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17 tech innovations that could help ease coronavirus lockdown restrictions
With the right technology, we can continue to "flatten the curve," even as we venture out of our homes.
- We're eager to return to "normal," but authorities are understandably wary about lifting lockdown restrictions while a vaccine and effective treatment for COVID-19 continue to elude us.
- Innovators and tech companies are stepping up with new solutions as well as repurposing existing tech to help ease lockdown restrictions.
- Technologies already in use include those for protecting and empowering healthcare workers, tracking the movement of the virus, testing people on a massive scale, and disinfecting public spaces.
The novel coronavirus has pushed half the population of the world into lockdown, disrupted studies for millions of students, destroyed unknown number of businesses, and slowed down the global economy.
Everyone is eager to return to "normal," but governments and public health authorities are understandably nervous about lifting lockdown restrictions while a vaccine and effective treatment for COVID-19 continue to elude us.
The disease has caused over 207,000 deaths worldwide, and a second wave has already hit Asian countries that were first to emerge from lockdown. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC, predicts that a second wave will hit the U.S. in November, and a leading epidemiologist warned we'll face a cycle of lockdown and release every three months or so until we develop a vaccine.
With spring 2020 giving way to summer, and much of the world beginning to slowly ease up on restrictions, what's next? What will be "the new normal" as we leave our homes while continuing to flatten the curve?
At this point, like so much else, it's a big unknown. Until we can cure or prevent COVID-19 for good, innovators and tech companies are stepping up with new solutions and also repurposing existing tech to help ease restrictions.
Here are a few of the most promising innovations that are already in motion.
Improving healthcare provision through technology
One of the most pressing imperatives is to relieve the pressure on health workers so that the system as a whole doesn't collapse, as it did in Spain and Italy, causing the highest death rates in the world. We need to help healthcare workers manage their workloads and improve healthcare delivery so that everyone receives the care they need, from the sickest on ventilators in the ICU, to the physically healthy at home with mental health issues.
Telemedicine platforms like Telehealer help deliver healthcare remotely, alongside remote monitoring solutions like Resmetrix, which tracks, records, and sends vital health information to medical professionals. A similar system, Biofourmis, also analyzes this data to predict a patient's condition before it worsens. ResApp Health developed an app that can diagnose different respiratory diseases by listening to the user's cough. These tools keep people out of hospitals for longer, easing demand for hospital beds, and allowing healthcare staff to check patient health metrics at a distance.
Mental health chatbots fill a vital role assessing emotional well-being needs and simply making conversation to help reduce anxiety in people affected by fear of coronavirus.
A mixed reality dashboard
Holo4Triage makes mixed reality glasses for healthcare workers on the front line. These deliver step by step assistance for healthcare workers, guiding them through the process of identifying patients and processing patient details. The glasses sync in real time with the hospital IT system to share updates about currently-available resources.There's also a crucial need for a steady stream of medical equipment and PPE to enable healthcare systems to deliver vital care. Automakers such as Tesla, Ford, and GM are retooling parts and altering manufacturing lines to create ventilators out of car parts. Companies and private individuals with 3D printers are printing advanced masks, face shields, and ventilator components. The 3D Systems team in the UK has called on anyone with engineering expertise or a 3D printer to help them print ventilator parts on demand.
Using tech to track the spread of infection
Better data enables health authorities to understand how the coronavirus spreads, its incubation period, and which are the most-affected areas, so that they can make the right decisions about when, where, and how fast to raise restrictions. Improved data and data sharing also reveals which restrictions are the most effective.
A number of countries are using surveillance apps to track citizens' movements and to identify and notify people who come into contact with someone infected with COVID-19. The same apps can be used to ensure that people placed under quarantine follow the rules of self-isolation correctly. South Korea and Hong Kong have taken the concept a step further by experimenting with smart wristbands that perform the same task, although human rights and privacy concerns prevent South Korea from making them obligatory.
Data gathering and analysis apps like EpiMetrics help by tracking outbreaks in real time and creating a map that charts the spread of disease. Sickweather similarly aggregates social media data, crowd-sourced data, third-party sales, and clinical and demographic information to create real-time health maps that support the early prediction of outbreaks and guide authorities to high-risk zones.
Speeding up diagnostics with apps and tech interfaces
Faster diagnosis helps slow the spread of infection, while remote diagnostic tools protect healthcare workers who would otherwise have to be dangerously close to infected individuals in order to perform a swab, check temperature, etc.
Thermal cameras that can identify individuals with high temperatures out of a crowd are popular for fever detection, although opinion is divided about how effective they are. In Israel, one team is modifying a battlefield radar for use measuring heart rate, respiratory rate, and body temperature from a distance.
The Symptomate app
Digital health company Infermedica produced a free COVID-19 Risk Assessment Tool that can be deployed as a widget on any platform, website, or app, including its Symptomate app. The easy-to-use diagnostic tool is available in over 20 languages, applying a triage-oriented method to assess the user's health situation regarding COVID-19. It's based on WHO guidelines, as interpreted by an expert team of doctors, to help people who suspect they may have COVID-19 to decide whether they need to contact their doctor or remain at home. Already adopted by the Ukranian and Polish health authorities, the Infermedica tool eases pressure on healthcare providers and cuts confusion among patients about what to do next.
Autonomous disinfection and sanitization
While there's still debate about the main vectors of infection for the coronavirus, we know that it can linger in the air and on surfaces for significant lengths of time.
Disinfecting public transport in Tehran
Disinfection and sanitization bots can clean pavements and surfaces on public transport, and they're likewise valuable in indoor places that have a high number of cases, like some industrial plants. In a similar vein, a company in India is among those producing autonomous disinfection chambers, which help quickly disinfect individuals exposed to coronavirus, such as paramedics and front-line healthcare workers.
Technology can free us from lockdown
It's almost inevitable that some restrictions will be with us for another 18 months or so until we have a vaccine or viable treatment for COVID-19. So it's reassuring to know that with the help of new technology, we won't need to spend it all indoors.
Improving healthcare provision, speeding up diagnostics, gathering and analyzing data to track spread of infection, and streamlining disinfection can aid in lifting restrictions, making life in the shadow of corona more pleasant and less anxious for everyone.
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Inventions with revolutionary potential made by a mysterious aerospace engineer for the U.S. Navy come to light.
- U.S. Navy holds patents for enigmatic inventions by aerospace engineer Dr. Salvatore Pais.
- Pais came up with technology that can "engineer" reality, devising an ultrafast craft, a fusion reactor, and more.
- While mostly theoretical at this point, the inventions could transform energy, space, and military sectors.
The U.S. Navy controls patents for some futuristic and outlandish technologies, some of which, dubbed "the UFO patents," came to light recently. Of particular note are inventions by the somewhat mysterious Dr. Salvatore Cezar Pais, whose tech claims to be able to "engineer reality." His slate of highly-ambitious, borderline sci-fi designs meant for use by the U.S. government range from gravitational wave generators and compact fusion reactors to next-gen hybrid aerospace-underwater crafts with revolutionary propulsion systems, and beyond.
Of course, the existence of patents does not mean these technologies have actually been created, but there is evidence that some demonstrations of operability have been successfully carried out. As investigated and reported by The War Zone, a possible reason why some of the patents may have been taken on by the Navy is that the Chinese military may also be developing similar advanced gadgets.
Among Dr. Pais's patents are designs, approved in 2018, for an aerospace-underwater craft of incredible speed and maneuverability. This cone-shaped vehicle can potentially fly just as well anywhere it may be, whether air, water or space, without leaving any heat signatures. It can achieve this by creating a quantum vacuum around itself with a very dense polarized energy field. This vacuum would allow it to repel any molecule the craft comes in contact with, no matter the medium. Manipulating "quantum field fluctuations in the local vacuum energy state," would help reduce the craft's inertia. The polarized vacuum would dramatically decrease any elemental resistance and lead to "extreme speeds," claims the paper.
Not only that, if the vacuum-creating technology can be engineered, we'd also be able to "engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level," states the patent. This would lead to major advancements in aerospace propulsion and generating power. Not to mention other reality-changing outcomes that come to mind.
Among Pais's other patents are inventions that stem from similar thinking, outlining pieces of technology necessary to make his creations come to fruition. His paper presented in 2019, titled "Room Temperature Superconducting System for Use on a Hybrid Aerospace Undersea Craft," proposes a system that can achieve superconductivity at room temperatures. This would become "a highly disruptive technology, capable of a total paradigm change in Science and Technology," conveys Pais.
High frequency gravitational wave generator.
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
Another invention devised by Pais is an electromagnetic field generator that could generate "an impenetrable defensive shield to sea and land as well as space-based military and civilian assets." This shield could protect from threats like anti-ship ballistic missiles, cruise missiles that evade radar, coronal mass ejections, military satellites, and even asteroids.
Dr. Pais's ideas center around the phenomenon he dubbed "The Pais Effect". He referred to it in his writings as the "controlled motion of electrically charged matter (from solid to plasma) via accelerated spin and/or accelerated vibration under rapid (yet smooth) acceleration-deceleration-acceleration transients." In less jargon-heavy terms, Pais claims to have figured out how to spin electromagnetic fields in order to contain a fusion reaction – an accomplishment that would lead to a tremendous change in power consumption and an abundance of energy.
According to his bio in a recently published paper on a new Plasma Compression Fusion Device, which could transform energy production, Dr. Pais is a mechanical and aerospace engineer working at the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD), which is headquartered in Patuxent River, Maryland. Holding a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, Pais was a NASA Research Fellow and worked with Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems. His current Department of Defense work involves his "advanced knowledge of theory, analysis, and modern experimental and computational methods in aerodynamics, along with an understanding of air-vehicle and missile design, especially in the domain of hypersonic power plant and vehicle design." He also has expert knowledge of electrooptics, emerging quantum technologies (laser power generation in particular), high-energy electromagnetic field generation, and the "breakthrough field of room temperature superconductivity, as related to advanced field propulsion."
Suffice it to say, with such a list of research credentials that would make Nikola Tesla proud, Dr. Pais seems well-positioned to carry out groundbreaking work.
A craft using an inertial mass reduction device.
Credit: Salvatore Pais
The patents won't necessarily lead to these technologies ever seeing the light of day. The research has its share of detractors and nonbelievers among other scientists, who think the amount of energy required for the fields described by Pais and his ideas on electromagnetic propulsions are well beyond the scope of current tech and are nearly impossible. Yet investigators at The War Zone found comments from Navy officials that indicate the inventions are being looked at seriously enough, and some tests are taking place.
If you'd like to read through Pais's patents yourself, check them out here.
Laser Augmented Turbojet Propulsion System
Credit: Dr. Salvatore Pais
It marks a breakthrough in using gene editing to treat diseases.
This article was originally published by our sister site, Freethink.
For the first time, researchers appear to have effectively treated a genetic disorder by directly injecting a CRISPR therapy into patients' bloodstreams — overcoming one of the biggest hurdles to curing diseases with the gene editing technology.
The therapy appears to be astonishingly effective, editing nearly every cell in the liver to stop a disease-causing mutation.
The challenge: CRISPR gives us the ability to correct genetic mutations, and given that such mutations are responsible for more than 6,000 human diseases, the tech has the potential to dramatically improve human health.
One way to use CRISPR to treat diseases is to remove affected cells from a patient, edit out the mutation in the lab, and place the cells back in the body to replicate — that's how one team functionally cured people with the blood disorder sickle cell anemia, editing and then infusing bone marrow cells.
Bone marrow is a special case, though, and many mutations cause disease in organs that are harder to fix.
Another option is to insert the CRISPR system itself into the body so that it can make edits directly in the affected organs (that's only been attempted once, in an ongoing study in which people had a CRISPR therapy injected into their eyes to treat a rare vision disorder).
Injecting a CRISPR therapy right into the bloodstream has been a problem, though, because the therapy has to find the right cells to edit. An inherited mutation will be in the DNA of every cell of your body, but if it only causes disease in the liver, you don't want your therapy being used up in the pancreas or kidneys.
A new CRISPR therapy: Now, researchers from Intellia Therapeutics and Regeneron Pharmaceuticals have demonstrated for the first time that a CRISPR therapy delivered into the bloodstream can travel to desired tissues to make edits.
We can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically.
"While these are early data, they show us that we can overcome one of the biggest challenges with applying CRISPR clinically so far, which is being able to deliver it systemically and get it to the right place," she continued.
What they did: During a phase 1 clinical trial, Intellia researchers injected a CRISPR therapy dubbed NTLA-2001 into the bloodstreams of six people with a rare, potentially fatal genetic disorder called transthyretin amyloidosis.
The livers of people with transthyretin amyloidosis produce a destructive protein, and the CRISPR therapy was designed to target the gene that makes the protein and halt its production. After just one injection of NTLA-2001, the three patients given a higher dose saw their levels of the protein drop by 80% to 96%.
A better option: The CRISPR therapy produced only mild adverse effects and did lower the protein levels, but we don't know yet if the effect will be permanent. It'll also be a few months before we know if the therapy can alleviate the symptoms of transthyretin amyloidosis.
This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine.
If everything goes as hoped, though, NTLA-2001 could one day offer a better treatment option for transthyretin amyloidosis than a currently approved medication, patisiran, which only reduces toxic protein levels by 81% and must be injected regularly.
Looking ahead: Even more exciting than NTLA-2001's potential impact on transthyretin amyloidosis, though, is the knowledge that we may be able to use CRISPR injections to treat other genetic disorders that are difficult to target directly, such as heart or brain diseases.
"This is a wonderful day for the future of gene-editing as a medicine," Fyodor Urnov, a UC Berkeley professor of genetics, who wasn't involved in the trial, told NPR. "We as a species are watching this remarkable new show called: our gene-edited future."
A new government report describes 144 sightings of unidentified aerial phenomena.
On June 25, 2021, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a much-anticipated report on UFOs to Congress.
The military has rebranded unidentified flying objects as unidentified aerial phenomena – UAPs – in part to avoid the stigma that has been attached to claims of aliens visiting the Earth since the Roswell incident in 1947. The report presents no convincing evidence that alien spacecraft have been spotted, but some of the data defy easy interpretation.
I'm a professor of astronomy who has written extensively on the search for life in the universe. I also teach a free online class on astrobiology. I do not believe that the new government report or any other sightings of UFOs in the past are proof of aliens visiting Earth. But the report is important because it opens the door for a serious look at UFOs. Specifically, it encourages the U.S. government to collect better data on UFOs, and I think the release of the report increases the chances that scientists will try to interpret that data. Historically, UFOs have felt off limits to mainstream science, but perhaps no more.
Three videos from the U.S. military sparked a recent surge in interest in UFOs.
What's in the UFO report?
The No. 1 thing the report focuses on is the lack of high-quality data. Here are the highlights from the slender nine-page report, covering a total of 144 UAP sightings from U.S. government sources between 2004 and 2021:
- “Limited data and inconsistent reporting are key challenges to evaluating UAP."
- Some observations “could be the result of sensor errors, spoofing, or observer misperception."
- “UAP clearly pose a safety of flight issue and may pose a challenge to U.S. national security."
- Of the 144 sightings, the task force was “able to identify one reported UAP with high confidence. In that case, we identified the object as a large, deflating balloon. The others remain unexplained."
- “Some UAP many be technologies deployed by China, Russia, another nation, or non-governmental entity."
UFOs are taboo among scientists
UFO means unidentified flying object. Nothing more, nothing less. You'd think scientists would enjoy the challenge of solving this puzzle. Instead, UFOs have been taboo for academic scientists to investigate, and so unexplained reports have not received the scrutiny they deserve.
One reason is that most scientists think there is less to most reports than meets the eye, and the few who have dug deeply have mostly debunked the phenomenon. Over half of sightings can be attributed to meteors, fireballs and the planet Venus.
Another reason for the scientific hesitance is that UFOs have been co-opted by popular culture. They are part of a landscape of conspiracy theories that includes accounts of abduction by aliens and crop circles. Scientists worry about their professional reputations, and the association of UFOs with these supernatural stories causes most researchers to avoid the topic.
But some scientists have looked. In 1968, Edward U. Condon at the University of Colorado published the first major academic study of UFO sightings. The Condon Report put a damper on further research when it found that “nothing has come from the study of UFOs in the past 21 years that has added to scientific knowledge."
However, a review in 1998 by a panel led by Peter Sturrock, a professor of applied physics at Stanford University, concluded that some sightings are accompanied by physical evidence that deserves scientific study. Sturrock also surveyed professional astronomers and found that nearly half thought UFOs were worthy of scientific study, with higher interest among younger and more well-informed astronomers.
If astronomers are intrigued by UFOs – and believe some cases deserve study with academic rigor – what's holding them back? A history of mistrust between ufologists and scientists hasn't helped. And while UFO research has employed some of the tools of the scientific method, it has not had the core of skeptical, evidence-based reasoning that demarcates science from pseudoscience.
A search of 90,000 recent and current grants awarded by the National Science Foundation finds none addressing UFOs or related phenomena. I've served on review panels for 35 years, and can imagine the reaction if such a proposal came up for peer review: raised eyebrows and a quick vote not to fund.
A decadeslong search for aliens
While the scientific community has almost entirely avoided engaging with UFOs, a much more mainstream search for intelligent aliens and their technology has been going on for decades.
The search is motivated by the fact that astronomers have, to date, discovered over 4,400 planets orbiting other stars. Called exoplanets, some are close to the Earth's mass and at just the right distance from their stars to potentially have water on their surfaces – meaning they might be habitable.
Astronomers estimate that there are 300 million habitable worlds in the Milky Way galaxy alone, and each one is a potential opportunity for life to develop and for intelligence and technology to emerge. Indeed, most astronomers think it very unlikely that humans are the only or the first advanced civilization.
This confidence has fueled an active search for extraterrestrial intelligence, known as SETI. It has been unsuccessful so far. As a result, researchers have recast the question “Are we alone?" to “Where are the aliens?" The absence of evidence for intelligent aliens is called the Fermi paradox. First articulated by the physicist Enrico Fermi, it's a paradox because advanced civilizations should be spread throughout the galaxy, yet we see no sign of their existence.
The SETI activity has not been immune from scientists' criticism. It was starved of federal funding for decades and recently has gotten most of its support from private sources. However, in 2020, NASA resumed funding for SETI, and the new NASA administrator wants researchers to pursue the topic of UFOs.
In this context, the intelligence report is welcome. The report draws few concrete conclusions about UFOs and avoids any reference to aliens or extraterrestrial spacecraft. However, it notes the importance of destigmatizing UFOs so that more pilots report what they see. It also sets a goal of moving from anecdotal observations to standardized and scientific data collection. Time will tell if this is enough to draw scientists into the effort, but the transparency to publish the report at all reverses a long history of secrecy surrounding U.S. government reports on UFOs.
I don't see any convincing evidence of alien spacecraft, but as a curious scientist, I hope the subset of UFO sightings that are truly unexplained gets closer study. Scientists are unlikely to weigh in if their skepticism generates attacks from “true believers" or they get ostracized by their colleagues. Meanwhile, the truth is still out there.
This article has been updated to clarify that the report was produced by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Gain-of-function mutation research may help predict the next pandemic — or, critics argue, cause one.