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Emerging game changers

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Renewable Energy

The growing options for how and where we get our energy are constantly inspiring new inventions to help us conserve and save money. The emergence of solar and wind energy is encouraging the development of energy storage technology – such as batteries – that gives utilities the flexibility of banking renewable energy for later use. Energy storage also can provide backup power and enable home and business owners to save money by storing energy from the grid when electric rates are low, as well as using the stockpiled energy during the day, when the rates are typically higher.

Smart energy home

Our home is becoming digitized with technology that helps us monitor and conserve energy. A smart thermostat learns our temperature preferences to provide optimal comfort without wasting electricity. LED lighting uses 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, and lasts up to 50 times longer. Manufactures are rolling out dishwashers, dryers, ovens and other appliances that allow users to program them wirelessly to work only during times of low electricity rates.

Electric car charging

Electric cars can cost less to operate and emit no tailpipe emissions, unlike their gasoline siblings. Their prices also are set to fall as more automobile makers roll out new models and boost production. New charging station networks are cropping up to serve this emerging need, built not only by independent station owners, but also car makers and utilities. California, the largest electric car market in the country, was home to more than 5,700 nonresidential charging stations in 2014, and one of its major utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric, has proposed to build a network to quadruple that number. Globally, charging station installations, at home or otherwise, are set to jump from roughly 1m in 2014 to 12.7m in 2020. Tesla have commercialised electric cars, giants like Mercedes and BMW are preparing for this change in competition. 


The marriage of renewable energy and batteries makes it possible to create the so-called microgrid: a mini, localized electric grid that can be independent or connected to the larger grid. A microgrid can serve a business, hospital or military base where generating and storing power onsite ensures an uninterrupted power supply when the larger grid suffers a blackout. A microgrid also can energize industrial operations and villages in remote corners of the world that have limited or no access to the main grid. Islands, where electricity is often expensive because power generation requires imported fuels, are good candidates for microgrids. Alcatraz, the former federal prison off San Francisco that is now a public park, is run on a microgrid. A microgrid is being installed on Necker Island in the Caribbean, owned by Sir Richard Branson that will include solar and wind generation.

Virtual Reality

Apart from the fact that VR seems to be one of those buzzwords that has existed since the 90s, the technology has finally caught up to the times. Devices like the Samsung Gear VR and Google Cardboard make VR work without the typical complexity.

Virtual reality is coming. 2016 will see the release of the first serious consumer VR headsets for 20 years. In the first quarter of the year, VR pioneers Oculus (a subsidiary of Facebook, since a $2bn (£1.3bn) buyout in March 2014) will launch the consumer version of their Rift headset to the world. In April, Taiwan’s HTC will launch the Vive, another PC peripheral developed in conjunction with gaming firm Valve. And at some point in the year – likely to be the first half – Sony will launch its PlayStation VR, an add-on for the PlayStation 4, which will bring VR into the living room.

Agricultural Food and Technology

Scientists must be enabled to continue identifying responses to modern day challenges to food and energy production. Farmers are highly innovative and should have the choice of a wide range of safe and proven technologies to benefit agricultural production and natural resources, like hydroponic farming. A farmer-centred approach on agricultural technology policy will bring real benefits for society. Lack of expertise and accountability in the political community should not be allowed to hamper the transfer of technology to farmers.

Government foresight is needed to develop effective policy frameworks that match rapidly emerging and increasingly complex agricultural technologies Governments should “get ahead” on policy and engagement with the public on technology, or be forced to spend a disproportionate amount of time and resources on debates further down the line. Governments have a responsibility to ensure dialogue between science and society. Appropriate policy responses on agricultural technologies must involve honest debate between research communities, food and energy producers on the ground, technology companies, civil society and democratically elected representatives. Today consumers enjoy food that is safer and more sustainable than ever before but this message is not getting through. The EU must sustain efforts to resolve its most serious problem: the lack of communication and public trust about food science. On-farm technology transfer must go hand-in-hand with best practices and sound farm management

Digital Brand Distribution

Fundamentally changed the way brands behave, as well as the way they organize and optimize their marketing efforts. To be successful in connecting with people in the digital age, brands must adopt new habits and, in some cases, behave more like people themselves. While the personalities of individual brands are varied and unique, there are commonalities among strong digital brands that can be identified as critical to success in the new marketing landscape. Looking at some of the most successful digital brands and identified seven shared traits across the board. They are:

Being a Skilled Conversationalist: Strong digital brands don’t just know how to talk — they know how to converse, building relationships through their messaging and content.

Being Authentic: Authentic brands are able to find a universal truth and create content that inspires those ideals among consumers.

Being Data-Driven: The challenge for brands is less about collecting data and more about how to leverage it to optimize current programs and inspire future efforts.

Being Discoverable: Successful brands today align their digital footprints with the consumer journey and meet people where they are online.

Being Relevant: Brands that achieve relevancy in today’s digital environment are those able to effectively navigate the ever-changing currents of conversation.

Being a Content Creator: Today’s landscape forces marketers to constantly re-think the creation, organization and distribution of content in order to better connect with consumers.

Being Constant: By being always-on, marketers can tap into how people live every day and respond to their audiences’ wants, needs and values in a way that is true to their brand’s story and their objectives as a marketer.

Space Travel

Where space exploration is taking us in 2017

This year is shaping up as a bumper year in space with new missions ready to launch, deep space missions wrapping up, and commercial space going heavy. It’s a year when spacecraft ditch on comets, rendezvous with asteroids, lift off for Mars, and arrive at Jupiter. It’s also a year when rockets get bigger, space planes roll out, and winds get tracked. To get the lowdown on the highlights, here’s a looks at where space exploration is taking us in 2016.


On July 4, NASA’s deep-space probe Juno will arrive at Jupiter. Launched in 2010, the unmanned orbiter has spent five years on its journey, including a flyby of Earth to slingshot the spacecraft towards Jupiter. Once it reaches its destination it will enter a highly elliptical orbit around the giant planet.

Built by Lockheed-Martin, Juno will use imagers, spectrometers, plasma, and energetic particle detectors, magnetometers, and gravity instruments to study the interior of Jupiter. The objective of the mission is to measure the amount of water and ammonia in the deep atmosphere, to determine if the giant planet has a solid core, and to collect clues as to Jupiter’s structure and origin. It’s also the first Jupiter probe to use solar panels as the primary source of power instead of radiothermal generators.


Scheduled for launch in September, OSIRIS-REx is designed to rendezvous with the near-Earth asteroid Bennu in 2018. Bennu is one of only five B-type asteroids that is of suitable size and orbit for rendezvous and sample return. It’s also one of the most likely asteroids to hit Earth in the next few centuries, so taking a close look has an element of self-interest. Another point of interest is that it’s a carbonaceous asteroid that may provide insights into the origins of the Solar System as well as the source of water and organic molecules on Earth.

Once it reaches Bennu, OSIRIS-REx will spend a year examining the asteroid, including a detailed study of its chemistry, mineralogy, and topography. It will also compare telescope-based data with on-the-spot observations and make a precise determination of the asteroid’s orbit. It will then touch the asteroid with a telescopic probe, which will use a blast of compressed nitrogen gas to blow a 2-oz (60 g) dust sample into a collection filter before returning to Earth in 2023. The sample will make a landing using a Sample Return Capsule of the same design as that used for returning comet samples on previous missions.


The first of two ESA/Roscosmos Mars probes lifts off some time after March 14 this year as the Exobiology on Mars (ExoMars) mission gets under way. ExoMars is a joint two-part mission being carried out by ESA and Russia’s Roscosmos. ESA will provide two spacecraft for the first mission in 2016 – the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO) and the Schiaparelli Entry, Descent, and landing demonstrator Module (EDM). Or the 2018 mission ESA will provide a carrier spacecraft and rover. Meanwhile, Roscosmos will build the 2018 mission’s rover descent module and surface platform as well as the launchers for both missions. Both agencies will supply instruments for exploration.

While ExoMars 2018 is exploring the surface, ExoMars 2016, which is made up of the Trace Gas Orbiter and the Schiaparelli module, will study the Martian atmosphere. ExoMars 2016 will act as a data communications relay for ExoMars 2018, which will land in Meridiani Planum.

This year, a space veteran’s career draws to a close. NASA’s Cassini orbiter will wind up its extended mission in anticipation of its controlled disposal into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, 2017. Launched in October 1997, the bus-sized spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 after years of slingshotting around Venus, Earth, and Jupiter. After a number of mission extensions that allowed it to spend 11 years studying Saturn and its moons, the unmanned probe is finally getting ready to call it a day.


Later in 2016 we will see the launch of ESA’s Aeolus mission to study the world’s winds. Part of the Earth Explorers program, the Aeolus is designed to learn more about the Earth’s atmosphere and weather systems, monitor the weather in different part of the world, and build complex models of the environment in hopes of better weather forecasting.

The spacecraft includes a custom wind lidar, known as Aladin, incorporating a telescope, two lasers (one active and one spare) and a number of sensitive receivers. The ultraviolet laser will bounce off gas molecules, dust particles, ice, and water droplets in the atmosphere and analyse the changes in frequency in the reflected light.

Dream Chaser

Sierra Nevada Corporation’s (SNC) Dream Chaser may have lost out on the contract to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), but the company says that it’s far from grounded. An unmanned version of the space plane is scheduled to lift off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida on November 1.

The unmanned variant of Dream Chaser is similar to the manned version in its basic configuration. Both are lifting bodies that are powered by a hybrid rocket engine burning hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene (HTPB) and nitrous oxide, and both can be launched from atop an Atlas V rocket. The main differences, aside from the lack of life support and control systems needed for the manned variant, are that the unmanned Dream chaser has pressurized and unpressurized cargo areas, and the wings are foldable, so it can be fitted inside a the fairing used for Ariane V rocket launches.

For the first flight, a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket will be used as the launch vehicle.


September sees the end of the ESA’s Rosetta comet orbiter mission, which goes out with a slow crash-landing on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Having arrived at the comet in 2014, Rosetta has made a detailed study of 67P and acted as the mothership for the Philae lander. However, as Comet 67P recedes from the Sun, there will eventually be insufficient light available to charge Rosetta’s batteries. Before this happens, mission control in Darmstadt will order the spacecraft to make a controlled landing on the comet’s surface.

SpaceX Heavy

If things go according to schedule, the first flight of SpaceX’s booster could take place in April or May. Previously known as the Falcon 9 Heavy, it is a variant of the Falcon 9 that made the first controlled, powered landing of a space rocket last month. The difference is that the Heavy consists of a Falcon 9 core with a pair of strap-on boosters based on the Falcon 9 booster. This will allow the rocket to carry payloads of 53 tonnes into low-Earth orbit – which is a significant advance on the Falcon 9’s 13 tonnes.

Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

For the more leisure minded, Virgin Galactic is slated to roll out the second of its SpaceShipTwo suborbital passenger spaceplanes on February 19.

At about 10:07 PDT on October 31, 2014, the original SpaceShipTwo (SS2-001) broke up in mid-air 13 seconds after being dropped from the WhiteKnightTwo mothership, resulting in the death of the co-pilot Michael Alsbury and severe injury to the pilot, Peter Siebold, who was thrown clear as the craft disintegrated. According to the US FAA investigation, the co-pilot made an error under time pressure, vibrations, and loads that he had not previously experienced. The tail boom was unlocked while SpaceShipTwo was still in the boost phase, resulting in stresses that destroyed the craft.

The new SpaceShipTwo will be named by Professor Stephen Hawking in an invitation-only event.

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