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In this weeks edition of Engineer Notes, we highlight some major updates in the world of technology and engineering. Biohacking in the workplace, sunscreen that contains DNA, and shock technology are just a few of the achievements this week.

The Drake Equation

With all the talk about alien life, it is beneficial to familiarize yourself with The Drake Equation and understand just how much it can tell us about the likelihood of finding life elsewhere. With more than seven variables affecting “N,” which is the number of civilizations in our galaxy in which communication might be possible, it’s no wonder that the number has been skyrocketing the more scientists start to understand the universe and explore it with telescopes and satellites. There is an estimate of almost 60 billion planets in the Milky Way. The question then arises as to why, if the number of communicable galaxies is so large, have we still not found foreign life? The answer lies in the last variable of the equation: “L.”

“L” is defined by the length of time civilizations release detectable signals into space. Since we have not made contact with other forms of life, this indicates that species don’t last long enough to be able to create or receive signals. This gives us reason to believe that our species will fall into this pattern and die off before communication amongst other planets is possible. The alternative answer is that the Drake Equation is incomplete and missing a completely different variable. Either way, we never give up hope that today could in fact be the day we receive that signal.

DNA Sunscreen

In today’s day and age, a time in which almost 160,000 new cases of skin cancer arise each year, we are constantly searching for ways to be able to enjoy the sun without increasing our risk of the disease. In a previous version of Engineer Notes, I mentioned a type of rub-on lotion that activates the tanning component of your skin without exposure to the sun. On the same topic, researchers at Binghamton University in New York have created a sunscreen that works better the longer you wear it. Not only that, but it is made out of DNA and keeps your skin hydrated. Ultraviolet light can have a very damaging effect on your DNA, which then damages your skin. With this in mind, researchers thought, “what if we could damage DNA on top of the skin as opposed to within the skin?”

This is how they came up with the thin, transparent crystalline DNA sunscreen that gets better at absorbing the UV light the longer it’s exposed. An added bonus is that the DNA coating is hygroscopic, meaning that the skin coated with it can hold and store much more water than uncoated skin. This means that the days of coming home from the beach burnt and dried out are soon to be over!

What A Shock

Wearable technology is being used in all facets of life. From movement powered clothing to rings that replace your transit cards, wearables are a huge emerging market. Wearable technology is mostly worn for convenience and efficiency, but what if there was a device that could save the lives of over 30,000 people a year? Well, a new bracelet, dubbed Steer, is doing just that. The statistic that over 328,000 car accidents annually are caused by fatigued drivers got the creators of Steer thinking. They created a device, meant to be worn by drivers, that uses 16 sensors to monitor vital signs and can shock the wearer awake. Streer measures heart rate and skin conductance to determine just how drowsy a driver is. If it determines that the driver is just a little drowsy, it will give off a small vibration. If it determines that the driver is on the cusp of sleep, it will send an electrical jolt throughout the driver’s arm. Steer rechecks your vital signs every two seconds to make sure that you stay safe and alert on the road. Although it’s better to just get a good night’s rest, Steer is there to assist on those long excursions when a good night’s rest may not be possible. It’s a shock that this is the first technology of its kind!

Workplace Biohacking

Just a few years ago, biohacking was the wave of the future. Now, it’s becoming a common procedure, common enough to be taking place in the workplace. A Wisconsin company called Three Square Market is paying for about 50 of its employees to get a small chip implemented between their forefinger and thumb. This chip, which is the size of a single grain of rice, will allow the employees to open doors, buy snacks, log into their computers and use other office equipment all while utilizing near field communication (NFC) technology. Three Square Market is not the first company to use this type of “chip” in their workplace, but they are raising quite a bit of awareness to the new trend. Both privacy and wellness concerns have people questioning as to why the company doesn’t just use this technology in the form of a ring or another wearable device. Nevertheless, if this company’s unconventional decision proves to be beneficial, it may just be the new norm for offices.

The Best Year Ever

There’s a lot of talk about what’s to come in the future. It seems that every big company is claiming they will have a revolutionary product on the market in “the next 5 years.” With all this talk, researchers at MIT decided to put a summary together of what 2021 should look like based on these claims and show how it will be the “best year ever” for the tech world. The most obvious addition to the world will be electric cars. Every car company ranging from Volvo to Tesla are talking about their electric cars and how they will revolutionize transportation. Another new emerging market will be lab grown meat. With companies like Memphis Meats already producing lab grown meatballs, 2021 will likely see a dramatic decrease in animal cruelty and a spike in nutrient human-fed meat cells that produce edible meats. Last but not least, cheap solar power will soon be the norm. Clean energy has been getting cheaper and although solar power is right now comparable in price to coal in countries such as the U.S. and parts of Europe, 2021 will most likely bring bad news to coal companies (that solar power will be much cheaper). There is a lot of talk about what the future brings, but like I always say, I’ll believe it when I see it.

Some Bad News for Marketers

A robot takeover may not be as bad as we think in terms of unemployment rates. In actuality, it may even create jobs. This is great news for almost everyone except marketers. As robots start to take over our jobs, more and more humans will become marketers, making people who have actually dedicated their life to marketing expendable. The way that researchers look at it, artificial intelligence will be great for creating and delivering products and making life more efficient, but they will have little to no persuasion power. Take Amazon’s Alexa for example. She is great for ordering a package for you or scheduling a meeting, but she is not the one persuading you to buy another Alexa for your mother or any other product for that matter. In a way, this will give the world a more personal touch. Instead of a restaurant employee serving tables (something a robot can do), they will be at the door greeting every customer that walks in. A bank teller will no longer waste their time counting money (something a robot can also do), instead they will spend their time telling you all the ways the bank is managing and caring for your money. The way the American economy will look when robots start to come into the picture is still unknown, but as time gets closer and closer, it’s not looking so bad. Well, except maybe for marketers. 

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