Economist 9/10/14

  1. “Connected cars”—which may eventually evolve into driverless cars but for the foreseeable future will still have a human at the wheel.Many new cars are already being fitted with equipment that lets them maintain their distance and stay in a motorway lane automatically at a range of speeds, and recognise a parking space and slot into it. They are also getting mobile-telecoms connections: soon, all new cars in Europe will have to be able to alert the emergency services if their on-board sensors detect a crash. Singapore has led the way with using variable tolls to smooth traffic flows during rush-hours; Britain is pioneering “smart motorways”, whose speed limits vary constantly to achieve a similar effect.Earlier this year, Europe’s standards-setting agencies agreed a common set of protocols for cars and traffic infrastructure to communicate.
  2. A court in Frankfurt has just imposed a temporary injunction on Uber, the popular ride-sharing service founded in Silicon Valley. The case was brought by the German taxi industry, which argues that the service poses safety risks and flouts the country’s passenger-transport laws.And Germany is putting pressure on Joaquín Almunia, Europe’s outgoing competition commissioner, to reopen an agreement his team negotiated with the online giant in February that is supposed to make Google’s competitors more visible in its search service. But there is no reason to believe that the more dramatic remedies that German politicians want—that Google should be treated as an “essential facility” like gas and electricity networks, or that it should be broken up—would benefit consumers.
  3. According to a United Nations initiative known as StEP (Solving the E-Waste Problem), electronic waste can contain up to 60 elements from the periodic table, as well as flame retardants and other nasty chemicals. Apart from heavy metals such as lead and mercury, there are quantities of arsenic, beryllium, cadmium and polyvinyl chloride to be found. When burned at low temperature, the brominated flame retardants used in circuit boards and casings create additional toxins, including halogenated dioxins and furans—some of the most toxic substances known. These can cause cancer, reproductive disorders, endocrine disruption and numerous other health problems.hat little is known about recycling hazardous waste in America, for instance, suggests that only 15-20% is actually recycled; the rest gets incinerated or buried in landfills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In other words, the bulk of the waste—up to 80% by weight—gets exported to places in Asia and Africa where health and safety regulations are less onerous.Such exports are banned in Europe, but remain legal in America. The United States is the only developed country that has refused to ratify the 1989 Basel Convention, an international treaty controlling the export of hazardous waste from wealthy countries to poorer ones. America has also refused, along with Canada and Japan, to accept the Basel Convention’s 1995 amendment that imposes an outright ban on such trade.The Chinese city of Guiyu in Guangdong province is the e-waste capital of the world. Though container loads are still shipped there from American, European and Japanese ports, the bulk of the e-waste being processed in China nowadays is domestically produced.India is another big processor of e-waste. All told, some 25,000 workers in Delhi alone are estimated to be employed recycling up to 20,000 tonnes annually of computers, phones and other hardware. two voluntary certification schemes: E-Stewards and Responsible Recycling Practices.
  4. What is different about these virtual flights is that some are “free-routing”, which means pilots have the freedom to set their own courses instead of following one another along established flight corridors, as they presently do. Free-routing allows an aircraft to fly more directly to its destination, which for European journeys alone would knock ten minutes off average flight times, thus saving fuel and reducing carbon-dioxide emissions.Traditionally, air-traffic controllers have played a more proactive role in keeping aircraft apart.They pass through sectors and each sector is monitored by air-traffic controllers with the assistance of radar. When an aircraft is about to enter a new sector, the pilot and controller communicate by radio. The controller then gives the pilot instructions to maintain a safe separation, both vertically and horizontally, from other aircraft.In the past 40 years the number of airline passengers worldwide has grown tenfold to some 3.1 billion in 2013. By 2030 it is expected to reach over 6.4 billion. Flight corridors frequently follow historic routes and zigzag around. Many of the routes which cross America are based on where hilltop beacons were lit to guide Charles Lindbergh’s mail flights in the 1920s. Plenty of radar systems still resemble 1940s technology and provide only a limited “view” of what is in the air. And in Europe, flights have to negotiate a labyrinth of 64 air-traffic-control areas . Europe is part way through the Single European Sky initiative, which is supposed to increase co-operation between a reduced number of control centres.One element of this modernisation involves fitting new kit to aircraft. This is a system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). It will be compulsory for jets in Europe by 2017 and in America by 2020. ADS-B uses satellite navigation for pilots to determine their position and is generally more accurate than radar and radio-navigation aids. This allows aircraft to be safely spaced closer together, which permits more planes to be in the air at the same time. Crucially, though, it also establishes a data link to control centres and to other planes by regularly broadcasting an aircraft’s identification sign, its position and other information.
  5. The Personal Genome Project (PGP), a medical study designed by Dr Church and for which he was the first subject, even allows visitors to download his entire genome and rummage through his DNA.The idea is that linking genes to outcomes, whether deadly diseases or talents like singing, requires a huge array of raw data about people’s lives, diets and their surroundings; data that do not sit well with traditional notions of privacy.. His 1984 Harvard PhD included the first method for direct genome sequencing: determining the exact order of nucleotides within DNA.In the late 1980s Dr Church helped organise the internationally funded Human Genome Project, whose aim was to sequence all 3.3 billion base-pairs within a human genome. In 1994 his automated technologies led to the first commercial genome sequence, that of a bacterium that causes stomach ulcers, and later to dramatic improvements in the accuracy and cost of sequencing human genomes, reducing the cost to around $1,000 today. Since 2007, Dr Church has co-founded 12 biotech companies and advised many more.
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