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Cyborgs step closer to reality

Machine enhanced humans – or cyborgs as they are known in science fiction – could be one step closer to becoming a reality, thanks to new research from the University of Surrey and Harvard University.

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Researchers from the University of Surrey and Harvard University have conquered the monumental task of manufacturing scalable nanoprobe arrays small enough to record the inner workings of human cardiac cells and primary neurons.

The ability to read electrical activities from cells is the foundation of many biomedical procedures, such as brain activity mapping and neural prosthetics. Developing new tools for intracellular electrophysiology (the electric current running within cells) that push the limits of what is physically possible (spatiotemporal resolution) while reducing invasiveness could provide a deeper understanding of electrogenic cells and their networks in tissues, as well as new directions for human-machine interfaces.

In a paper published by Nature Nanotechnology, scientists from Surrey’s Advanced Technology Institute (ATI) and Harvard University detail how they produced an array of the ultra-small U-shaped nanowire field-effect transistor probes for intracellular recording. This incredibly small structure was used to record, with great clarity, the inner activity of primary neurons and other electrogenic cells, and the device has the capacity for multi-channel recordings.

Dr Yunlong Zhao from the ATI at the University of Surrey said: “If our medical professionals are to continue to understand our physical condition better and help us live longer, it is important that we continue to push the boundaries of modern science in order to give them the best possible tools to do their jobs. For this to be possible, an intersection between humans and machines is inevitable.

“Our ultra-small, flexible, nanowire probes could be a very powerful tool as they can measure intracellular signals with amplitudes comparable with those measured with patch clamp techniques; with the advantage of the device being scalable, it causes less discomfort and no fatal damage to the cell (cytosol dilation). Through this work, we found clear evidence for how both size and curvature affect device internalisation and intracellular recording signal.”

Professor Charles Lieber from the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Harvard University said: “This work represents a major step towards tackling the general problem of integrating ‘synthesized’ nanoscale building blocks into chip and wafer scale arrays, and thereby allowing us to address the long-standing challenge of scalable intracellular recording.

“The beauty of science to many, ourselves included, is having such challenges to drive hypotheses and future work. In the longer term, we see these probe developments adding to our capabilities that ultimately drive advanced high-resolution brain-machine interfaces and perhaps eventually bringing cyborgs to reality.”

Professor Ravi Silva, Director of the ATI at the University of Surrey, said: “This incredibly exciting and ambitious piece of work illustrates the value of academic collaboration. Along with the possibility of upgrading the tools we use to monitor cells, this work has laid the foundations for machine and human interfaces that could improve lives across the world.”

Dr Yunlong Zhao and his team are currently working on novel energy storage devices, electrochemical probing, bioelectronic devices, sensors and 3D soft electronic systems. Undergraduate, graduate and postdoc students with backgrounds in energy storage, electrochemistry, nanofabrication, bioelectronics, tissue engineering are very welcome to contact Dr Zhao to explore the opportunities further.

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Second-hand smartphone market booms

The worldwide market for used smartphones is forecast to grow to 332.9 million units, with a market value of $67 billion, in 2023, according to IDC

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International Data Corporation (IDC) expects worldwide shipments of used smartphones, inclusive of both officially refurbished and used smartphones, to reach a total of 206.7 million units in 2019. This represents an increase of 17.6% over the 175.8 million units shipped in 2018. A new IDC forecast projects used smartphone shipments will reach 332.9 million units in 2023 with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13.6% from 2018 to 2023.

This growth can be attributed to an uptick in demand for used smartphones that offer considerable savings compared with new models. Moreover, OEMs have struggled to produce new models that strike a balance between desirable new features and a price that is seen as reasonable. Looking ahead, IDC expects the deployment of 5G networks and smartphones to impact the used market as smartphone owners begin to trade in their 4G smartphones for the promise of high-performing 5G devices.

Anthony Scarsella, research manager with IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Mobile Phone Tracker, says: “In contrast to the recent declines in the new smartphone market, as well as the forecast for minimal growth in new shipments over the next few years, the used market for smartphones shows no signs of slowing down across all parts of the globe. Refurbished and used devices continue to provide cost-effective alternatives to both consumers and businesses that are looking to save money when purchasing a smartphone. Moreover, the ability for vendors to push more affordable refurbished devices in markets in which they normally would not have a presence is helping these players grow their brand as well as their ecosystem of apps, services, and accessories.”

Worldwide Used Smartphone Shipments (shipments in millions of units)

Region2018
Shipments
2018 Market
Share
2023
Shipments*
2023 Market
Share*
2018-2023
CAGR*
North America39.022.2%87.226.2%17.4%
Rest of World136.877.8%245.773.8%12.4%
Total175.8100.0%332.9100.0%13.6%

Source: IDC, Worldwide Used Smartphone Forecast, 2019–2023, Dec 2019.

Table Notes: Data is subject to change.
* Forecast projections.

Says Will Stofega, program director, Mobile Phones: “Although drivers such as regulatory compliance and environmental initiatives are still positively impacting the growth in the used market, the importance of cost-saving for new devices will continue to drive growth. Overall, we feel that the ability to use a previously owned device to fund the purchase of either a new or used device will play the most crucial role in the growth of the refurbished phone market. Trade-in combined with the increase in financing plans (EIP) will ultimately be the two main drivers of the refurbished phone market moving forward.”

According to IDC’s taxonomy, a refurbished smartphone is a device that has been used and disposed of at a collection point by its owner. Once the device has been examined and classified as suitable for refurbishment, it is sent off to a facility for reconditioning and is eventually sold via a secondary market channel. A refurbished smartphone is not a “hand me down” or gained as the result of a person-to-person sale or trade.

The IDC report, Worldwide Used Smartphone Forecast, 2019–2023 (Doc #US45726219), provides an overview and five-year forecast of the worldwide refurbished phone market and its expansion and growth by 2023. This study also provides a look at key players and the impact they will have on vendors, carriers, and consumers.

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Customers and ‘super apps’ will shape travel in 2020s

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Customers will take far more control of their travel experience in the 2020s, according to a 2020 Trends report released this week by Travelport, a leading technology company serving the global travel industry.

Through independent research with thousands of global travellers – including 500 in South Africa – hundreds of travel professionals and interviews with leaders of some of the world’s biggest travel brands, Travelport uncovered the major forces that will become the technology enablers of travel over the next decade. These include:

Customers in control

Several trends highlight the finding that customers are moving towards self-service options, with 61% of the travellers surveyed in South Africa preferring to hear about travel disruption via digital communications, such as push notifications on an app, mobile chatbots, or instant messaging apps, rather than speaking with a person on the phone. This is especially important when it comes to young travellers under 25, seen as the future business traveler, and managing their high expectations through technology.

Mobile takeover

With the threat of super app domination, online travel agencies must disrupt or risk being disrupted. Contextual messaging across the journey will help. Super app tech giants like WeChat give their users a one-stop shop to communicate, shop online, book travel, bank, find a date, get food delivery, and pay for anything within a single, unified smartphone app. Travel brands that want to deliver holistic mobile customer experiences need to think about how they engage travellers within these super apps as well as in their own mobile channels.

Retail accelerated

In the next year, research shows, we will see an accelerated rate of change in the way travel is retailed and purchased online. This includes wider and more complex multi-content reach, more enriched and comparable offerings, more focus on relevance than magnitude, and an increase in automation that enables customer self-service.

“How customers engage with their travel experience – for instance by interacting with digital ‘bots’ and expecting offers better personalised to their needs – is changing rapidly,” says Adrian Roodt, country manager for Southern Africa at Travelport. “We in the travel industry need to understand and keep pace with these forces to make sure we’re continuing to make the experience of buying and managing travel continually better, for everyone.”

Read the full 2020 Trends report here: 2020 Trends hub.

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