Have you ever settled yourself down in front of an animated movie and marvelled at how the 3D figures are brought to life?
From Sulley’s wind-ruffled fur as he strides across the ‘Monsters’ University’ campus to the heart-wrenching fade-out of Riley’s imaginary friend, Bing Bong, in ‘Inside Out’, it’s the play of light across these 3D scenes that brings the characters so vividly to life. Each moment is painstakingly animated, textured and rendered to give a carefully crafted illusion of reality.
In these more recent productions, a technique called ‘ray tracing’ maps out each ray of light in a scene, giving rise to the shadows, reflections and 3D appearance of characters. Even with the help of vast banks of powerful computers, the rendering process takes hundreds of thousands of computing hours, and films can take years to finish.
In 2018 it’s hard to go a week without seeing an AI innovation making the news headlines. Just last week, NEX Team (a mobile intelligence company) released HomeCourt – an iOS app that combines your smartphone camera with artificial intelligence to count, track, and chart basketball shots in real-time. The app allows players to self-analyse and improve their performance, and has the potential to transform the way that athletes train. While HomeCourt represents niche applications of AI, engineers’ continued development of artificial intelligence(s) across various industries could revolutionise everything from aerospace technology and healthcare through to civil construction work and lifestyle activities. As such, we aim to explore where AI stands in 2018, where its development is heading, as well as the implications for when we get there.
When we hear about food waste, we tend to think of wastage at the consumer side of things – the bag of half-eaten salad mix you guiltily throw out every week, the enormous meal at a restaurant you couldn’t finish, or your parents sternly reminding you of the ‘starving children around the world’ as you pick at your peas.
Food loss and wastage, however, is a pervasive issue at all stages along the food supply chain from production and storage through to transport and consumption.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) claims that one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted globally – equal to around 1.3 billion tonnes annually.
While consumer-side efforts have been launched in recent years to combat this issue (such as ‘ugly’ fruit and vegetable campaigns, and apps that let consumers buy cheap food from cafes before it gets binned), there’s an opportunity to combat the issue on the production-side by harnessing AI and machine learning (ML) technology.
With the global road network currently spanning over 21 million kilometres, and estimated to increase by a further 4.7 million by 2050 – our roads present both a prime target and medium for a plethora of engineering innovations around the world.
Digital technologies and AI offer a new wave of opportunities to turn data into actionable insights – creating a balance between social, environmental, and economic opportunities.
In 2018, it’s safe to say that the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the myriad of technologies derived from their development are all here to stay. With the ceaseless amalgamation of these various innovations, engineers are creating a cyber-physical world where pervasively interconnected objects, things, and processes can potentially unlock a breadth of unprecedented opportunities. However, I should point out that encapsulating the entire medley of possibilities afforded by these technologies is a considerable endeavour requiring a far longer and more comprehensive overview – perhaps in the form of a book, or three – than this article can offer in isolation. As such, I’ll concentrate on something closer to my own work: smart cities. More specifically, I’ll be focusing on the potential for us to optimally – and transparently – manage and operate city-wide infrastructure.
A pilot study at Stanford university has recently demonstrated that their AI-powered wearable therapy, Superpower Glass, can help to develop social skills in children with autism by identifying facial expressions and ‘gamifying’ social interaction. We spoke with the study’s senior author, Professor Dennis Wall, to learn more about the technology and its potential.
QEPrize winner Dr Robert Langer has recently been selected as one of the five 2018 US Science Envoys. In his new position, he will focus on novel approaches in biomaterials, drug delivery systems, nanotechnology, tissue engineering, and the U.S. approach to research commercialization.
Science envoys are critical to strengthening bilateral science and technology relationships in the US, engaging with international audiences at all levels, and advancing policy objectives — such as increasing the number of women in science and advocating for science-based decision making.
Dr Langer was awarded the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering for his revolutionary advances and leadership in engineering at the interface with chemistry and medicine. The technologies that his lab created have improved the lives of over two billion people around the world.
Given his recent appointment, we asked Dr Langer for his opinion of the top five areas in biomedical engineering ‘to watch’, as well as his thoughts on the potential for international collaboration.
From face recognition on our phones to Alexa virtual assistants — our lives are being fundamentally revolutionised by waves of new tech. We are developing smart cities, littering roads and traffic systems with sensors to monitor carbon monoxide levels and push traffic along, and our vehicles are soon to be autonomous. In the business world, new innovations are automating time-consuming and repetitive tasks, creating efficiencies and enhanced productivity never previously imagined.
But whilst hyper-connectivity and the Internet of Things produce a myriad of benefits, they also leave us more vulnerable to an increasingly sophisticated cyber-threat landscape.