Autonomous vehicles (AVs) are stalled. The breezy predictions of widespread rollouts by most major automobile manufacturers have been revised and readjusted. Some CEOs of those companies spoke optimistically about achieving full autonomy — Level 5, in the parlance — in 2020. Or maybe 2021. Or the early 2020s.
Now, it’s not quite clear when that might be achieved, though Tesla head Elon Musk continues to insist that his company will be producing fully autonomous vehicles by the end of 2020. Much depends, however, on how quickly 5G (i.e., the fifth generation of wireless technology) realizes wide dissemination, and that too remains up in the air. The best guess is that coverage will improve dramatically in 2020, and that 5G will be available in most areas of the U.S. by 2022. That breakthrough will reduce latency for all electronic devices, which is especially critical to the operation of an AV.
In the meantime we have seen technology proceed down a path that is at once parallel and literally slower with the advent of autonomous bicycles. Particularly notable is the development in 2019 of a Chinese bike featuring a neuromorphic computer chip (i.e., a chip that approximates the structure of the human brain, in that it is comprised of artificial neurons). That enabled the bike to proceed on its merry way — to navigate a track, avoid obstacles and even respond to voice commands.
Recent years have also seen the development at MIT of something called the Persuasive Electric Vehicle (PEV), an adult-sized tricycle that might one day be of use for ride-sharing services — not to mention package delivery services, as it features a secure box for parcels. A company called Scootbe also introduced a three-wheeled self-propelled scooter, while BMW came out with the prototype for a self-driving motorcycle.
The work of a company called Jump, which is owned by Uber, is also notable, as it developed a bike with a swappable battery — something that is of great importance to bike-sharing services, as it precludes the need to return the entire bike to a central location for charging; rather, the battery is simply replaced, and the rider goes on his or her way.
There were also unconfirmed reports in early 2019 that Uber was hoping to make further inroads in the micromobility space, compelling Eric Paul Dennis, a transportation systems analyst for the Center of Automotive Research, to tweet out his dismay. As noted in a post on The Verge, Dennis called autonomous bikes “the worst new mobility idea yet,” and enumerated the problems on an extensive Twitter thread:
- A stabilization system would prove to be both costly and weighty:
- Sensors would need to be more durable than those on cars:
- Developing a suitable computer unit (a problem apparently addressed by the subsequent introduction of the neuromorphic chip); and
- The swappable battery might be easy to change, but it is also easy to steal.
Dennis emphasized that while it might be possible to develop the necessary technology, he doesn’t believe autonomous bikes can be part of a sound business model.
While that might be true, there are also environmental considerations. As Jimmy O’Dea, senior vehicles analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists, told Vice.com: “Any technology that gets people out of cars is intriguing and worth exploring,” before adding that he favors “a zero-emissions bike over anything with a tailpipe.”
It seems safe to say, then, that developments will continue in this space — that not only ride-sharing services, but those people seeking alternate means to a car that burns fossil fuel, will see value in an autonomous bicycle.
The consensus is that electric vehicles are going to continue to rise in popularity, due to their efficiency, long-term cost effectiveness and environmental friendliness. One breathless dispatch predicted, in fact, that 2020 will be “the big breakthrough year” in this sector, and noted that while 40 plug-in cars were available in the U.S. at the beginning of 2019, 10 more will be introduced in the year ahead.
Then 14 new cars were listed. Not 10 — 14. Apparently the market is growing so fast, it’s hard to keep track.
The larger point remains, however: Electric cars are hot, and getting hotter. By the end of 2018 there were 1 million EVs on American roads (which nonetheless represents just one percent of the nation’s vehicles), with the expectation that there will be 18.7 million by 2030.
CNN Business, citing research by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), further projected that by 2040 worldwide sales of electric vehicles will reach 56 million, 54 million more than were sold in 2018. In the meantime sales of conventional internal combustion vehicles are expected to decrease by over 50 percent, from 85 million in 2018 to 42 million, in 2040.
Another CNN piece, which reported on efforts by manufacturers like Volkswagen to keep pace with industry leader Tesla, used the same BNEF information to reach a slightly more conservative conclusion — that in 2040, 48.8 million electric vehicles will be sold, compared to 42.2 million conventional vehicles.
No matter how the information is interpreted, the momentum seems clear. As Al Bedwell, LMC’s director of global powertrain, told CNN:
“There’s just such an incredible amount of money being poured into electric cars. I’ve been looking at this industry for 20 years, and my real gut feeling is that it’s kind of unstoppable now.”
The reasons, according to the piece, are that battery prices will continue to drop — they are down 85 percent per kilowatt hour since 2010, in fact — while governments will continue to provide subsidies and regulators will continue to apply pressure, as evidenced by the fact that the European Union and even China have emissions standards they hope to reach.
Less clear is where the U.S. is headed on the latter front, given the Trump Administration’s plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, a process that formally began in November 2019 and is expected to be completed by November 2020. While the production of EVs was part of a larger goal to reduce 2005 greenhouse gas emission levels by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, the U.S.’s intentions now remain to be seen.
Infrastructure is one of the bigger factors that will impact EV popularity and sales. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, there are just 13,000 fast-charging stations across the country, compared to 332,000 gas stations. And it is expected that some 9.6 million ports (not stations — ports) will be needed to support those 18.7 million EVs that will be on the road in 2030.
The Internet of Things has a wide-ranging role here, in that smart technology will enable drivers to find charging stations and make payments, while also providing EV chargers vendors, sellers and service companies (as well as station owners) with critical data.
Price point is another factor that will affect EV sales, as is vehicle range. Of the 16 electric vehicles listed for sale in the U.S. in one report, the cheapest (a Hyundai Ioniq Electric) went for $30,000, while the one with the greatest range was an $80,000 Tesla Model S, which can go 370 miles between charges. The counterargument regarding price is that there are few long-term fuel and maintenance costs. As for range, that is bound to improve as the technology is upgraded.
The bottom line, then, is that while there are some bugs to work out, the prospects for EVs are good, and getting better. I would advise any investor to give serious consideration to this market sector, as it holds considerable promise.
The breathless headline in the Aug. 27 editions of a British tabloid had the desired effect, in that it made one do a double-take: “Man claims he is ‘essentially cancer free’ after quitting chemotherapy in favour of cannabis oil — and says it helped to reduce his TWELVE brain tumours by 95 per cent.” The accompanying story related how 30-year-old George Gannon went the CBD route after stopping chemotherapy in December 2018, with dramatic results.
While CBD (which, unlike THC, is believed to be the non-psychoactive element in cannabis) might or might not prove to be a cancer antidote — tabloids, after all, are the very embodiment of fake news — there are signs it might be effective against multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s. And in June 2018, the FDA approved CBD extract to treat two rare forms of epilepsy.
Much is still to be learned about CBD, but the hype has proceeded and appears to be accelerating. There are claims that it cures PTSD, arthritis, insomnia and depression. That it can slow the onset of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. That it can alleviate anxiety, asthma, autism and anger, and possibly be used to treat addiction.
CBD-infused products have, as a result, flooded the market. There are gummies and lotions and chocolates, and even beers and chocolates and marshmallows. Carl’s Jr., a fast-food chain, even test-marketed a CBD-laced burger in Colorado. It is expected that CBD will be a $16 billion industry in the U.S. by 2025, according to an Oct. 17 New York Times piece.
That same article noted that cannabis had been used for medicinal purposes in Central Asia as far back as 750 B.C. The Times noted in a separate report — a deep dive into CBD-mania that appeared back in May — that usage later spread to Africa and, as a result of the slave trade, South America and the Caribbean. Europe and North America were slower to follow, and pot was driven underground in the U.S. by the Marijuana Tax Act in 1937, not to mention Richard Nixon’s Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
There has been some softening on the legislative front. Particularly noteworthy was the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, which legalized hemp, a form of cannabis low in THC but high in CBD. There was also FDA approval that same year of CBD in dealing with those two forms of epilepsy, Dravet Syndrome and Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, as mentioned above. (That came about in no small part because of the search on the part of a Colorado mother, Paige Figi, for a cure to the Dravet-induced seizures afflicting her young daughter, Charlotte.)
The other concern is quality control. A 2017 Journal of American Medicine study of 84 CBD products found that 26 percent had less CBD than advertised, while 43 percent had more.
Suffice it to say we remain on a voyage of discovery when it comes to CBD — that for all the promise and all the hype, there are many questions that still need to be answered. Nonetheless, I, for one, am a proponent of the industry and firmly believe that CBD is a worthy area of investment consideration and represents a budding market that will continue to command consumer attention and drive product demand.
Efficiency, transparency and security remain the watchwords of distributed ledger technology (DLT), an immutable ledger most often associated with cryptocurrency, but lately finding traction within supply chains, which in a worldwide economy have grown increasingly complex and multi-faceted.
One report indicated that over half the products made around the globe require shipment over a border another report estimated that at present banks and other financial institutions pour some $10 trillion a year into trade, and that a typical shipment requires some 30 documents. Yet another noted that the mere shipment of flowers from Kenya to Rotterdam required no fewer than 200.
DLT can make a difference. It can lead, by one estimate, to a 15-30 percent cost reduction, according to the World Trade Organization, and $1 trillion in new trade over the next 10 years, according to the World Economic Forum. And while there are those who argue that DLT can be difficult to implement, Frederik De Breuck, head of Fujitsu’s Blockchain Innovation Center in Brussels, argues that it can be put in place immediately, and “fit invisibly” within a company’s current structure.
As he wrote for his company’s website:
DLT essentially functions as a layer supplementing your existing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software or any other related software you may have in use. … Your underlying process and the interface to your software remain as they were, with the difference that you now can trust that your inventory numbers (and those of all the other participants) are more accurate, as are the prices based on the consumption of your ecosystem, and you know what has happened to the underlying data along the way.
Again, it’s a matter of improving efficiency, of bringing processes out of the pen-and-paper era and into the 21st Century. Everything is more streamlined. Redundancy is eliminated. There are fewer middlemen to include in the process, and less risk of error, fraud and waste.
That goes hand in hand with transparency, of course. All of the trading partners have access to real-time information about where a given transaction stands. And when it is completed and proof of delivery is provided, invoicing and payment is immediately triggered. Gone is the lag that exists in current payment cycles. As DeBreuck wrote, supply companies currently stipulate that payment be made within 30 days, though lags are typically far greater.
Another aspect of transparency is that it allows for improved regulatory compliance. An example offered by Forbes was that of the Rwandan government, which used blockchain to track the mining of tantalum, a resource used in electronics. A 2018 study also mentioned that DeBeers, the diamond company, used DLT to register and store documents related to those precious gems, in an attempt to restore trust in that industry.
As for DLT’s security, note that nothing is invulnerable, but if the user of each node in the chain does his or her due diligence and protects the public and private keys required to lock things down, risk can and will be minimized.
In sum, DLT can improve any supply chain enormously by making it more efficient and, ultimately, more profitable.
Cannabidiol (CBD), the second-most prevalent active ingredient in cannabis, has been touted in recent years as a medicinal extract that can be used to treat everything from stress and anxiety to back pain. While the full extent of its effectiveness is yet to be known, it has been approved by the FDA to treat certain forms of epilepsy.
With all of these potential benefits, it is unsurprising that many people want to incorporate CBD into their health routines. That being the case, it would be wise to first reevaluate one’s diet, as evidence has emerged that one high in fat enables a person to absorb cannabidiol much more readily.
That was the conclusion of a new study from the University of Minnesota, which compared the impact CBD made on epilepsy patients who ingested a fatty breakfast, as opposed to those who used the compound on an empty stomach. As Angela Birnbaum, co-author of the study and a professor at UM’s College of Pharmacy, explained it in a post on Cannabis.net:
“The type of food can make a large difference in the amount of CBD that gets absorbed into the body. Although fatty foods can increase the absorption of CBD, it can also increase the variability as not all meals contain the same amount of fat.”
Researchers found that CBD absorption was, on average, four times greater for those who took it as part of a high-fat diet, as opposed to those who fasted. Increased absorption, said Birnbaum’s co-author, Ilo Leppik, could result in lower costs on medication.
But the main conclusion is that in order for CBD to be used most effectively on patients, a specialized diet plan should be considered. Some examples of high-fat diets that are being recommended include the ketogenic diet and the paleo diet. Both have grown in popularity in recent years as healthy alternatives to the Standard American Diet, but both are somewhat controversial, given their embrace of fat and meat products. The ketogenic diet in particular is fat-based.
At the very least, it would appear such diets have their place as part of a CBD-based treatment plan. Ironically, CBD is also used as a way to mitigate appetite and control obesity. However, the aforementioned study suggested that CBD combined with high fat intake was still an effective way to lose a few pounds.
Antibiotic resistance is a growing concern as bacteria develop the means of fighting the drugs once meant to kill them. Antibiotic-resistant bacterial infections can be challenging or even impossible to treat, often requiring long hospital stays and expensive or dangerous alternatives. In the search for new and effective antibiotics, researchers believe they have found an unexpected option: cannabidiol (CBD), the primary non-psychoactive compound in cannabis.
According to new research, CBD is incredibly effective at killing strains of bacteria in lab settings. In a study conducted by researchers at the Institute for Molecular Bioscience’s Centre for Superbug Solutions at the University of Queensland, CBD was found to be effective against several types of bacteria that are responsible for some of the most serious infections, including Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus.
Cannabidiol appears to have active antimicrobial activity and it might also help reduce tissue damage caused by the inflammation response to an infection. CBD, already approved by the FDA to treat a type of epilepsy, is currently being studied for the treatment of a variety of other conditions such as inflammation and anxiety.
The potency of CBD in the lab setting was comparable to common antibiotics daptomycin and vancomycin, but CBD was effective when exposed to bacteria resistant to those two drugs. It was even shown to effectively disrupt biofilms, or a physical buildup of bacterial cells (such as MRSA), which are responsible for chronic diseases like cystic fibrosis and endocarditis, and typically highly resistant to antibiotics.
Cannabidiol doesn’t even appear to induce resistance, a concern that would otherwise create a major roadblock in its eventual approval as an antibiotic. Antibiotic resistance occurs as a result of random mutations to the genetic code of the bacteria. This allows the bacteria to survive and pass on the mutation. Even under extended exposure to conditions that are likely to lead to resistance against commonly prescribed antibiotics, CBD remained effective. Researchers caution, however, that resistance would eventually occur, as has been the case for every antibiotic ever used.
While CBD showed astonishing promise in laboratory settings, it wasn’t effective against all types of bacteria. It worked very well against S. aureus, for example, which is a Gram-positive strain that does not have an outer membrane, making it easier to treat.
Nonetheless, researchers still aren’t exactly sure how cannabidiol works against bacteria. According to Dr. Mark Blaskovich, who led the research team in the study and collaborated with the drug discovery firm Botanix Pharmaceuticals Ltd., CBD may act by damaging the bacterial membrane. He still pointed out that this is not the primary mechanism of CBD’s action, however.
Many common antibiotics like penicillin work to deactivate the enzymes in the cell wall of bacteria, causing it to collapse and die. Two other main actions of antibiotics are interfering with DNA replication or disrupting protein synthesis.
The results of the laboratory testing have been promising but scientists caution that these results are still preliminary. The team is preparing an additional round of trials before moving on to animal testing and eventually human trials.