Week Ending: 24th July - A Roundup in I.T. & Tech News

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It’s never a quiet week in the world of I.T. and tech. As always, it has been another busy one with Google Maps receiving a significant update targeting cyclists in cities, Apple announced it will be fully carbon neutral by 2030, along with other tech giants. Plus, scientists are now using brain-computer connections to restore individuals’ sense of touch.

Google Maps just received a significant update

Google Maps is famously known for its excellent navigation on mobile devices. Regardless of where you want to get to, the direction app will get you there, whether this is by driving, public transport, walking, or on your bike – with Google Maps you will reach your destination.

Throughout the Coronavirus outbreak, Google Maps has been upgrading the app to help users better navigate themselves through the pandemic, with a new key feature that’s a great fit with the current health crisis. The new Google Maps feature has turned bikes into an even more efficient way to help users get to their desired destination. Why? In today’s current climate, riding a bike can be faster than driving a car and it is a safer alternative to sharing public transit with others.

Google has explained in a recent announcement that requests for cycling directions in Google Maps has increased by 69% since February, hitting an all-time high last month. In addition to this, Google says that worldwide search interest for “bike repair near me” has also peaked this month, more than double what it was last year.

To help turn bikes into an efficient form of transport in cities during the pandemic, Google Maps has been working closely with various bike-sharing services, such as Citi Bike, to help individuals get around easily. Users will be able to select a starting point and their end destination in Maps, the app will tell them where their nearest bike-sharing station is, providing turn-by-turn direction, then, once on the bike, Google Maps will navigate cyclists to the bike station closest to their destined location. It will then give step-by-step directions from the bike station to the place they’re wanting to be. Users will have a general idea of how long it will take them to walk and cycle through the city with an estimated time of how long their journey will take from start to finish.

Google is offering its new bike-share directions in 10 cities globally, including Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Washington, London, Mexico City, Montreal, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paolo, Taipei, and New Taipei City, with the new feature planned to expand to more regions in the future.

Discover more here.

Apple has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2030

This week, Apple has announced it will be making the entire company, inclusive of its suppliers, carbon neutral by 2030 as it seeks to set new environmental standards for the tech industry.

The iPhone creator has announced by the time we hit 2030, every device you buy from Apple will be 100% carbon neutral, meaning a “zero climate impact” at point of sale. Plus, any company wanting to become a supplier would have to commit to “be 100% renewable for their Apple production” within 10 years.

Apple’s pledge comes after other technology giants announced their climate-focused promises; Microsoft announced it will be carbon negative by 2030, and by 2050 it will have removed the same amount of carbon as it has ever emitted from the environment, and Amazon has pledged to go carbon neutral by 2040.

The environmental campaign group, Greenpeace, told BBC News that the technology giants were among the most profitable companies in the world, so therefore had a responsibility to act quickly in regards to reducing their net-zero carbon-dioxide emissions.

Elizabeth Jardim, Greenpeace USA’s senior corporate campaigner, stated:

“I am happy to see that Apple has worked with suppliers to source actual renewable energy and that it has not relied on low-impact solutions like offsetting or renewable energy credits.

But I will want to see how the company is further phasing out reliance on fossil fuels throughout its operations on a near-term timeline.

At present, the company has matched datacentre energy demand with renewables and committed to do the same for its supply chain. But this is not the same as phasing out fossil fuel use altogether."

Find out more here.

Scientists are using brain-computer connections to restore a lost sense of touch

Individuals who have experienced spinal injuries and strokes can often be left without being able to move certain parts of their bodies, plus they can completely lose their sense of touch. Now, researchers are helping those people feel a sense of touch again by using brain-computer interfaces (BCIs).

Usually, BCIs are used when people encounter paralysed limbs, and BCIs help the limbs start moving again. However, individuals who experience spinal injuries lose movement and their sense of touch, with areas of their body left completely without feeling. Now, BCIs are helping individuals get their sense of touch back.

BCIs work because both computers and human nerves use pulses of electricity to communicate. For example, think of the nerve pathways between the brain and the peripheries of your body, as a series of wires. In a spinal injury, the wires are cut and the electricity cannot flow properly. Without signals travelling down the muscles, limbs cannot move, and without signals being relayed up from the skin, the brain does not register touch.

To create a sense of touch, BCIs work by making an alternative circuit for the electricity to flow through, restoring that vital communication between the brain and the peripheral nerves. Down from the brain for movement, up from the peripheries (your skin, arms and legs) for touch.

The BCI systems, which aim to restore touch, begin with an electrode array being implanted in the brain’s upper layer, the Cortex. The electrode array can record signals from the brain, which are then passed via a wired connection to a machine-learning software. The software decodes the signals, and passes them on to the peripheral nerves, stimulating muscles to move. Touch takes the opposite journey where a series of electric pulses pass up from the peripheries to the brain, recognising different sensations either from a human or electronic arm.

The complexity, and the importance, of our sense of touch is massive. We need touch to know where our fingers have reached, to adjust our grip, for good and fine movement, and the continuous feedback from the muscles in our feet is vital to keep us from stumbling over. So, it goes without saying, this move, where scientists are now using brain-computer connections to restore a lost sense of touch, is revolutionary and will help many individuals to feel again.

Read more here.

Those were some of this week’s biggest stories in I.T. and tech, but if you want more content, follow us across our four social media channels.