Latest stories of our network
Staying connected to combat loneliness in times of a pandemic
Loneliness is no new issue nowadays. The more we become connected and spend time on social media the more it seems generations become lonelier – which not uncommonly can develop into depression. And with social distancing in place all over the world, a lot of people are afraid that the case may get even worse, as humans are being cut off of their normal social surroundings. But a new study states out that 41 pct. of Europeans actually feel less lonely, or the same way, than before the Covid-19 pandemic. Some experts believe loneliness to be the greater pandemic for humans which may stay long after the corona crisis is over.
One helpful tool in fighting loneliness is technology such as video conferencing tools. In fact, technology made 85 pct. feel less lonely.
Facing social distancing restrictions people started using connectivity tools which they usually used for work, such as Zoom, in their everyday life in order to stay in touch with their family, and even reconnect with long lost friends. Some people started organizing trivia nights and even dance parties via video conferencing tools. This also gave the opportunity for less outgoing people to take part in social gatherings, which they would not be a part of in their regular life. Resulting in about 60 pct. considering tech as a reason for feeling less lonely during the corona crisis.
Creativity as an Escape
But people are not just copying real social contact with Zoom events. While a lot of people spend more time at home and experience boredom which we are no longer used to in times of mobile devices, they also start reigniting their creativity. Social media app TikTok is now one of the most downloaded apps on the app store. Though most of its users are between 14 and 24, now older generations also join in on the fun of easily creating mini videos and sharing them with the world.
In order to channel and challenge people's creativity, we started TWELVE: an Instagram challenge calling out to creatives all over the world to share with us their experience with the Covid-19 crisis in one minute videos. It gives an amazing sneak peek at how people are coping with the situation, how the lockdown changed their lives and the way they connect with their family and friends.
Assistive tech is changing disabled people's lives
Independence has no price. For disabled people, new assistive technology can make all the difference. These recent examples show what's possible and set a standard for tech with a purpose far beyond speed and convenience.
Assistive technologies change lives
For some people with disabilities, doing daily tasks independently can be a challenge. Assistive tech (also known as adaptive technology) is any device or other means that means a disabled person can do more without support from for example, a care assistant.Assistive tech itself isn't new. Magnifying glasses for people with low vision date back to around 1250 and Braille came along in 1820. Technologies range from the relatively straightforward, like this text-to-speech app for people with dyslexia to more affordable high-tech artificial limbs like Motorica's:
What if everyone who needed it could use assistive tech?
A billion people or 15 percent of the world's population has some form of disability. But only 1 in 10 can access assistive technologies. While Motorica sets its sights on making prosthetics affordable for everyone, assistive technology is often expensive. With widespread adoption, how could these assistive technologies change lives for the better?
With more companies starting to understand the importance of assistive tech and disabled people increasingly spearheading its development, affordability can only improve in future.
Here are some compelling examples of assistive tech that's on the horizon or already here.
Computers can be challenging for people with some kinds of visual and motor impairments. Norwegian start-up No Isolation has stepped up to make computing more accessible with its one-button computer, KOMP. Here's how it works.
No Isolation also offers a rent-a-KOMP model as a way to make their assistive tech more accessible.
This smart cane uses ultrasonic sensors to identify obstructions like street signs and tree branches, sending out vibrations to warn its user. WeWalk also connects to a smartphone app, giving voice-activated directions and alerts to help find a misplaced or moved cane. There's even talk of connecting the cane to autonomous vehicles in future.
3. Fridai: Voice-activated gaming AI
Could voice-activated AI for billions of gamers with disabilities be the future of gaming? See for yourself in Tomorrow Unlocked's Defenders of Digital series:
For people with visual impairments, The Dot is a Braille smartwatch that gives users the time and date in Braille, and includes alarms, a Braille dictionary and the ability to answer or reject phone calls. On top of all that, a five-day battery life makes it all the more usable.
Useful for people with conditions like lateral sclerosis, spinal cord injury or multiple sclerosis (MS,) Open Sesame lets you control smartphones, tablets and computers with head movements. Like so:
Another piece of genius hands-free engineering, this time for people using electric wheelchairs. Munevo DRIVE is a pair of smart glasses that lets users manipulate their wheelchair using head movements. See for yourself:
One device theoretical physicist and author Stephen Hawking used to communicate involved him tensing a muscle in his cheek. Earswitch lets users operate it with a tiny, hidden muscle in the ear:
OrCam MyEye2 is a voice-activated, wearable assistive vision device that can read out any text and even tell you people's names using facial recognition, designed for people with vision impairment and reading difficulties. Here's how it works:
Cybathlon: Assistive tech’s ultimate showcase
With the pace of assistive technology development speeding up, Cybathlon is a great way to see the latest in assistive tech, with a competitive edge. At Cybathlon, people with disabilities compete against each other using their assistive tech to perform everyday tasks and more. We even made a film about it:
As with all new technologies that can improve lives, assistive tech needs regulation to make sure people's personal and sensitive data stays safe. What are your thoughts? Tell us how you see the future of assistive technologies on Twitter and Facebook.
Chatting with Leiden University space law expert, Tanja Masson-Zwaan
Law protects orbit from space cowboys, gold rushes and rogue satellite launches, but making it work for today's space exploration realities is challenging. I chat with International Institute of Air and Space Law's Tanja Masson-Zwaan (@tanjamasson) about the ins and outs of space law, as part of Tomorrow Unlocked's audio series Fast Forward.
Ken: What have been the biggest changes in space exploration since the Moon landings 50 years ago?
Tanja: Nowadays, it's not two superpowers – the US and the Soviet Union – but many more countries and start-ups, companies, even universities. That change raises legal issues because space law is based on states rather than corporations or entities. Under the many space treaties, resolutions and so on, states are responsible and liable, and must perform their activities in certain ways.
Companies becoming involved, maybe becoming the main actors, stresses the system. That's why we see new national legislation: States are making sure their companies and entities don't break the principles they signed up to.
Ken: So if I launch a satellite that damages someone else's satellite, my government is liable, rather than me?
Tanja: When a private entity launches and operates a satellite, it first needs state authorization and supervision – for instance, through a license from the government. If their satellite crashed into a satellite owned by another state, the state that launched the object is liable, not the private entity.
That's different from aviation. If you lose your suitcase, you can sue the airline. If your satellite is damaged, you will go to your Ministry of Foreign Affairs, who would present a claim to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the state that launched the satellite that caused the damage.
Ken: What's the legal position on mining in space?
Tanja: Extracting and commercially using space resources is essential for establishing a semi-permanent human presence on the Moon or Mars, or for using the Moon as a stepping stone to Mars. You wouldn't have to bring all the water you need from Earth – you could use water on the Moon and transform it into fuel to go to Mars. But whether you can use those resources or commercialize them is a legal question not addressed in space treaties.
Companies are asking, are we allowed to own and commercialize these resources? There is growing consensus that it's not illegal, but how do you make sure it happens in a regulated way and doesn't become a gold rush? The treaties also have a principle that benefits from space must be for all countries. Many conditions must be guaranteed. But how? That's the debate.
Ken: When the US planted its flag on the Moon in 1969, was that legally valid? Did they claim anything?
Tanja: The US explicitly said putting their flag on the Moon was an expression of pride about being the first nation to the Moon, not claiming to own the Moon. To claim the Moon is contrary to a cardinal principle of space law: You cannot own any part of outer space – but owning a part of space isn't needed to use it and its resources.
Ken: Growing up with the space race, I don't think many thought about the environmental impact. It seems like laws are needed in that area now.
Tanja: When the space era started, it really was a space race – neither side worried about what was going up. Scientists were excited just to be launching things into space. But space is getting polluted. There are also concerns about going to another celestial body and spoiling its pristine environment with bacteria. There are rules about what level of protection you must apply depending on the mission and where you're going.
We need clear environmental protection rules and enforcement, for example, obliging parties to do an environmental impact assessment. If we have a settlement on the Moon, we'll have to think about managing waste. The Apollo landings left bags of garbage on the Moon. If there will be a sustained human presence, will we have a landfill on the Moon? Are we going to put garbage into orbit? We'll need ways to keep it sustainable because we depend on space.
Ken: Is there a fundamental question around our right as a species to go into space? Some people feel passionately that we have no business on Mars because it's not our planet.
Tanja: And some cultures have special connections with the Moon and other celestial bodies. It's important to respect that. But humankind is driven to push frontiers and to discover. I like Russian rocket scientist Konstantin E. Tsiolkovsky's quote, "Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever." We should go out and explore, but show respect for other beliefs and the environments of other planets.
Ken: What is possible within the law to restrain corporate buccaneers from taking advantage of space?
Tanja: There are some space cowboys out there doing things that may raise concerns. Is that what we want?
I think we should appreciate the good being done alongside issues it raises. Elon Musk now operates a third of all satellites, and that happened in a year. If he launches the planned 42,000 satellites, how will we deal with that? He also says he will provide broadband to places on Earth that don't have it, and that's good. And he's developed reusable rockets, so he's contributing to space sustainability.
I think there needs to be a regulatory counterweight. The US authorities should ask those in Elon Musk's position to do environmental impact assessments and find ways to develop their plans without disrupting science and astronomy. It's give and take, but you have to appreciate what these people are doing – they have the money states never will.
Ken: What's next in your space law work?
Tanja: I've just started a big EU project researching the European position on space traffic management. We don't yet have rules on space traffic management nor space security and safety, like retrieving objects from outer space.
Ken: Could there be money in space salvage – bringing satellite components back to Earth?
Tanja: An analogy is salvaging wrecks on the sea. A shipowner can abandon a ship, and a salvage company can salvage it, selling the scrap metal. We have an extra problem in space because space object ownership is eternal – you can't abandon anything.
We need to get a space debris-removal industry going, but they'll need approval for every piece they retrieve. The state that launched it will be eternally liable if something else is damaged during space salvage.
We also need to make it possible to refuel or repair in space. So as well as space salvage, space sustainability may mean a new industry of in-orbit servicing.
Ken: So there are wider benefits to a focus on sustainability in space. Thanks for filling us in on space law, Tanja.
Tanja: You're welcome.
Tanja Masson-Zwaan features in the Tomorrow Unlocked audio series Fast Forward, Episode 6. Listen to Fast Forward and explore more interviews with featured experts.