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Can Robots Be Emotional Companions?

Pepper, a new android from the Paris-based SoftBank Group, was unveiled last week in Tokyo. The 4-foot-tall robot has 20 movement-powering motors, a 10.1-inch touch display, and a synchronized, cloud-based database. Pepper also comes equipped with voice-recognition, as well functions that recognize human feelings and emotions. "I've believed that the most important role of robots will be as kind and emotional companions to enhance our daily lives, to bring happiness, constantly surprise us, and make people grow,” Bruno Maisonnier, founder and CEO of Aldebaran, said in a news release. “The emotional robot will create a new dimension in our lives and new ways of interacting with technology.”

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Would You Be Satisfied with a "Smart Home?"

Technology companies, including Google and Apple, are investing in "smart home" technologies that connect household devices — lighting, security systems, garage-door openers, climate controllers or kitchen appliances — with mobile devices. Research indicates that the global "smart home" industry will grow. Some have concerns, however, that the technology could be hacked, lead to a clutter of multiple apps, and make the smartphone a single point of failure.

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Will You Use a Smartphone Spectrometer Before You Eat?

SCiO, a handheld molecular sensor, allows users to scan their food to check its nutritional value and alcohol, sugar, or calorie content. The spectroscopy product from the Israeli startup Consumer Physics is paired with a smartphone and shines near-infrared light on the food to stimulate and record molecular reactions. An accompanying app then displays the nutritional values for the users.

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Will Robots Make Good Caregivers?

An EU-funded program, called the GiraffPlus Project, uses robotics to help elderly people who want to remain at home. The GiraffPlus robot is part of a system that includes environmental and physiological sensors, which feed back information about the inhabitants' movements and health. A recent Pew Research poll revealed that 65% of respondents thought it would be a change for the worse if lifelike robots become the primary caregivers for the elderly and people in poor health.

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Will Self-Driven Cars Improve Road Safety?

Using autonomous technology, Google has also been testing its self-driven robotic cars near the company's Silicon Valley headquarters. The vehicles are equipped with navigation software, like Google Maps, and other sensors to avoid obstacles and unexpected events. The cars' technology also features a laser radar system and a laser-based range finder that enables detailed 3D maps of surroundings.

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Will 'Lab Food' Change The Way We Eat?

In an effort to alleviate food shortages and leave a lighter footprint, some biotechnology startups have begun developing alternative food products. Hampton Creek Foods, for example, has received $30 million in funding to create a plant-based substitute for eggs. Beyond Meat, another biotech food producer, heats, cools, and pressures plant protein from soy and peas so that it resembles meat tissue. In 2013, similarly, a hamburger was made from cow muscle grown in a lab — at a cost of $325,000.

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Will ‘Contact-Lens Computing’ Become Mainstream Within Five Years?

A recent report from Skyscanner, a UK-based metasearch site, predicts that ”Wearable technology will evolve from the recently launched Google Glass to a mobile device so small that it will fit onto a contact lens and can provide immediate translations, breaking down language barriers.” Dr. Ian Yeoman, associate professor of Tourism Futures at Victoria University of Wellington, similarly said: “Within five years, everything that Google Glass can do now will be available on a contact lens.”

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