology, and our lives.

Why Failure Can Be The Path To Success

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September marks the date that the aptly named Museum of Failure closes. It displayed more than 70 products and services from around the world. They included those from well-known brands such as a Harley-Davidson perfume, Bic for Her, the Apple Newton, Google Glass, and Kodak Digital Cameras.

We are all conditioned to laud, glorify and reward success. But it is, in fact, failure that teaches us far more. We learn all our basic skills – walking, talking, eating, riding a bike – from failing until we succeed. In fact, we never stop failing – and every time we do it breeds a better chance of success next time.

Many of the museum’s featured products represent brand over-extensions. Harley Davidson flopped with its “Hot Road” perfume – perhaps the “masculine fragrance with woody notes” was just a bit too leathery? And the “Bic for Her” range of pink pens provoked widespread online ridicule.

The Apple Newton may have been a product before its time, but the principles of an always on, always connected personal assistant to keep track of business and leisure is core in every one of the 41 million iPhones sold in Q3 2017. Google Glass was canned in 2015 but the augmented reality and virtual reality markets are still considered some of the hottest spaces in the current technology scene. Kodak ultimately failed in the digital photography market – but not before pioneering digital photography and creating the first million-pixel camera.

The point is that, while individual products might fail, the markets identified by these companies – mobile computing, digital photography, AR/VR – did not. True innovation requires learning from each failure—a skill that museum director Samuel West says, most companies fail to hone.

Brands will not always succeed, and products will fail. What is important is to encourage organisational cultures that respect both success and failure. There needs to be a principle of innovation, where new ideas are welcomed and challenge the status quo. By thinking outside the box and providing unique solutions, both customers and businesses will benefit.

Not every idea can succeed. Some will fizzle out, while others were never strong enough to begin with. Making mistakes can help to pave the way for future success.

The intended use of the Slinky, a popular children’s toy, was to keep fragile equipment steady on ships. Naval engineer Richard James developed the tool in 1943, but soon discovered its fun side when he knocked it off a table. Since then, the spring has found other uses – an antenna for soldiers in Vietnam and a therapy tool. The original concept was never realised, but the product found new life.

The idea for Post-it Notes was almost discarded completely. Inventor Spencer Silver was trying to develop a strong adhesive in 1968, and failed. He made an adhesive that would stick objects together, but could easily be pried apart. It took nearly ten years for today’s application of the sort-of-weak glue to be realised, but now we find it difficult to imagine an office without one.

We should not call these cases failures – failing would have been discarding the Post-it Note, or being too proud to see a new application for the Slinky. Instead, we should consider these cases research. If an organisation can cultivate the idea of success through failure, an environment can be created that learns how to turn failure into success.

Would You Want a Robot Paparazzo for Your Home?

Every step you take, every move you make, this robot is watching you — but it’s not as creepy as it sounds.

A 14-pound companion robot named Kuri can now capture candid photos of moments you might not otherwise memorialize. Inspired by a toddler’s view of the world, the tiny bot takes shots from unique angles, learns which photos you like best, then records more of the same.

But don’t worry, you can also teach it what not to record.

 Introducing Kuri: Does Your Life Need a Home Robot? 4:22

“Kuri Vision just lets Kuri do her thing,” said Mike Beebe, the CEO of Mayfield Robotics, the tech firm behind the bot.

While Beebe used the pronoun “she,” the robot is genderless, according to the company.

“She busts around, looks at you, sees what’s happening and at the end of the day, she says, here are eight five-second little bits of video that you may not have even been in the room for but I think they’re awesome,” Beebe said.

Image: Kuri the robot
Kuri the robot is adding a new feature called “Kuri Vision,” to capture candid moments in your home. Mayfield Robotics

Those moments are captured from Kuri’s unique 20-inch-tall vantage point. Beebe told NBC News that part of the inspiration for Kuri Vision came from his 4-year-old son, Thomas, who loves snapping photos of his 18-month old brother, Sam.

Letting Thomas run wild with a digital camera yielded some unique photos from a toddler’s perspective, but the ones he took of his brother turned out to be keepers.

He took “one of the best pictures we have of Sam. It’s never a perspective we would have had and if it was us taking the photo, we never would have had that,” Beebe said. “So we started to play with this idea.”

Related: As Robots Learn to Become More Human, Are We More Robotic?

Through machine learning, the app sorts the moments by who’s in them, what’s happening, and the time of day.

The more photos you like, the more the app learns what kinds of moments you want to see, Beebe said.

Having Kuri Vision can be cute when it’s taking photos of Sam playing or a pet’s antics, but the idea of welcoming a robot paparazzo into your home can also seem a little disconcerting.

That’s where the controls come in, allowing you to designate certain times of day or only certain rooms where Kuri can record in your home.

“You are asking Kuri to be a member of your family,” Beebe said. “Since she runs around inside your house, control has to go with that for people to feel comfortable. You want the smile to be there.”

The app is intuitive, making it easy to like clips you want to keep and delete the ones you don’t. Only you see your moments, Beebe said. However, if there’s something you like and want to share, the app makes it easy to post the clips on your social network.

Eco-Friendly ‘Plyscrapers’ Are on the Rise. Here’s Why

HIGH-RISE, LOW POLLUTION

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) agrees. It cites estimates that even a four-story building made of mass timber would save emissions equivalent to taking 500 gasoline cars off the road for a year. This is because while concrete emits nearly its own weight in carbon dioxide during production, trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere to grow.

So when a plyscraper goes up, that carbon is locked away for decades. And when the building is finally torn down, the wood can be recycled or burned for energy.

“We have a very compelling argument, and a consensus with environmental groups, that sustainably managed forests give a product that is going to have significant impact on climate change,” says Malmquist.

An artist’s rendering of the Framework lobby. Courtesy Of LEVER Architecture
In 2014, the USDA announced a $3-million competition to demonstrate the viability of plyscrapers. The winning architects behind Framework got $1 million to help ensure compliance with building codes that are struggling to keep up with the rapid pace of mass timber.

PLYSCRAPERS WORLDWIDE

Other countries are already forging ahead with plyscrapers. Australia has a 10-story luxury wooden condo, the Norweigian city of Bergen has a 14-story apartment building, and London is considering the erection of a gargantuan 80-story mass timber office block called Oakwood Tower.

But Canada is the epicenter of ambitious CLT projects, thanks in part to Vancouver-based architect and mass timber evangelist Michael Green.

Green has built several large mass timber buildings, including the seven-story T3 building in Minneapolis and the eight-story Wood Innovation and Design Centre in Prince George, British Columbia. And he’s working on a 35-story wooden mixed-use development in Paris, called Baobab.

He welcomes competition to reach for the sky. “You say 30 stories, I say 42, and soon it’ll be 46,” says Green. “The momentum is enormous. It’s a positive spirit of competition that spurs all of us on.”

“I don’t totally agree with the rush to build tall,” says Malmquist. “To me, that’s like trying to go to Pluto before we go to the moon. Smaller-scale buildings are probably the best place to start.”

LAGGING CODES

Malmquist might have a point. The other winner of the USDA competition was a 10-story wooden condominium planned for Manhattan. Though it received $1.5 million in 2015, the project was abandoned earlier this year, in part because New York City’s regulations do not permit wooden structures over six stories.

SmartLam has provided CLT panels for an Amtrak station in Tacoma, Washington, two mass transit centers on the East Coast, and many agricultural and residential properties. “As builders, developers, architects and engineers dip their toes in the water, we’re seeing that projects naturally growing, both in scope and scale,” says Malmquist.

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SmartLam has just finished more fire and blast testing of its CLT panels at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives laboratories in Washington, D.C. Data from those experiments will be incorporated into the next version of the national building codes, due in 2021.

The value of official recognition for CLT can’t be overstated. The State of Oregon and the City of Portland have issued Framework a construction permit but only with the help of a hefty USDA award to prove its safety.

When CLT finally takes root in national building codes early next decade, eco-friendly wooden high-rises should become easier and cheaper to build. For plyscrapers, the future is looking up. – Eco-Friendly ‘Plyscrapers’ Are on the Rise. Here’s Why – Aug.17.2017 https://www.nbcnews.com/mach?cid=sm_npd_nn_fb_mc_170918 via NBC News

Brave New World: Why (and When) We’ll Go From Drivers to Passengers

Starting a new work week can be grueling. But what if you could tap a button on your smartphone to have a car pull up moments later, you slip inside, falling into a plush recliner like the one you wish you had in your living room. Within moments, you’re catching a little extra sleep while the driverless vehicle navigates its way to your office.

That might seem like a scene out of a science fiction movie, but it’s likely to become reality sooner than you realize. In Phoenix, Google spin-off Waymo is already letting residents participate in a pilot ride-sharing program using a small fleet of self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivans.

The first fully autonomous vehicles are expected to go on sale by 2020, and completely driverless models may follow by as early as 2022, according to plans laid out by both Ford and Daimler.

Waymo unveils a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit
Waymo unveils a self-driving Chrysler Pacifica minivan during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

The convergence of self-driving vehicles and ride-sharing services will do more than make commuting easier, according to a new study by computer tech giant Intel. It envisions these emerging technologies will transform the nation as radically as the arrival of the original automobile did early in the 20th Century — in the process creating a “passenger economy” that will generate revenues of as much as $7 trillion by 2050.

From Driver to Rider

We are heading towards a situation where “we humans become riders, instead of drivers,” said Doug Davis, an Intel vice president and co-author of the new study. “At the end of the day, this presents a huge opportunity.”

It’s often said that the automobile has shaped the face of America, allowing the creation of the nation’s sprawling suburbs and creating a vast network of drive-through restaurants, malls, and gas stations. We’ve already begun seeing a modest return to urban living as Americans grow tired of long, slow commutes. But the new transportation era could trigger even more population shifts.

By making it easier and more affordable to get around without having to have a home with a garage, it could encourage more people to return to cities. On the other hand, autonomous vehicles are expected to make roads safer and flow more smoothly, which might encourage more people to move even further out into exurbs and rural areas.

“We could see a situation where people are (quite) willing to commute several hours a day,” said Greg Lindsay, one of the survey participants and a senior fellow at the non-profit New Cities Foundation, during an Intel conference call.

Test drivers use a Lexus SUV, built as a self-driving car, to map the area prior to a journey without a driver in control, in Phoenix
Test drivers use a Lexus SUV, built as a self-driving car, to map the area prior to a journey without a driver in control, in Phoenix, Arizona. REUTERS/Google/Handout via Reuters REUTERS

Various studies issued this year, including ones from consultancies Boston Consulting Group and RethinkX, have projected that by 2030 anywhere from 25 percent to as much as 95 percent of the miles Americans travel by road will be done in driverless, electrified vehicles operated by ride-sharing services.

No More Car Payments

The BCG study estimated that in many parts of the country, within the next decade or two, it will cost less than half as much to use a driverless ride-sharing service as it would to own a car. One of the other advantages is that this will democratize transportation, especially in poorer communities where residents often find it difficult to get good jobs because they can’t afford a car and don’t have access to mass transit.

But here’s where Intel’s study pokes at the great unknown. Just as the arrival of the Model T encouraged roadside services to pop up and grab commuters and suburbanites going from Point A to Point B, might entrepreneurs come up with a whole new landscape of mobility-as-a-service opportunities, the authors ask.

Related: Self-Driving Cars Will Turn Intersections Into High-Speed Ballet

If they aren’t driving, passengers would be able to nap, play, dine or put in a little extra work time. But the study anticipates the possibility that instead of just summoning up a generic Uber or Lyft a passenger could have a ride-sharing vehicle pull up at the end of the workday with a hot meal waiting, or their shopping all done and waiting in the trunk, perhaps even a stylist to give you a haircut or a manicure and pedicure on the way home.

The $7 trillion figure forecast for mobility services in 2050 breaks down into

  • $3.7 trillion, or 55 percent, for consumer services
  • $3 trillion, or 43 percent, for business-to-business services, such as office supply deliveries
  • $203 billion for other new vehicle-related services and features.

So What Happens to Detroit?

One of the other big questions is who will benefit from the emergence of the passenger economy? Today, carmakers are focused on selling sheet metal, and traditional manufacturers — such as Ford, Toyota and Volkswagen — likely will continue to produce a major share of the cars on the road. But how many cars will be needed is unclear. Recently ousted Ford CEO Mark Fields, a proponent of the passenger economy, said he expects sales could drop sharply over the next 10 to 15 years as ride-sharing catches on.

To make up for lost revenue, said the Intel report, “Carmakers may ultimately vie (with services like Lyft and Uber) to operate particular networks of vehicles for particular cities.” And they will focus more on generating service business than manufacturing and car sales.

But new players, including up-start carmakers like Tesla, tech firms like Waymo, and ride-sharing firms like Uber and Lyft, all will be seeking to dominate, or at least grab a piece of this huge new economic pie.

Whoever comes to lead the new passenger economy, it “will reconfigure time and then space, to some extent, and will ultimately lead to changes in land use and services,” said Lindsay, resulting in “a massive reconfiguring of the U.S.”

Trying to Find a Healthy Diet? Look to Your Genes

Trying to Find a Healthy Diet? Look to Your Genes

The latest trend in nutrition isn’t a fad diet or newly discovered supplement; it’s your DNA.

Unlocking the secrets of one’s genetic code used to be confined to the laboratory, but increasingly, the big business of DNA is now going after your eating habits.

Scientists already know that variations in our genes determine how well our bodies metabolize certain compounds — for example, people with a variation of the CYP1A2 gene metabolize caffeine more slowly, and are at an increased risk of heart attack and hypertension if they drink more than a couple of cups of coffee a day.

Companies now want to take the buzz over DNA testing one step further and market the tests as a way to determine how people’s bodies handle nutrients. And tech firms are stepping up to fill that demand. More and more genetics startups are getting into nutrition, with tests that claim to help people choose the best food to eat to feel good and even lose weight.

 Could personalized nutrition help you win the battle of the bulge? 5:40

Genetic testing service 23andMe has genotyped more than 2 million customers to determine ancestry and genetic health risks, and Nutrigenomix offers tests designed to help medical professionals make recommendations for a person’s intake of sodium, omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin C, and — yes, caffeine.

Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto and the founder of Nutrigenomix, points to research that shows the “one-size-fits-all model of nutritional guidance” is not the most effective way for people to eat healthily or lose weight.

“There’s research now showing that people who get DNA-based dietary advice are more likely to follow recommendations. So not only are people getting more accurate dietary advice, but they are more likely to follow it,” said El-Sohemy.

Disrupting the Diet

Now, there’s a new kid on the block: Oakland-based personalized nutrition company Habit.

“We think we’re going to disrupt the diet industry,” Habit founder and CEO Neil Grimmer told NBC News. “When you think about moving from a one-size-fits-all approach to food to something that’s highly personalized, it changes everything. It changes the way you shop. It changes the way you eat. And quite frankly, it even changes the way you think about your own health and well-being.”

Habit’s home testing kit containing DNA cheek swabs, three finger-prick blood tests, and a special shake. The bloodwork is designed to show how your body metabolizes the huge amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the shake. Chiara Sottile

At Habit, it’s not just DNA data they’re using to make diet recommendations. For $299, Habit sends customers an at-home test kit containing DNA cheek swabs, three finger-prick blood tests, and a “metabolic challenge shake” loaded with 950 calories. Users take one blood test prior to drinking the shake, and two more timed blood pricks afterwards. The bloodwork is designed to show how your body metabolizes the huge amounts of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in the shake.

“You layer in your blood work, your fasting blood work, and you layer in your metabolism, and all of a sudden you have a really clear picture of what’s going on inside yourself,” said Grimmer.

The Habit test kit also asks you to measure your waist circumference and provide information about your weight and activity level. Users send in the DNA swabs and blood sample testing cards sealed in a pre-paid envelope, and then get their results back a couple weeks later.

Surprising Results

Health-conscious San Francisco resident Michelle Hillier was introduced to Habit through a friend. When she received her test results, she was surprised to learn she is a diet type Habit calls a “Range Seeker” — meaning she should eat about 50 percent of her daily calories in carbohydrates, about 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein.

“You hear so much about how you need so much protein, and I’m a pretty active person so I had been really upping my protein. And to find out that I’m supposed to have more carbs than anything else was really surprising to me,” said Hillier, who is not affiliated with the company.

She also learned that she has genes that are impactful for lactose and caffeine sensitivity, something she had suspected. Like all Habit users get for the $299, after she received her test results, Hillier had a 25-minute phone consultation with a registered dietitian from the Habit team.

Michelle Hillier, pictured, learned she is a “Range Seeker,” which means she should eat about 50 percent of her daily calories in carbohydrates, about 30 percent from fat, and 20 percent from protein. Chiara Sottile

The Habit test kit is now available nationally (except in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, because of regulatory restrictions). In the San Francisco Bay Area, Habit users get an added perk: the company will cook you fresh meals in their Oakland kitchen based on your diet recommendations and deliver them to your door weekly.

Hillier receives about three dinners a week — costing between $10 and $15 a meal — and she can choose her meals with Habit’s online dashboard.

For Hillier, the Habit meals have been a positive addition to her already healthy lifestyle, though she admits: “The shake was awful,” referring to the metabolic challenge shake. “It was like drinking seven coffees, four avocados, and a scoop of ice cream,” said Hillier with a laugh.

Blood pricks and a “Challenge Shake” that lives up to its name could be barriers for some people but, Hillier says, it was well worth it for her.

“I’ve noticed that my clothes are looser on my body, I feel better. I noticed that I have more energy, honestly, since I started doing the meal plans,” said Hillier in an interview, noting she’s lost about seven pounds since she started receiving the Habit meal plans in May.

Controversial Customization?

Kristin Kirkpatrick is a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute, where they offer DNA testing kits from Nutrigenomix.

“Many of my patients have mentioned to me that it [nutrigenomics] has truly changed the way that they eat. But I don’t think it’s the first step. I think seeing a professional and going over what those important goals and barriers are is definitely what you want to do first,” said Kirkpatrick in an interview with NBC’s Jo Ling Kent.

As some urge potential consumers to do their homework and speak with their own healthcare professional before they take the plunge into their genetics, the market for DNA-based products is racing ahead. Just last month, Helix, a personal genomics company, launched the first online “marketplace.”

Customers who have their genome sequenced with Helix get access to a slew of services from other emerging genomics companies — ranging from Vinome,which aims to pick wine for you based on your genes, to EverlyWell, which offers food sensitivity and metabolism tests.

“People are very interested to go beyond the generalities that they’ve seen and get more specific to what’s actually impacting their genes,” said Kirkpatrick, though she warns this kind of testing “may not be ready for primetime.”

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics agrees, writing in a 2014 opinion paper that, “…the use of nutrigenetic testing to provide dietary advice is not ready for routine dietetics practice.” In the same paper, the Academy did also characterize nutritional genomics as insightful into how diet and genes impact our phenotypes.

“I don’t think it’s going to answer every single question that you may have about your health and it’s definitely not going to answer things that are very specific to health ailments that you may have,” Kirkpatrick told NBC News.

“Will it put you in the right direction towards knowing what foods you need to increase? What foods perhaps you should have less of and what’s the best source of protein or fat related to weight loss? Absolutely,” Kirkpatrick continued.

An Expanding Market

By 2020, the genomics market is expected to generate a staggering $50 billion globally, and diagnostic tools, health tech, and wireless wearables are expected to boom from $2 billion to $150 billion globally, according to one analysis.

“I think this is the start of a highly personalized future,” said Habit CEO Neil Grimmer. “What we really hope to do is actually dispel a lot of the myths, get rid of the fad diets and actually get something that’s personal to you.”

Michelle Hillier says her Habit “nutrition coach,” a registered dietitian, also advised her that she should consider factors beyond just her test results.

“She said take the results with a grain of salt, because you have to first see how you feel when you eat this way. It’s not meant to be the ‘end all be all,’ but it is a guide like anything else,” said Hillier.

Is AI the Fix for the Distracted Driving Menace?

Is AI the Fix for the Distracted Driving Menace?

SAFER ROADS

According to The National Safety Council, every year in the U.S., 1.6 million accidents are reportedly caused by texting and driving. That is 1 out of every 4 accidents. The question is, if we know how dangerous and potentially fatal texting and driving is — why don’t we stop?

Pretty soon, your car might play a role in getting you to put the phone down on the road: researchers at the University of Waterloo have developed algorithms that uses cameras and artificial intelligence (AI) to detect when you’re driving distracted — including when you’re using your phone. This system can detect signs of distraction, which could be caused by texting or talking on the phone, reaching into the backseat, or anything else that causes a change in head and face position. This study builds on previous research that aimed to recognize tired driving, which can cause excessive blinking, yawning, etc. in drivers.

The researchers hope that as self-driving capabilities continue to be incorporated into cars, this software could help protect you and others on the road. At the very least, if you can’t (or won’t) put your phone down, technology like this could be used to help your car pick up the slack.

AN AUTONOMOUS FUTURE

Autonomous features in vehicles take the most dangerous factor in driving out of the equation: human error. Some estimates claim that tens of thousands of lives could be saved each year by the implementation of self-driving cars. We’re not yet able to totally forgo our responsibilities behind the wheel in order to pick up the phone: in this early stage of autonomous vehicles, there’s a grey area where vehicles will have some autonomous capabilities, or only some cars son the road will be driverless. We won’t be able to switch to full, driverless cars immediately.
In the interim, cars might use software like this to detect distractions and take over driving if the situation is becoming unsafe. According to Karray, a University Research Chair and director of the Centre for Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence (CPAMI) at Waterloo, “The car could actually take over driving if there was imminent danger, even for a short while, in order to avoid crashes.” In addition to this life-saving feature, the software would at the very least remind us to put down our phone and pay attention to the road. – Is AI the Fix for the Distracted Driving Menace? – Sep.11.2017 https://www.nbcnews.com/mach/tech/ai-fix-distracted-driving-menace-ncna800356?cid=sm_npd_nn_fb_mc_170918 via NBC News