Friday, March 25, 2016

US economy growth revised up; In a first, drone delivers to residential area; How emerging tech is helping women

1 US economy growth revised upwards (BBC) The US economy grew at an annualised rate of 1.4% in the fourth quarter of 2015, according to official figures. The US Commerce Department revised its fourth quarter GDP to upward from an initial estimate of 0.7%. Overall, the US economy is estimated to have grown at a rate of 2.4% for all of 2015.

One reason for the revised figure was greater consumer spending than officials initially thought, boosted by an improving labour market. "It's especially good that we saw a boost in consumption, however we are only talking about 1.4% growth, which is still anaemic compared to the 3.5% we would like to see," said Dan North, chief economist at Euler Hermes North America.

"The economy is still running in low gear," he said. Increased employment has helped to slowly boost wages and housing prices, while low oil prices have increased discretionary spending by US households.

The stronger growth rate could increase the chances of an interest rate hike when the Federal Reserve meets in April. US corporate profits dipped 11.5% for the fourth quarter compared to the same October through December period in the previous year. Companies were hurt by low oil prices, with some industrial and petroleum linked companies forced to cut their workforces or file for bankruptcy.

2 In a first, drone delivers to residential area (San Francisco Chronicle) A drone has successfully delivered a package to a residential location in a small Nevada town in what its maker and the governor of the state said was the first fully autonomous urban drone delivery in the US.

Flirtey CEO Matt Sweeney said the six-rotor drone flew about a half-mile along a pre-programmed delivery route on March 10 and lowered the package outside a vacant residence in an uninhabited area of Hawthorne, southeast of Reno. The route was established using GPS. A pilot and visual observers were on standby during the flight but weren't needed, Sweeney said.

He said the package included bottled water, food and a first-aid kit. NASA is working with the drone industry and the Federal Aviation Administration on a low-altitude air traffic control system to prevent crashes involving drones and other low-altitude aircraft.

The Nevada delivery demonstrates that advanced drone systems allow aerial vehicles to safely navigate around buildings and deliver packages with precision within a populated area, Sweeney said.

3 How emerging tech is helping women (Amanda McKenna in The Guardian) The internet has been central to driving the fourth wave of feminism – through factors such as exchange of information, access to investment opportunities and the democratisation of data. Now other emerging technologies have the potential to have a similarly profound effect.

The virtual reality empathy effect: It may not have hit the mainstream quite yet but the potential offered by virtual reality technology is vast – both for commercial applications and those with a more social-oriented, not-for-profit purpose.

Last year Torbay hospital created a virtual reality film following a patient’s journey from ambulance to operating theatre, allowing doctors to share and appreciate a patient’s experience and potentially re-assess their patient-handling approaches. It’s easy to see how a similar approach could be used with frontline workers who have to interact with vulnerable women who have experienced violence or abuse.

3D printing empowering African women: This technology is already starting to directly touch women’s lives. Research has found that take-up of artisanal 3D printing is more prevalent among women than men. Coming from the more commercial end of the spectrum is the Mink device, a pen-like digital printer that can create cosmetics of any shade. It’s not going to change the world, but it’s empowering to be able to choose and create nonetheless.

Taking on the Zika virus: At the start of this month, Google announced a new partnership with Unicef aimed at mapping, and ultimately halting, the spread of the Zika virus among pregnant women in Latin America. The open-source platform gathers data from a range of sources to create an accurate situational awareness of the Zika virus that 10 years ago would have been denied to the organisations combating the virus. It is hoped that by analysing patterns and trends, governments and NGOs could better target their resources.

Unmanned aerial vehicles: California tech outfit Matternet has already conducted field trials based around delivering medical supplies in Haiti, while a similar distribution trial in the Dominican Republic saw drones deliver medicines from healthcare hubs into small centres in remote, inaccessible areas, and return laden with samples taken by doctors ready to be analysed in a central lab.

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