The problem with wearable sensors over the years has been one of durability. When repeatedly folded and bent, they developed micro-cracks that curtailed their conductivity.
Nothing a little red wine won’t fix. Or coffee. Or black tea.
The tannic acid present in those liquids was found by a team of scientists at the University of Manchester, England, to be crucial to improving the mechanical properties of wearables.
The team had previously used the same idea to develop artificial hands and capacitive breath sensors. Prior to the discovery of tannic acid as a useful tool in the creation of wearable technology, there had been many failures due to a lack of effective resources.
Tannic acid is the reason it is so difficult to remove red-wine stains from fabric: It firmly adheres to the material on the surface of the fiber. Such adhesion is, team leader Dr. Xuqing Liu, leader told Phys.org, “exactly what we need for durable, wearable, conductive devices.”
While scientists have been purchasing tannins to create these technological items, they tested fabrics by soaking them in coffee and black tea. They found that these liquids had the same effect on the fabrics that red wine did. This assured them that the adhesive properties of black coffee and tea are just as effective.
Using that knowledge, scientists are hopeful that in the near future they will be able to create wearable technology devices that are not only more comfortable but also longer-lasting and more cost-efficient.
Through the use of red wine, black tea and coffee, developers can create devices that, instead of being made of nylon, are made of cotton instead. The technology that is enabled by the use of tannic acid means that a device’s circuits will be attached to the surface of the fabric. This replaces the previous rigid circuit board with one that the wearer of the device isn’t even likely to notice.
While the technology industry is changing in many ways, wearable technology is among this and next year’s largest aspects. It has been predicted that sales of wearable technology around the world are set to reach a monetary value of $27 billion by 2022.
Yesterday’s wearable devices used conductive yarn. However, the coating on this material often peeled off, rendering it useless. Substituting tannic acid eliminates this problem.
Only time will tell what further research on this subject uncovers. But this latest breakthrough represents a quantum leap forward, in that it improves the durability of these widely used sensors. Moreover, it shows what can be accomplished through an outside-the-box approach — how a problem can be solved, if only it is approached from a different angle.
As detailed by Chris Pedigo of Lacework.com, 2019 saw some dark days for the cloud. While companies storing information in such data centers usually find that method cost-effective and efficient, the exceptions were notable, and troubling.
In April, 540 million Facebook records were exposed via Cultura Colectiva, a Mexican content provider. In May, Instagram saw 49 million records laid bare. July brought the Capital One breach, in which 80,000 bank account numbers (and 140,000 social security numbers) were exposed. And September saw the Autoclerk breach, where travel reservations were hacked, including those of military personnel involved with sensitive operations.
As a result, businesses are increasingly turning to blockchain to secure their cloud storage. An integral part of the larger trend toward Blockchain as a Service (BaaS), the distributed security makes this decentralized ledger far less vulnerable to hackers than the centralized servers preferred by most companies in the past.
The reasons have been well-documented. There are the cryptographic hashes unique to each block, which results in the chain’s immutability — i.e., none of the blocks can be modified without altering the whole chain. There is the peer-to-peer network, to which all data is distributed. Because it is not stored by any single entity but rather a node of users, the information within the chain cannot be changed by an outside actor. That ties into another security measure — the consensus protocol, under which all users need to verify a new block.
Finally, there is proof-of-work (PoW), the algorithm used to verify the transactions that lead to the creation of new blocks in the chain.
Again, such security is one of the great appeals of blockchain, and spending on the technology, which has tripled since 2017, is expected to reach $16 billion by 2023. Healthcare in particular is expected to reap the benefits of this technology, as blockchain spending in that sector is projected to reach $1.4 billion by 2024.
At present, however, healthcare lags behind financial services, manufacturing and energy and utilities in the industries that executives view as being most advanced in blockchain development, per a Business Insider survey. Forty-six percent of those polled believe that financial services have made the greatest strides in that area, compared to 12 percent for manufacturing, 12 percent for energy and utilities and 11 percent for healthcare. (Another eight percent view governmental use as being the most advanced.)
But it is expected that there will be precious few industries that won’t be impacted by this technology in the years to come. One report listed 58 possible areas in which blockchain can be applied, ranging from voting to ride-sharing to advertising.
The conclusion is a simple one: A decentralized storage system like blockchain can do for information what it has been doing for cryptocurrencies, keeping it safe and sound, and accessible only to those on the chain in question. The trend toward blockchain will only continue in the years ahead, and cut across all sectors.
Blockchain, once associated solely with the cryptocurrency bitcoin, has since been found to have many uses, with the potential for many more.
One of the foremost examples of digital ledger technology (DLT), blockchain can solidify supply chains and secure elections. It can make real estate transactions easier, and medical records more accessible. It can facilitate data transfers and ensure the smooth operation of the Internet of Things.
But why? What makes it so good, and why is there the expectation that it could do so much more?
In a word, security. The folks at MIT spelled it out in layman’s terms, while using bitcoin, widely considered the first digital currency, as an example. All of bitcoin’s transactions are stored in the ledger, with multiple copies shared to a network of computers, or nodes. These nodes, which are operated by so-called miners, determine the validity of every new transaction. In the case of bitcoin, for instance, they check to see that each miner seeking to complete a transaction using that particular crypto does in fact have one to spend. Valid transactions are then added to the chain as blocks.
Every block has its own cryptographic fingerprint (called a hash), and every completed transaction does so courtesy of a unique process known as a consensus protocol — i.e., the agreement between all the other nodes. Both those elements should at least theoretically make such transactions tamperproof.
The MIT crew does raise questions about how secure the network really is, and provides examples of instances when hot wallets or smart contracts, two DLT staples, have been hacked. But generally blockchain, and DLT in general, has been well-received.
Consider the following examples:
- Supply chain management: Using an online ledger removes documents, and thus inefficiency, from the equation. Consider the example of the shipment of flowers from Kenya to Rotterdam that required no fewer than 200 documents to complete. That’s a thing of the past with blockchain.
- Secure elections: It could potentially reduce fraud or, for that matter, the need to so much as travel to a polling place. In 2016 West Virginia became the first state to use DLT-based technology in a primary, a possible sign of things to come.
- Real estate transactions: With supply chains, there’s no need for hard copies anymore. All of that now exists in the blockchain network, and all parties have secure access. This is true for real estate transactions, and all manner of other transactions.
- Medical records: Electronic medical records (EMRs) are already widely used, but those stored in a blockchain would ensure the patient easier access and greater privacy, the latter of which is essential under HIPAA requirements.
- Data transfers: The cryptocurrency IOTA, believing most corporate data goes unused, has developed a DLT-based data marketplace that would allow companies to sell or share data, the idea being that it would spark innovation.
- IoT management: The world of interconnected devices — smart thermostats, lights, refrigerators, security systems, et al. — is ever-evolving, and in 2017 Cisco Systems moved to trademark a blockchain that would monitor the various devices for trustworthiness.
Clearly there is more to come. Blockchain will disrupt a great many sectors in the years to come, and we have its reliability and security to thank.
This post was originally featured on TechCrunch.com
Marijuana is an ancient plant with borderline mystical properties — just ask the 266 million people who smoke it every year. Hemp, the industrial strain of Cannabis sativa, has been used for many purposes — food, fuel and textiles among them — for tens of thousands of years. Unlike its sister strain, hemp can’t get you high. But much like the drug, it has extraordinary qualities.
America is no stranger to hemp. In fact, Betsy Ross sewed the first American flag with hemp and George Washington farmed it at Mt. Vernon. Unfortunately, its full potential was never realized; drug restrictions that banned marijuana suppressed hemp, too. This spurious conflation quashed the industry for about 60 years, until a 2014 farm bill defined it as an agricultural crop, leaving the door ajar to American farmers.
As marijuana laws continue to loosen across the country — and the world — it looks like hemp could be brought back in a big way. With China leading in worldwide hemp production and Canadahaving capitalized on it during America’s drug war, now is the time to get in the game. In today’s fast-paced and tech-driven world, this means re-adopting the plant for today’s innovation economy.
Hemp could make a huge difference in everyday products, certainly. But even more exciting are the groundbreaking research and high-tech products it’s already spearheading.
Before we launch into some of hemp’s cooler applications, it’s important to understand just what makes hemp so unique.
First and foremost, hemp is incredibly environmentally friendly. Instead of depleting the land’s nutrients, like cotton does, hemp actually puts nitrogen back into the soil. It takes less water, but produces more plants per acre (for reference, one acre of hemp produces four times the paper an acre of trees does.) Its low lignin content and natural brightness reduces the need for pulping and bleaching, meaning fewer chemicals are needed all around.
Hemp grows in a wide variety of soils and climates, so it can be harvested in all 50 states (though only about half legally). It’s one of the strongest plant fibers and is naturally resistant to weeds and pests. It harvests quickly, growing 10 to 20 feet in just four months.
Then you have hemp seeds, an incredible source of protein. More than 25 percent of their calories come from high-quality protein, considerably more than similar foods like chia seeds and flax seeds. Various studies have linked them to a reduction in risk of heart disease and easing of PMS and digestion.
Hemp is also ideal for the production of ethanol, the cleanest-burning liquid bio-alternative to gasoline. Combustion releases water vapor and CO2, which plants absorb.
It’s no wonder hemp is called a smart plant, as it seems almost too good to be true, especially in a world rife with environmental and climate concerns. Considering farmers need the DEA’s approval before sowing seeds, there is still a barrier to entry — for now, anyway.
Restrictions aside, preliminary research has yielded results that only confirm hemp’s potential, and not just as an everyday alternative to cotton and wood, but for high-tech innovations.
Ever heard of graphene? Hemp fiber is also incredibly strong and light, and Dr. David Mitlin, a scientist from Clarkson University in New York, says his team has mimicked the nanomaterial’s amazing qualities using hemp waste. According to Dope Magazine:
Dr. Mitlin and his team were able to recycle leftover hemp-based fiber, cook it down and then dissolve it until carbon nanosheets that resembled the structure of graphene were left behind. They proceeded to build these nanosheets into powerful energy-storing supercapacitors with high energy density, thus creating a hemp based “graphene.”
The best part? This graphene-like hemp costs only a fraction of the price of traditional graphene: $500 a ton compared to $2,000 per gram. Dr. Mitlin also suspects the hemp-based product could outperform graphene.
Another amazing product is hempcrete, a concrete made with hemp and lime. For construction, hempcrete is essentially a super-concrete: Its negative CO2 footprint alleviates the greenhouse effect and improves air quality. Its natural insulation keeps homes warm or cool, reducing need for energy. Its resistance to cracks under high pressure makes it well-suited for earthquake-prone areas. It’s even mold, fire and termite proof.
Hemp also can be used to create bacteria-fighting fabrics. As early as the 1990s, scientists in China were developing blended hemp fabrics with superior resistance to staph in order to prevent sometimes fatal infections in hospitals. Considering at least two million Americans get staph infections when hospitalized, and 90,000 die, this could be a life-saving innovation here in the U.S.
Luckily, Colorado company EnviroTextiles is on it. The company’s hemp-rayon fabric blend has shown in preliminary studies to be 98.5 percent staph resistant and 65.1 percent pneumonia-free. In addition, EnviroTextiles offers hemp fabric resistant to UV and infrared wavelengths, ideal for military purposes.
These are just a few of the many high-tech and future-forward applications hemp has. As a form of sustainable agriculture, hemp farming holds enormous potential — for the planet, the economy, and even veterans seeking employment. Once the hemp is produced, it may not get you high, but figuratively, the sky’s the limit.
After all, how fitting is it for an ancient plant, used both 10,000 years ago and in early America, to continue its legacy in our modern world? Betsy’s hemp-based flag became a symbol for the country, which is now a leader in technological innovation. It would be foolish not to take the bull by the horns and ride it.