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The best new technologies (probably) arriving in 2016

We sort the fluff from the futuristic. 

Predicting successful new technologies is a risky business - for every iPad or lightbulb, there's also a portable travel hammock or an Apple Newton. With that caveat in mind, we've collected together a list of the technologies that we think will make a splash next year, and even, in a few cases, change the way we live. 

Solar panel phone screens

I've been predicting that these will be A Big Deal for over a year, and have partly included them because I just think they're really cool. But as with many new technologies, several sets of researchers are currently working to make transparent solar panels better and cheaper, which means that next year could be the year consumers finally get hold of them. Once on the market, they could invisibly collect solar power on phone and computer screens, and even on windows. 

A robot to schedule your meetings

Artificial Intelligence still can't have a totally convincing chat with us, but it's now sophisticated enough to carry out online customer service, and, as it turns out, be your personal assistant. New app x.ai lets you email "Amy" about a meeting you want to set up, and she liases with you and the other person to find a time that works. 

Control your computer using gestures 

Earlier this year, Apple patented a motion-sensor technology that would let you control your computer by just moving your hands in the air. The technology has been around for a while - HP's Leap Motion laptop was launched in 2012 - but as we spend more and more time in front of computers, it's growing ever more appealling. RIP RSI. 

A hotel in space 

Russian company Orbital Technologies reckons it'll be sending tourists into space as early as next year. Guests would zoom up to the Commercial Space Station on a rocket, then spend their time in one of the station's four cabins enjoying zero gravity and watching earth through the ship's giant portholes. And this is only the beginning: Mashable has totted up nine commercial companies planning to send normal people into space over the next decade or so. 

Self-driving cars

Google's self-driving car. Image: Getty.

Yes, they've been around for ages, but now we have on-the-road testing and the beginnings of a legislative framework for the cars, they could soon be an everyday reality. Google has announced it's teaming up with Ford to build self-driving vehicles, hinting at large-scale commercial production in the near future. 

...and cars that make you better at driving 

Audi's Q7 SUV. Image: Audi.

While self-driving cars are grabbing the headlines, ordinary cars are also stepping up their game. Tesla's latest in-car software offers a hands-free autopilot mode, while Audi's Q7 SUV will also brake on behalf of the driver and nudge you back into the correct lane. This type of gradual automation may make fully self-driving cars an easier sell in the long run. 

The suncream pill 

Fish and coral both excrete a compound that protects them from the sun, and for the past five years or so scientists have been working to use these substances in a pill which, when consumed by humans, would offer the same protection. If it works, it could cut rates of sunburn and skin cancer, and spare you from endless bouts of greasy reapplication. 

An end to language barriers

Messaging and voice call service Skype recently released a live translation tool, Japan is trialling a live translation megaphone to use during the 2020 Olympics, and Google's Translate app translates street signs and real-time conversations. It looks like technology may finally be breaking down the final barrier in worldwide communication. 

Zero-carbon fuel made of carbon dioxide 

Improbable as it sounds, a few different companies have developed working prototypes which turn carbon dioxide into a fuel. All rely on sucking CO2 out of the air, then converting it into a diesel fuel, which, amazingly, emits no carbon when burned.

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.

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Understanding anxiety – my inside view of a debilitating disorder and how to control it

Following a number of recent anxiety attacks, I set out to learn why this happens to me.

As I stepped out of the office one evening after a routine day at work, I found myself glued to the floor. Legs bolted, knees quivering, heart racing – I was cemented into the ground by something paralysing.

I had to work out what was happening, and fast. Was a looming deadline holding me back from leaving? Was an unread message on my phone stopping me in my tracks? Perhaps fatigue had set me on edge. Or that passerby with an unsettling stare caught me off-guard. Maybe it was something more surreal; maybe a sense of dread had taken over, as I started to perceive each onlooker as a potential source of fear. Whether it was all of those things or none of those things, I eventually realised that the sticky situation I had found myself in was the onset of an anxiety attack.

Anxiety is a disorder of varying forms. People may be affected by generalised anxiety disorder – characterised by excessive worrying (often without an identifiable trigger), a specific phobia or panic disorder, in which terror can overwhelm a person without warning. The sufferer experiences physical and mental symptoms of distress that include a feeling of restlessness, shortness of breath, and agitation, exacerbated by the uncontrollable spiralling of their thoughts, which can often be self-deprecating and debilitating.

I had been in this situation before. The rising tension makes for an overwhelming and often paranoid experience, but my awareness of the fact that I was indeed having an anxiety attack was enough to know that this feeling wouldn’t persist for an indefinite amount of time; it would eventually pass, as all anxiety attacks do.

After roughly half an hour of concentrated breathing, conscious changes in thought patterns and eventually moving to a quieter spot, I had managed to calm down.

Though I had managed my anxiety attacks before via similar means, I was curious to know – what exactly was happening during my attacks? What can specifically be done while they’re happening? And could the panic and jitters of anxiety ever be beneficial?

The biology of an anxiety attack

The biological basis of an anxiety attack is tied to the actions of the body’s autonomic nervous system – a division of our nervous system that, without conscious control, regulates our bodily organs and systems.

When stimulated, the autonomic nervous system kicks into gear, causing the release of adrenaline into the bloodstream. And that’s when things flare up.

Pulses of adrenaline are produced in response to a stimulus  one that causes the body to kick into a defensive fight-or-flight mode. With anxiety, these stressful stimuli include excessive thoughts, heightened worries, trauma triggers and objects posing as threats. Even subconscious phenomena have been proposed as provokers; it is known that sufferers may wake up from a night’s sleep in a bout of panic. The stimuli add to the existing level of distress, making a person’s breath shallower, often inducing profuse sweating, and initiating a dark foreboding, all in the space of a moment.

Combating anxiety

According to the NHS, there are a number of techniques that can be employed to manage the distressing symptoms of an attack. Staying in a fixed spot, deep breathing and actively issuing a challenge in your mind to the fears on which you may be fixating are crucial things to do in the immediate stages. I wasn’t sure whether in my latest case I had done this instinctively or out of habit from past struggles. Either way, the methods were relieving.

The end of an attack is reached through an eventual depletion of adrenaline, which tells the body that it no longer needs to be on high alert. It brings with it tiredness but a welcome passing of the crisis. However, without a longer-term, pragmatic approach to tackling the disorder, it’s almost certain that an individual will face another intense period of anxiousness. So how should anxiety sufferers manage the issue over a longer period of time?

This is where therapy can be an extremely useful form of intervention. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the most common form of therapy for the disorder, with research demonstrating its effectiveness in treating the closely related disorders under the umbrella of anxiety. CBT focuses on a reconfiguring of thought patterns, shifting perceptions and a redefining of negative sources of fear.

Recently, I spoke to David Potts, a CBT therapist, to discuss how therapy can be of benefit. He said: “In therapy we'd work on specifics. It would involve telling yourself what the triggers are. Often people have very negative views about what's happening to them [during an attack]; they'll think I'm having a heart attack or I'm going to die and those kinds of thoughts form a vicious cycle and the panic gets worse.”

According to Potts, being attuned to the occurrence of an anxiety attack is essential in taking active steps to overcome it. It can facilitate the process of calming down, allowing the person in the midst of an attack to separate the thoughts in their mind from the reality of a particular situation.

Therapy can also offer an individualised approach to understanding a person’s anxiety. Potts told me: “Often, from a therapy perspective, we are considering what’s happening to them [the patient] in their lives that lead them to be more anxious than other people. It could include things they’ve experienced in childhood, it could be ways that families are, or it could involve ways that they’ve learnt to manage different emotions.”

Beyond therapy, medication is available to aid anxiety. Appropriate to a disorder that can affect people in various ways, there are different types of medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most common form of medication. SSRIs are antidepressants that seek to increase levels of serotonin in our brains – a neurotransmitter thought to be central to the maintenance of mood. Other drugs available (in case of side effects from SSRIs) include serotonin and noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), pregabalin and benzodiazepines. Though alleviating, medication is something that should supplement forms of therapy, as the pills themselves won’t solve the social triggers and problems that cause anxiety.

As people have increasingly moved towards holistic lifestyles, emphasis on exercise and dietary intake has been elevated. Eating healthier has been linked to reduced symptoms of anxiety, while exercise has been proven to reduce levels of stress in the long run. Reduced stress equates to a reduced risk of an anxiety attack.

Changes to the brain from exercise have been documented too. Researchers at Princeton University found that physical exercise generates excitable new brain cells in the hippocampus – an area of the brain involved in emotional responses. Though the excitability of the neurons would generally be unfavourable (priming the brain for anxiety), researchers found that the impact of exercise was one which had a calming effect, as the exercise was able to switch off the newly-generated, excitable neurons at times when they weren’t required.

When just a ten-minute walk has been shown to offer benefit, there seems to be very little to oppose the implementation of exercise as a form of therapy for anxiety.

Living with anxiety

Perhaps surprisingly, anxiety can be harnessed as a tool of empowerment for some. When it occurs at a smaller scale, it can serve as an informative warning against stressors, and help an individual focus and pinpoint their attention.

As a sufferer, acknowledgement of anxiety seems to be the key to unlocking the resources that can dull its impact. With carefully paid attention, responsibility and mindfulness, the waves of anxiety threatening to drench you can be reduced to smaller, more manageable ebbs and flows.