We’re techy, too! Deere, Tide maker head to CES gadget show
By MATT O’BRIEN and JOSEPH PISANI
Tuesday, January 8
LAS VEGAS (AP) — The companies founded by blacksmith John Deere and candle-and-soap-making duo Procter & Gamble may not be the hip purveyors of new technology they were in 1837.
But they’re first-time exhibitors at this year’s CES gadget show, along with other unlikely newcomers such as missile-maker Raytheon, outdoorsy retailer The North Face and the 115-year-old motorcycling icon Harley-Davidson.
The four-day consumer-electronics show opens Tuesday with some 4,500 companies exhibiting products and services and more than 180,000 people expected to attend. It’s the place startups and established tech giants alike go to unveil everything from utilitarian apps to splashy devices.
So what are these legacy companies doing here?
“Every company today is a technology company,” said Gary Shapiro, CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, which organizes CES.
Shapiro said many companies already send executives to Las Vegas each January to gauge trends, so it’s not surprising that they eventually unveil their own new technology as well.
It’s also part of a more fundamental economic shift as consumers increasingly expect to buy not just goods and services, but a personal experience, which often skews digital, said Dipanjan Chatterjee, a brand analyst at Forrester Research.
“We’re still doing old-fashioned things: Ordering clothes, buying detergent, getting a cup of coffee, but there are new-fangled ways of doing it,” he said. “Brands have no choice but to play a role in this new technology space.”
That’s one reason Harley-Davidson is using the show to announce the commercial launch of its first electric motorcycle LiveWire. The motorcycle will have a cellular connection, as many cars do these days, so people can keep track of their motorcycle’s charge or check where they parked it through an app.
Consumer goods giant P&G, best known for Pampers diapers and Tide detergent, is showcasing heated razors, a toothbrush with artificial intelligence and a wand-like device that scans the skin and releases serum to cover up age spots and other discoloration.
P&G is also showing off an internet-connected scalp adviser: The Head & Shoulders-branded device uses ultraviolet light and other techniques to uncover scalp issues and recommend products. The device is available only in Europe and Asia for now.
Expect these gizmos to cost more than the plain-old “dumb” versions. P&G’s Oral-B toothbrush, for example, is expected to cost $279, while a regular Oral-B electric toothbrush can be had for less than $30.
And every new connected device means more data collection about people’s personal habits — a gold mine for advertisers and hackers alike.
The North Face is using virtual reality to provide a fine-grained look at its waterproof fabrics.
Raytheon is demonstrating the everyday applications of GPS anti-jam technology, which was originally designed to protect military forces.
And John Deere has hauled in self-driving tractors and a 20-ton combine harvester aided by artificial intelligence. The combine has cameras with computer-vision technology to track the quality of grain coming into the machine so that its kernel-separating settings can be adjusted automatically. Farmers can monitor it remotely using a smartphone app.
It’s hard to imagine what 19th century Illinois blacksmith John Deere might think if he were plopped into his company’s 2019 booth at the flashy Vegas convention center, but Deanna Kovar believes he’d be “amazed and astonished.”
“His innovation was making a self-powering steel plow that could cut through the heavy, rich soils of the Midwest,” said Kovar, the company’s director of production and precision agriculture marketing. “We’ve been a technology company since the start.”
Kovar said American farmers have been using self-driving tractors for decades — and CES is a chance to let everyone else know.
Chatterjee said such messages are directed not just at a company’s customers, but to investors, potential corporate partners, startup acquisition targets and the technically skilled employees these more traditional firms are hoping to attract.
“These are brands that are aggressively looking to work tech into their DNA,” Chatterjee said. “They want to be perceived all around as a tech-forward innovative brand.”
AP video journalist James Brooks contributed to this report.
Rotating black holes may serve as gentle portals for hyperspace travel
January 9, 2019
Feel like traveling to another dimension? Better choose your black hole wisely.
Author: Gaurav Khanna, Professor of Physics, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Disclosure statement: Gaurav Khanna receives funding from NSF. Partners: University of Massachusetts provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
One of the most cherished science fiction scenarios is using a black hole as a portal to another dimension or time or universe. That fantasy may be closer to reality than previously imagined.
Black holes are perhaps the most mysterious objects in the universe. They are the consequence of gravity crushing a dying star without limit, leading to the formation of a true singularity – which happens when an entire star gets compressed down to a single point yielding an object with infinite density. This dense and hot singularity punches a hole in the fabric of spacetime itself, possibly opening up an opportunity for hyperspace travel. That is, a short cut through spacetime allowing for travel over cosmic scale distances in a short period.
Researchers previously thought that any spacecraft attempting to use a black hole as a portal of this type would have to reckon with nature at its worst. The hot and dense singularity would cause the spacecraft to endure a sequence of increasingly uncomfortable tidal stretching and squeezing before being completely vaporized.
Flying through a black hole
My team at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth and a colleague at Georgia Gwinnett College have shown that all black holes are not created equal. If the black hole like Sagittarius A*, located at the center of our own galaxy, is large and rotating, then the outlook for a spacecraft changes dramatically. That’s because the singularity that a spacecraft would have to contend with is very gentle and could allow for a very peaceful passage.
The reason that this is possible is that the relevant singularity inside a rotating black hole is technically “weak,” and thus does not damage objects that interact with it. At first, this fact may seem counter intuitive. But one can think of it as analogous to the common experience of quickly passing one’s finger through a candle’s near 2,000-degree flame, without getting burned.
Hold your finger close to the flame and it will burn. Swipe it through quickly and you won’t feel much. Similarly, passing through a large rotating black hole, you are more likely to come out the other side unharmed.
My colleague Lior Burko and I have been investigating the physics of black holes for over two decades. In 2016, my Ph.D. student, Caroline Mallary, inspired by Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster film “Interstellar,” set out to test if Cooper (Matthew McConaughey’s character), could survive his fall deep into Gargantua – a fictional, supermassive, rapidly rotating black hole some 100 million times the mass of our sun. “Interstellar” was based on a book written by Nobel Prize-winning astrophysicist Kip Thorne and Gargantua’s physical properties are central to the plot of this Hollywood movie.
Building on work done by physicist Amos Ori two decades prior, and armed with her strong computational skills, Mallary built a computer model that would capture most of the essential physical effects on a spacecraft, or any large object, falling into a large, rotating black hole like Sagittarius A*.
Not even a bumpy ride?
What she discovered is that under all conditions an object falling into a rotating black hole would not experience infinitely large effects upon passage through the hole’s so-called inner horizon singularity. This is the singularity that an object entering a rotating black hole cannot maneuver around or avoid. Not only that, under the right circumstances, these effects may be negligibly small, allowing for a rather comfortable passage through the singularity. In fact, there may no noticeable effects on the falling object at all. This increases the feasibility of using large, rotating black holes as portals for hyperspace travel.
Mallary also discovered a feature that was not fully appreciated before: the fact that the effects of the singularity in the context of a rotating black hole would result in rapidly increasing cycles of stretching and squeezing on the spacecraft. But for very large black holes like Gargantua, the strength of this effect would be very small. So, the spacecraft and any individuals on board would not detect it.
The important thing to note is that the strain increases dramatically close to the black hole, but does not grow indefinitely. Therefore, the spacecraft and its inhabitants may survive the journey.
The crucial point is that these effects do not increase without bound; in fact, they stay finite, even though the stresses on the spacecraft tend to grow indefinitely as it approaches the black hole.
There are a few important simplifying assumptions and resulting caveats in the context of Mallary’s model. The main assumption is that the black hole under consideration is completely isolated and thus not subject to constant disturbances by a source such as another star in its vicinity or even any falling radiation. While this assumption allows important simplifications, it is worth noting that most black holes are surrounded by cosmic material – dust, gas, radiation.
Therefore, a natural extension of Mallary’s work would be to perform a similar study in the context of a more realistic astrophysical black hole.
Mallary’s approach of using a computer simulation to examine the effects of a black hole on an object is very common in the field of black hole physics. Needless to say, we do not have the capability of performing real experiments in or near black holes yet, so scientists resort to theory and simulations to develop an understanding, by making predictions and new discoveries.
Hans I Nelsen: Wow, that’s great. Its just like we hoped. I guess human intuition is a more powerful tool than we all thought. Just back that up with some science. Who knows what other wild theories might be true and helpful to the human race. Now we can just fly out there and see what’s on the other side.
Medieval medical books could hold the recipe for new antibiotics
April 17, 2017
Author: Erin Connelly, CLIR-Mellon Fellow for Data Curation in Medieval Studies, University of Pennsylvania
Disclosure statement: Erin Connelly does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
For a long time, medieval medicine has been dismissed as irrelevant. This time period is popularly referred to as the “Dark Ages,” which erroneously suggests that it was unenlightened by science or reason. However, some medievalists and scientists are now looking back to history for clues to inform the search for new antibiotics.
The evolution of antibiotic-resistant microbes means that it is always necessary to find new drugs to battle microbes that are no longer treatable with current antibiotics. But progress in finding new antibiotics is slow. The drug discovery pipeline is currently stalled. An estimated 700,000 people around the world die annually from drug-resistant infections. If the situation does not change, it is estimated that such infections will kill 10 million people per year by 2050.
I am part of the Ancientbiotics team, a group of medievalists, microbiologists, medicinal chemists, parasitologists, pharmacists and data scientists from multiple universities and countries. We believe that answers to the antibiotic crisis could be found in medical history. With the aid of modern technologies, we hope to unravel how premodern physicians treated infection and whether their cures really worked.
To that end, we are compiling a database of medieval medical recipes. By revealing patterns in medieval medical practice, our database could inform future laboratory research into the materials used to treat infection in the past. To our knowledge, this is the first attempt to create a medieval medicines database in this manner and for this purpose.
In 2015, our team published a pilot study on a 1,000-year old recipe called Bald’s eyesalve from “Bald’s Leechbook,” an Old English medical text. The eyesalve was to be used against a “wen,” which may be translated as a sty, or an infection of the eyelash follicle.
A common cause of modern styes is the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA) is resistant to many current antibiotics. Staph and MRSA infections are responsible for a variety of severe and chronic infections, including wound infections, sepsis and pneumonia.
Bald’s eyesalve contains wine, garlic, an Allium species (such as leek or onion) and oxgall. The recipe states that, after the ingredients have been mixed together, they must stand in a brass vessel for nine nights before use.
In our study, this recipe turned out to be a potent antistaphylococcal agent, which repeatedly killed established S. aureus biofilms – a sticky matrix of bacteria adhered to a surface – in an in vitro infection model. It also killed MRSA in mouse chronic wound models.
Premodern European medicine has been poorly studied for its clinical potential, compared with traditional pharmacopeias of other parts of the world. Our research also raises questions about medieval medical practitioners. Today, the word “medieval” is used as a derogatory term, indicating cruel behavior, ignorance or backwards thinking. This perpetuates the myth that the period is unworthy of study.
During our eyesalve study, chemist Tu Youyou was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her discovery of a new therapy for malaria after searching over 2,000 recipes from ancient Chinese literature on herbal medicine. Is another “silver bullet” for microbial infection hidden within medieval European medical literature?
Certainly, there are medieval superstitions and treatments that we would not replicate today, such as purging a patient’s body of pathogenic humors. However, our work suggests that there could be a methodology behind the medicines of medieval practitioners, informed by a long tradition of observation and experimentation.
One key finding was that following the steps exactly as specified by the Bald’s eyesalve recipe – including waiting nine days before use – was crucial for its efficacy. Are the results of this medieval recipe representative of others that treat infection? Were practitioners selecting and combining materials following some “scientific” methodology for producing biologically active cocktails?
Further research may show that some medieval medicines were more than placebos or palliative aids, but actual “ancientbiotics” used long before the modern science of infection control. This idea underlies our current study on the medieval medical text, “Lylye of Medicynes.”
A medieval medicines database
The “Lylye of Medicynes” is a 15th-century Middle English translation of the Latin “Lilium medicinae,” first completed in 1305. It is a translation of the major work of a significant medieval physician, Bernard of Gordon. His “Lilium medicinae” was translated and printed continuously over many centuries, until at least the late 17th century.
The text contains a wealth of medical recipes. In the Middle English translation, there are 360 recipes – clearly indicated with Rx in the text – and many thousands more ingredient names.
As a doctoral student, I prepared the first-ever edition of the “Lylye of Medicynes” and compared the recipes against four extant Latin copies of the “Lilium medicinae.” This involved faithfully copying the Middle English text from the medieval manuscript, then editing that text for a modern reader, such as adding modern punctuation and correcting scribal errors. The “Lylye of Medicynes” is 245 folios, which equates to 600 pages of word-processed text.
I loaded the Middle English names of ingredients into a database, along with translations into modern equivalents, juxtaposed with relationships to recipe and disease. It is very time-consuming to format medieval data for processing with modern technologies. It also takes time to translate medieval medical ingredients into modern equivalents, due in part to multiple synonyms as well as variations in modern scientific nomenclature for plants. This information has to be verified across many sources.
With our database, we aim to find combinations of ingredients that occur repeatedly and are specifically used to treat infectious diseases. To achieve this, we are employing some common tools of data science, such as network analysis, a mathematical method to examine the relationships between entries. Our team will then examine how these patterns may help us to use medieval texts as inspiration for lab tests of candidate “ancientbiotic” recipes.
In March, we tested a small portion of the database to ensure that the method we developed was appropriate for this data set. At present, the database contains only the 360 recipes indicated with Rx. Now that the proof-of-concept stage is complete, I will expand the database to contain other ingredients which are clearly in recipe format, but may not be marked with Rx.
We are specifically interested in recipes associated with recognizable signs of infection. With Bald’s eyesalve, the combination of ingredients proved to be crucial. By examining the strength of ingredient relationships, we hope to find out whether medieval medical recipes are driven by certain combinations of antimicrobial ingredients.
The database could direct us to new recipes to test in the lab in our search for novel antibiotics, as well as inform new research into the antimicrobial agents contained in these ingredients on the molecular level. It could also deepen our understanding of how medieval practitioners “designed” recipes. Our research is in the beginning stages, but it holds exciting potential for the future.