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Would you like to have a voice-based personal assistant?

This week's Question: Google, Amazon, and Apple have developed — or are in the process of developing — voice-based personal assistants that "listen" and respond to verbal commands. The Amazon Echo, a 9-inch tall, voice-operated cylindrical speaker powered by an artificial-intelligence agent, was released last year; Google launched its Home speaker at the company's I/O event last month; and Apple is opening its Siri voice assistant to outside app developers. With the technologies, a user's verbal commands could soon initiate a variety of actions: controlling the lights in your home, turning on your car, playing video on your TV, or accessing the Internet, for example. The assistants could also provide increasingly personalized information based on one's specific commands and actions.

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Would you ride in a Hyperloop?

This week's Question: MIT recently unveiled its prototype design for SpaceX founder Elon Musk's Hyperloop, a high-speed ground transport system that could theoretically send passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in half an hour. The university researchers will test their small prototype pod at SpaceX’s Hyperloop Test Track this summer. SpaceX initially envisioned using a cushion of air to transport the Hyperloop pod. MIT’s team, however, employs a magnetic levitation system, which incorporates two arrays of 20 neodymium magnets to keep the pod levitating at 15 mm. While MIT’s design is not big enough to fit a human body, the team told BBC News that scaling up the size would be straightforward once testing of the prototype pod is completed. The team still needs to address the development of turning and further test the braking system. What do you think? Would you ride in a Hyperloop?

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Will solar power supplant fossil fuels as a primary energy source?

This week's Question: The US now has 1 million solar power installations, and some industry experts expect the number of solar-power systems to increase dramatically in the span of two years. “By the end of 2020, the amount of installed solar capacity will be 300 percent higher than today,” said Dan Whitten, vice president of communications at the Solar Energy Industries Association, noting that the nationwide number grew 10 times between 2008 and 2015. This month, the Swedish furniture giant Ikea also recently announced the opening of its “Solar Shop,” which will sell panels and setup services. Two major challenges for the solar panel industry have been cost and capacity; compared to fossil fuel costs, solar panel installations can be time-consuming and expensive. What do you think? Will solar power supplant fossil fuels as a primary energy source? 

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Would you use a “skin to screen” technology?

This week's Question: The SkinTrack technology featured in today’s lead story allows users to expand touchpad functionality to the back of the hand and lower arm. By wearing a ring, users can enable cursor movement, highlight numbers on a screen, or dial numbers on a keypad. What do you think? Would you use a “skin to screen” technology?

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Could tear-off screens catch on?

This week's Question: While LG and Samsung have worked to develop screens that roll and bend, a new patent from Google describes a screen that can be torn like a piece of paper. Images in the filing show an advertisement with coupons that can be pulled off and used in-store, as well as a drawing of a robot that has been ripped in half. Additionally, the detached portions are shown being reattached. Disposable displays will likely not emerge as a viable technology until manufacturing costs drop significantly. Engineers, however, have also been working on ways to make digital pixels appear on regular paper. What do you think? Could tear-off screens catch on? 

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Could a solar-powered airplane be commercially viable?

This week's Question: Solar Impulse 2, a solar-powered airplane, completed a risky, 62-hour flight across a wide expanse of the Pacific Ocean. According to pilot and Swiss engineer Andre Borschberg, the plane now has the ability, in theory, to fly for an unlimited period, with only the human factor limiting how long the plane could potentially stay on the air. What do you think? Could a solar-powered airplane be commercially viable?  

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Will you wear “e-textiles”?

This week's Question: Researchers at The Ohio State University have embroidered circuits into fabric with 0.1-mm precision — an ideal size to integrate electronic components, such as sensors and computer memory devices, into clothing. With the advance, the team has taken the next step toward the design of functional textiles — clothes that gather, store, or transmit digital information. The development could lead to shirts that act as antennas for your smartphone, workout clothes that monitor your fitness level, a bandage that monitors your health, or even a flexible fabric cap that senses brain activity. What do you think? Will you wear “e-textiles”?  

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