Articles

These Frogs Use Their Voices to Evade Predators and Attract Mates

In the wild, your mating call is often what sets you apart from the crowd.

In the case of frogs, males generally want to make sure that their calls reach the females loud and clear. For that reason, they tend to only vocalize their mating calls when no other frogs are doing so.

The pug-nosed tree frog, however, operates quite a bit differently. Rather than vocalizing one at a time, a group of pug-nosed tree frogs will all call at the same time.

Why Call Together?

Upon making this discovery, researchers were initially confused. It didn’t make a lot of sense. Ximena Bernal – a behavioral ecologist – suggested that perhaps the frogs called together to help confuse predators who might be listening to mating calls to ‘size up’ their prey.

While in the wild, frogs (and any other animal) need to be cautious. While their mating calls might alert the opposite sex that they’re interested in procreating, it also informs predators about where they are.

The pug-nosed tree frogs, it would seem, are well aware of this fact. They use their voices to help avoid and confuse prey.

When the tree frogs call out together, their voices band together to create an auditory illusion. This illusion tricks predators into thinking that the frogs are somewhere other than where they are.

Female pug-nosed tree frogs, on the other hand, are not duped by the illusion. This allows these frogs to simultaneously confuse their predators while attracting potential mates.

The Pug-Nosed Tree Frog’s Calling Card

When a frog calls out in the wild, there are – unfortunately for them – a number of other eavesdroppers. Predators like midges and bats are keen to learn the whereabouts of frogs so that they can get their next meal.

Most frogs prefer to send out a single call when nearby frogs are silent. This may announce their presence clearly to a mate, but also informs predators.

The pug-nosed tree frogs have developed a system that allows them to avoid this risk.

First, the ‘leading’ frog makes its call. Almost immediately afterwards, other males in the group make successive mating calls – one after another.

This is known as the precedence effect, and it confuses animals and humans into perceiving separate sounds as coming from the same source.

That said, this plan isn’t fool-proof. Any predators who listen to the synchronous mating call will be directed towards the leading frog – the one who makes the first call. So why would any frog want to take the risk of being the leader?

It turns out, the leading frog may not be designated. It seems that the rest of the frogs simply wait until one of their brethren can no longer suppress their mating call. Once it’s released, the rest of the frogs chime in, and the illusion proceeds from there.

It’s also interesting to note that female frogs aren’t receptive to the illusion. That means that they can determine the differences of the calls and can separate their potential mates from one another.

 

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Deep-Sea Mining Might Destroy Underwater Ecosystems

This might seem like a bit of a no-brainer, especially considering the obvious damage that’s done by terrestrial mining. Despite this knowledge, the rapidly-depleting terrestrial resources are leading mining companies to move their operations under the sea.

Nonetheless, research has revealed that deep-sea mining can cause damage that might take decades to heal from. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), deep-sea commercial mining is ‘imminent.’

The Issue at Hand

The ocean floor covers around 65% of the surface of the earth, making it a very attractive prospect for those in the mining industry.

Metals like aluminium, manganese, zinc, and copper – which are usually harvested from terrestrial mining sites – are becoming more difficult to find. This, coupled with an ever-increasing demand for these metals thanks to the rampant production of technology like smartphones and even green technologies (solar panels, etc). have led to an increased need to produce metals.

Unfortunately, deep sea mining has not been extensively researched and its potential impacts are unknown. IUCN believes that more studies are needed to determine the safety and efficacy of deep-sea mining.

What IUCN has stated, however, is that deep-sea mining and scraping the sea floor, coupled with industrial pollution, could lead to the extinction of entire species.

The Peru Experiment

One of the largest experiments done in regards to deep-sea mining happened 26 years ago off the shore of Peru.

The experiment, known as the DISturbance and reCOLonization (DISCOL) experiment, plowed groves into the sea floor. This mimicked the effects of real deep-sea mining, and the rocks that they targeted contained in-demand metals like copper and cobalt.

To recover the resources, the deep-sea miners have to dredge the sea floor. In addition to collecting the rocks, this process scrapes off a huge amount of sediment which many living organisms in deep-sea ecosystems thrive in.

One of the issues arising from this experiment was the health and safety of deep-sea microbes. Microbes are at the bottom of the food chain, and thus indirectly help to support every other creature in the food chain – including humans.

One test was done to assess the health of the microbes in the DISCOL region in 1996.  The results showed that the health of the microbes were, indeed, adversely impacted.

Another test was run in 2015 by Tobias Vonnahme, microbial ecologist, and his colleagues. In the very same tracks carved in the DISCOL experiment, microbial activity was still reduced by about 30% compared to healthier areas.

This shows that deep-sea mining creates problems that can take decades – if not close to a century – to recover from.

Moving Forward

Unfortunately for marine ecosystems, it looks like deep-sea mining is going to be a part of the future.

IUCN urges that mining companies mandate comprehensive studies to learn about how their activities can impact deep-sea life. Environmental impact assessments will also be required to minimize damage and ensure the good health of the marine ecosystem.

As long as mining companies proceed with caution and due diligence, it’s possible that the environmental impact may be reduced.

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Whole Systems Thinking & Permaculture – Sustainable Practices for the Future

When most people think about technology for the future, they tend to follow the current trend of technology: seeing how many bells and whistles can be fit into an increasingly smaller design.

There are those, however, who recognize that this trend has led to some serious problems with sustainability. Resource consumption and waste production is through the roof, the amount of labor involved in producing technology leads to unfair labor practices, and we end up with ‘superconvenience’ issues such as smartphone addiction running rampant.

When it comes to building our homes, many people tend to think in the same terms: more, better, faster. However, a different group of people is more interested in developing – or rediscovering – technologies and design practices that allow us to live in a healthy, sustainable way without consuming more resources that we create.

Permaculture, Whole Systems Design, and Sustainability

You may have heard the term ‘permaculture’ lately. The word gets thrown around a lot, but a good portion of people don’t actually know what it means.

Permaculture basically means ‘agricultural whole systems design’ or ‘whole systems thinking.’ If you know what systems thinking is, then you might already see some potential applications here.

Systems thinking is emerging as a new scientific paradigm that reduces, or entirely eliminates, waste. It does this by ensuring that each element of a system performs multiple functions, and focuses more on the relationships between different system components than the components themselves.

This is much different than linear thinking, which is basically ‘assembly line’ thinking. Factory production, for example, is very linear: for example, materials are mined, then shipped to a facility, then processed, then shipped to a store, then sold.

At each part of that chain, waste is produced, and nowhere else is that waste re-used by the same system. Permaculture acknowledges that waste is only a byproduct of a system that hasn’t been designed properly, and as such views waste as simply an unused resource.

Permaculture is most often associated with agricultural properties like farms, small communities and houses. This is because it’s relatively easy to design a functional ecosystem that eliminates waste in an agricultural environment, reducing waste such as compost by introducing it to a garden or livestock.

However, permaculture design could even be used in the previous example of the manufacturing chain by finding out a way that wastes – such as mining byproducts, recyclables, or used plastics – could be used further down the assembly line.

Instead of consuming more resources by shipping these ‘wastes’ off to toxic dumps or energy-sucking recycling centres, identifying a way in which these resources can benefit the supply chain itself would reduce environmental impact and improve the function of the whole chain. Repurposing waste paper at the manufacturing facility for use at the retail outlet for printing or packaging, for example, would cut paper costs and resource expenditure.

A Resilient Future

Systems thinking allows for much great resilience in any system that it’s applied to.

Look again at the supply chain example. If anyone element from that chain ceases to function, the whole assembly line falls apart.

A whole systems design, on the other hand, is more resilient because each component is related to each other component in multiple ways. One component may fail, and the others will ‘pick up its slack’ until it can return to function.

For example, in a whole systems farming system, a rain harvesting tank may fail. However, that wouldn’t break the system because there would likely be other water harvesting sources (a ditch, an irrigation system built to harvest runoff from the roof, etc). at other points in the system.

Systems thinking allows us to approach not just agriculture, but our whole society in a radically different way. By repurposing waste as a resource, we can eliminate the rapid filling of landfills, the pollution of the oceans and air, and the millions of hungry people.

Written by Nigel Ford

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This Fungus Eats Radioactive Waste

Fungus is one of the most resilient and adaptable organisms on the planet.

One of the most interesting things about fungus is that it can basically be ‘trained’ to eat just about anything. Fungi have been demonstrated to eat things like plastic and cigarette butts.

One of the more interesting – and potentially life-changing – things that fungus can ‘eat’ is radioactive waste. Researchers have discovered that there’s a certain type of fungus growing inside the reactor site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

A Reactive Discovery

The fungus was first discovered in 1991, five years after the disaster. Remotely controlled robots captured video feed of an extremely dark fungus growing on the walls of the reactor.

While the impressive properties of the fungus weren’t understood at the time, researchers were shocked to discover anything growing there at all. They also noted that the fungus seemed to be breaking down the highly radioactive graphite in the reactor core and that it proliferated in areas that were stronger sources of radiation.

It wasn’t until more than ten years later that researchers confirmed that the fungus did, indeed, thrive in radioactive environments. Professor Ekaterina Dadachova acquired some of the strange fungi and ran some tests that revealed it grew stronger and more quickly when there was radiation around.

One of the things that researchers found is that the fungus had an incredibly high amount of melanin.

Melanin is a pigment. If you’ve heard of it, it’s probably because you know that darker people have more melanin in their skin. Melanin is dark because it absorbs light. It also helps to dissipate ultraviolet radiation.

In humans, this explains why dark people tend to burn less in the sun. This fungus seems to take things a step further, however, by actually using the radiation as fuel and converting it into some sort of usable energy.

The Implications

These new discoveries are impressive, to say the least. There’s a lot of potential that could be unlocked if researchers are able to mimic the processes of this fungus.

Nature often offers the best solutions for engineers to model sustainable processes after. In this case, nature has offered an interesting solution by which we can recycle radioactive energy and turn it into something useful.

The fungus is part of a class of organisms known as extremophiles (things which can decompose radioactive material and use it to survive).

Extremophiles have a lot of potentials. Above all, they can help to repair the damage done to the planet thanks to radioactive problems like nuclear explosions.

Another thing that this fungus may be used for is helping to absorb radiation in the International Space Station.

Kasthuri Venkateswaran, a NASA biologist, is considered an expert on extremophile fungus. He believes that this fungus could help make the radioactive environment on the space station more hospitable.

He also says that this offers promise in regard to future space travel. Massive amounts of interstellar radiation are one of the biggest difficulties preventing us from traveling great distances in space, and Venkateswaran thinks a process similar to this may be vital for helping to send astronauts into the stars.

Written by Nigel Ford

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This Caterpillar Can Eat Plastic and Help Save the Planet

When it was first discovered, plastic was hailed as one of the best human inventions of all time. It was easy to produce, durable, and lightweight. It didn’t take long before plastic-based products dominated shelves across the globe.

Fast-forward fifty years and we’re now struggling from a plastic overdose. Most of the plastic produced ends up in landfills around the globe, where it struggles to biodegrade. Plastic filaments are filling up our oceans, our forests, the animals that live on the planet, and even the human body.

It doesn’t take much to recognize that we have a problem with plastic. But, rather than focusing on the problem, progressive scientists, researchers, and individuals are focusing on the solution.

One part of the solution might lie in an exciting new discovery: a caterpillar that can actually digest plastic.

The Great Wax Moth Larvae

One of the most exciting discoveries in the realm of plastic waste reduction is the digestive capabilities of a worm – the larvae of the greater wax moth, to be specific.

This little worm is part of a group of living creatures that are referred to as plastivores: creatures that can actually digest plastic (and seem to enjoy doing so, as well).

Prior to this discovery, most of the organisms classified as plastivores were fungi and bacteria. These living organisms are able to metabolize plastic and turn it into usable energy.

Understanding Plastic Digestion

These researchers weren’t jumping to the conclusion that we can reduce our plastic problem just by throwing wax moth larvae at it. Rather, they were keen to learn about how these creatures were actually capable of digesting plastic. Maybe if we learned a bit more about how these organisms consumed plastic, we could take a few tips from nature and develop a more sustainable and productive method of reducing plastic waste.

Researchers decided to isolate some of the larvae’s microbiome – the bacteria in its digestive tract – and figure out which ones were most effective at consuming plastic. They discovered that one of the larvae’s bacteria was actually capable of surviving solely on plastic for at least a year.

One of the most interesting things that the researchers discovered was that these caterpillars actually had a healthier microbiome when they consumed plastic. That means that when they ate more plastic, they became better equipped at digesting it.

The Link Between Plastic and Honey

Wax moth larvae, or waxworms, are most commonly known as the pests that attack beehives and eat the honeycomb within. Herein lies one of the secrets of their amazing capabilities.

Honeycomb is a very interesting material that is composed of long chains of hydrocarbons. Do you know what else is made up of hydrocarbons? Plastics.

Because of their innate ability to consume and digest honeycomb, these worms are predisposed to eat plastic. Because of this, they can actually utilize plastic as a source of nutrition.

A Step Towards a Solution

Researchers found out that about 60 waxworms could only eat a piece of polyethylene plastic the size of a matchbook over the course of a week.

Naturally, this isn’t efficient enough to solve the plastic crisis. However, researchers recognize that if they can understand and mimic the biological process that helps these worms metabolize plastic, perhaps they will discover a more sustainable solution to help us manage our plastic waste.

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Artificial Intelligence Is Learning to Make Music

Artificial intelligence has developed rapidly in the last few decades. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see artificial intelligences working in our homes, aiding production facilities, and helping with computer programming.

Nowadays, artificial intelligence is even being used to produce and develop music. If this sounds freaky to you – don’t worry. You’re not the only person to think so. The anime series Carole & Tuesday – which tells the story of two musicians competing with AI music production technology – covers the issue nicely.

Whether or not things will pan out to the same degree is up for debate. However, there’s no doubt that AI music production technology is on the rise.

A Brief History of AI Music

The idea of using AI to produce music isn’t anything new. In fact, David Bowie was involved in the development of an AI program that helped him write some of his songs.

The program, released in the 90s, was known as Verbasizer. The program took content from different literary sources, rearranged the words, and turned them into new verbal structures that musicians could use as lyrics.

There was a bit of a lull in AI music production for the next couple of decades until 2016. Then, a program known as Flow Machines helped Sony researchers develop a melody that was reminiscent of The Beatles. This AI-developed music was then sent on to a real musician who helped to develop it into a real song.

How Does AI Music Production Work?

AI music production isn’t that much different than any other type of AI-based software.

AI works with data. The more data you feed it, the more versatile and developed it becomes. This is because it scours your data in search of patterns, and it learns how to relate these patterns to one another.

Over time, this allows AI to develop a rudimentary understanding of whatever data you’re feeding it. It can then create its own work based on its comprehension of the data.

In regards to music, AI searches its source data (different types of music) to identify different patterns. It will learn to understand chords, melodies, notes and their relation to each other. It can then use this information to produce music of its own.

Is AI Music the Way of the Future?

If you’re a musician, you might be concerned about the ramifications of AI-produced music. The threat of AI taking over jobs has been a concern for many years. Now, musicians are starting to worry about whether or not AI might be taking over their creative stations.

Fortunately, you don’t have anything to worry about for the immediate future. While AI has been known to produce some disconcertingly pleasant music (the platform Amper has been known to produce classical-sounding tunes s on its own), there is a certain lack of emotional depth that AI music lacks.

However, that doesn’t mean that things won’t continue to develop. When it comes to AI, technological improvements tend to occur at an exponential rate. For all we know, it could be just a few years before AI starts producing symphonies and orchestras!

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The Tool That Live-Translates Any Language

As humans, we have a strong desire to communicate with other people. Whether that desire is personal – we want to form friendships, intimate relationships, etc – business-related, or something else entirely, we all need to understand how to communicate.

One of the biggest difficulties we face in the global age is the language barrier. If we’re trying to forge a business deal or build a relationship with someone who barely speaks our language, it can be very difficult if not impossible.

For years, the best option that we had was to hire a personal translator or use a translating dictionary. Both of these choices have their own set of difficulties. In more recent years, we’ve been able to use text-based electronic translation devices.

Now, however, it’s easier than ever to bridge the language gap. All you need to do is use Google Assistant’s interpreter mode and you’ll be able to live-translate nearly any language on the planet.

Hey, Google!

If you’ve already got Google Assistant, and it’s updated, then chances are you’re already linked up to Google Translate. All you need to do to activate interpreter mode is say “Hey, Google, help me speak German (or whatever other language you’re hoping to translate).”

On its release, Google Assistant’s interpreter was ready to translate 44 languages in real-time. It can listen to anyone speaking and translate their speech into the desired language before reading it out loud.

After this, you can then have someone respond. Google will listen, translate, and repeat back in the original language.

If you’ve ever received a text message “wall” of several non-separated paragraphs, you understand how difficult it can be to absorb chunks of extraneous information. This problem would, naturally, be compounded if you were trying to communicate with someone verbally.

Fortunately, Interpreter Mode has a failsafe to prevent this from happening. One of the most user-friendly components of Interpreter Mode is the way that it reads out messages block-by-block. Just like smaller, broken-up text messages are easy to read, shorter segments of speech are easier to comprehend.

Interpreter Mode also lets you take advantage of Smart Replies. By analyzing the contents of your conversation, the app will suggest responses that may be suitable for the conversation. Then, instead of having to speak and wait for the translator to work, you can simply click on a Smart Reply which will automatically be translated to whoever you’re speaking with.

Available Now on Smartphones

Google Assistant’s interpreter mode has been available for some time on Google Home smart speakers and displays.

In December of 2019, however, Google made its app available for users of iOS and Android. This means that you’re now able to carry this incredible live-translator with you anywhere that you go.

Gone are the days of flipping through language dictionaries or fiddling with awkward text-based translators. Now, Google Assistant can help you communicate with people from any major country with nothing more than the push of a button.

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The Coolest Inventions of 2019

A lot of cool things were invented in 2019. From talking hearing aids to visual-music production kits for kids, 2019 was a fantastic year for creative and technological innovation.

In this article, we’ll briefly outline some of the coolest inventions that hit the shelves in 2019.

Watergen GENNY

As human beings, water is paramount. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t have access to clean water.

Enter GENNY, a device that looks like nothing more than a humble water cooler. GENNY, however, is able to draw moisture out of the air, filter it, and turn it into drinkable water.

A single unit – which can be powered by solar energy- can produce as much as 7 gallons of water daily.

Roybi Robot, the AI Teacher

Roybi Robot looks cute and innocent, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that this piece of technology isn’t holding onto some powerful technology. The small robot, which as developed to help young children learn language, uses AI technology to help tailor lessons to each child’s development and learning style.

ECOncrete

ECOncrete is a construction design technique that attempts to mimic nature in order to limit the disruption caused by urban development in coastal communities.

The technique, known as biomimicry, recaptures the shapes and textures of nature in the region where construction is taking place. This reduces damage to marine ecosystems.

Eight Sleep Pod

Pod is one of the world’s most advanced ‘smart mattresses.’ The mattress, which uses water channels, helps to regulate your body temperature during your night. It adjusts a variety of settings to help encourage deep, healthy REM sleep.

By taking data while you sleep, Pod actually produces data that it uses to develop a ‘sleep profile,’ which it then uses to help improve your overall sleep experience.

Minecraft Earth

Taking the premise of augmented reality a step further than Pokemon Go ever could, Minecraft Earth is changing the way that people see gaming. Minecraft Earth allows people to create digital structures and leave them in an augmented world for other players to see.

Minecraft Earth has, in a sense, created an entirely new world that exists superimposed over our own. The catch? You can only see it through a smartphone.

AIR-INK by Graviky Labs

A lot of companies are working to recycle plastic and styrofoam in innovative ways, but Graviky Labs is one of the leading companies working on recycling air pollution.

The company has figured out a way to help capture the unhealthy particulate matter from certain types of pollution, condense it, and turn it into ink that can be used for writing, stamping, drawing, and other tasks.

Theranica Nerivio

If you struggle with chronic migraines or headaches, then Theranica has a solution for you.

When you feel the onset of a migraine, you can equip the Nerivio device on your arm. The Nerivio is calibrated to work with a certain biological rhythm, or wavelength, that is involved with the regulation and perception of pain.

You can get one of these unique devices with the prescription of a doctor, but they’re only available at certain pharmacies.

Written by Nigel Ford

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A Brief Overview of the Inventions of 2017

A Brief Overview of the Inventions of 2017

With scientific progress moving faster than ever before, numerous new and immensely useful inventions came out during 2017. Let us take a peek through the past year, at the inventions that had the most impact on our world.

Technology is one thing that changes at a fast pace each day. Everyday new technologies emerge, and accepted theories are challenged. This does not mean that the existing technology is becoming obsolete. With great efforts, researchers are coming up with new inventions all the time. Here are a few of the most memorable inventions which were revealed in 2017.

Top Inventions of 2017

Look Around Corners Using Smartphone Technology

Scientists from MIT have transformed a reel life idea into a real life idea. This technology uses a smartphone camera to detect moving objects around  hidden corners. This technology has potential applications in reducing car accidents around blind corners, search and rescue operations, and in hostage situations.

This technology uses natural light reflected by the objects hidden away from a person’s line of sight. The new Corner Camera system analyzes the light reflected off by the hidden objects that fall within the line of sight of the camera which is held in a steady position.

The system analyzes the light and measures the speed and trajectory of the object in real time. The steady camera requirement is one of the limitations of this technology. Further research is expected to get rid off the shaky camera system with advanced image stabilization.

Atomic Fingerprinting to End Counterfeiting

Researchers have developed a new method to detect if a product is real or counterfeit. The technology has two components – a unique pattern on holograms and a smartphone app. This can find applications primarily in the automotive as well as the pharmaceutical industry.

In this new anti-counterfeiting method, a unique pattern is created by fabricating flaws in the thin atomic layer of materials like graphene oxide. Once the flaws are set, the material is combined with ink which helps in printing the hologram using inkjet printers.

To confirm the authenticity, the person has to use the flash of his smartphone camera. When the light falls on the label it excites the atoms which generate a unique color pattern. The built in app analyzes the pattern and confirms the authenticity of the label.

Windows as Solar Panels

Solar Power Display Building At Barcelona

The world has taken climate change and sustainability seriously. A Dutch bank became the first commercial organization to be fitted with solar windows.  A square meter of the windows will generate enough power for a user to charge his phone twice a day.

The start-up called Physee has outfitted the headquarters of a Dutch bank with fully transparent solar power generating windows. The windows have solar cells fitted at the edges at an angle.

The glass windows are coated with a specific material which converts the incoming solar light into electricity. This will help to convert the modern day estates into energy neutral buildings.

Wired Roads to Power Electric Cars

This new wireless system will help the people to charge their electric cars without using cords. Researchers have innovated a new way of charging cars. One only has to park his vehicle above the charging pad (source) and the battery (receiver) will get charged with the help of radio waves.

The wireless charging  system is based on the concept of quantum physics called parity-time (PT) symmetry. The new system has a source and a receiver like other conventional systems. It uses an amplifier at the source designed to magnify the electromagnetic energy in the coil, inductor, and rectifier at the receiver.

The PT symmetry automatically selects the frequency of the waves that leads to maximum power being transferred from the source to the receiver. Further research is being carried on, to charge the car while it is in motion.

Flexible Touch Pads

Scientists have developed a transparent touch pad which is flexible and can sense touch even when it is bent. These new flexible touch pads have paved the way for creation of touch screens that could be wearable in the future.

This device is made of hydrogel; the same material from which contact lenses are made. Salt is added to this hydrogel, which leads to the formation of electrically charged ions which generate electricity around it. When a finger is touched to the hydrogel, it interacts with the electric field to generate the signal.

The signals are distinguishable between a normal touch pad and a stretched one. The touch pad is able to detect multiple touch inputs simultaneously. Future research is carried to improve the stretching factor and the durability of the touch pads.

Other Notable Inventions of 2017

  • Spray paint that turns flat surfaces into touchpads.
  • Artificial flexible touch responsive skin for robots.
  • Tiny cameras with no lens.
  • Moth-eye film to reduce glare on screens.
  • Ultra-thin speakers which generate energy through motion.
  • New 3D display that uses bubbles to project images.
  • Magnetically controlled micro robots to combat cancer.
  • Low cost medical diagnostic tools using ancient toy.
  • Brain implants to regain the body movement stopped due to paralysis.
  • Self driving trucks.
  • Financial transactions using face recognition.
  • Gene Therapy 2.0 to treat rare hereditary disorders.

All these inventions are known for their functionality. They are surely going to make life easier in the future. However, with the tremendous pace of science it is only a matter of time before these inventions too become obsolete, and are replaced by inventions that are unheard of.

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