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Hydropower is the world’s leading source of renewable electricity, generating more power in 2022 than all other renewables combined. But while hydropower is helping clean up our electrical grid, it’s not always a positive force for fish.

Dams that create reservoirs on rivers can change habitats. And for some species, especially those that migrate long distances, hydropower facilities can create dangerous or insurmountable barriers. In some parts of the world, including the US, Canada, and Europe, governments have put protections in place to protect ecosystems from hydropower’s potential harms.

New environmental regulations can leave older facilities facing costly renovations or force them to shutter entirely. That’s a big problem, because pulling hydropower plants off the grid eliminates a flexible, low-emissions power source that can contribute to progress in fighting climate change. New technologies, including fish-safe turbines, could help utilities and regulators come closer to striking a balance between the health of river ecosystems and global climate goals. 

That’s where companies like Natel Energy come in. The company started with two big goals: high performance and fish survival, says Gia Schneider, Natel’s cofounder and chief commercial officer.

The company is making new designs for the turbines that generate electricity in hydropower plants as water rushes through equipment and moves their blades. Conventional turbine blades can move as fast as 30 meters per second, or about 60 to 70 miles per hour, Schneider says. When straight, thin edges are moving that quickly and striking fish, “it’s fairly obvious why that’s not a good outcome,” she says.

Natel’s turbine design focuses on preventing fast-moving equipment from making fatal contact with fish. The blades have a thicker leading edge that pushes water out in front of it, creating a stagnation zone, or “basically an airbag for fish,” Schneider says. The blades are also curved, so even if fish are struck, they don’t take a direct hit.

The company has tested its turbines with a range of species, including American eels, alewife, and rainbow trout. In the case of one recent study with American eels, scientists found that over 99% of eels survived after 48 hours of passing through Natel’s equipment. In comparison, one 2010 study found that just 40% of tagged European eels were able to pass through the turbines of a hydropower plant, though survival depended a lot on the size of both the eel and equipment in question.

Changing turbine designs won’t help fish survive all power plants: at some of the biggest plants with the tallest dams, rapid changes in water pressure can kill fish. But Schneider says that the company’s technology could be slotted into up to half of the existing US hydropower fleet to make plants more fish-safe.

Hydropower is one of the world’s older renewable energy sources. By 2030, more than 20% of the global fleet’s generating units will be more than 55 years old, according to the International Energy Agency. The average age of a hydropower plant in the US today is roughly 65 years.

In the US, privately held hydropower plants are licensed by an agency called the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a term of up to 50 years. Roughly 17 gigawatts’ worth of hydropower facilities (enough to power 13 million homes) are up for relicensing by 2035, according to the National Hydropower Association.

Since many of those facilities were started up, there have been significant changes to environmental requirements, and some plants may face high costs and difficult engineering work as they try to adhere to new rules and stay in operation. Adding screens to basically filter fish out of the intake for hydropower plants is one potential solution in some cases, but both installation and maintenance of such a system can add significant cost. In these facilities, Natel’s technology represents an alternative, Schneider says.

Natel has installed several projects in Maine, Oregon, and Austria. They all involve relatively small turbines, but the company is on the way to undertaking bigger projects and recently won a bid process with a manufacturing partner to supply a larger turbine that’s three meters in diameter to an existing plant, Schnieder says. The company is also licensing its fish-safe turbine designs to existing manufacturers.

Whether utilities move to adopt fish-safe design could depend on how it affects efficiency, or the amount of energy that can be captured by a given water flow. Natel’s turbine designs will, in some cases, be slightly less efficient than today’s conventional ones, Schneider says, though the difference is marginal, and they likely still represent an improvement over older designs.

While there’s sometimes a trade-off between fish-safe design and efficiency, that’s not the case with

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By: Casey Crownhart
Title: How fish-safe hydropower technology could keep more renewables on the grid
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/01/1094435/fish-safe-hydropower/
Published Date: Mon, 01 Jul 2024 09:00:00 +0000

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Unlocking secure, private AI with confidential computing

All of a sudden, it seems that AI is everywhere, from executive assistant chatbots to AI code assistants.

But despite the proliferation of AI in the zeitgeist, many organizations are proceeding with caution. This is due to the perception of the security quagmires AI presents. For the emerging technology to reach its full potential, data must be secured through every stage of the AI lifecycle including model training, fine-tuning, and inferencing.

This is where confidential computing comes into play. Vikas Bhatia, head of product for Azure Confidential Computing at Microsoft, explains the significance of this architectural innovation: “AI is being used to provide solutions for a lot of highly sensitive data, whether that’s personal data, company data, or multiparty data,” he says. “Confidential computing is an emerging technology that protects that data when it is in memory and in use. We see a future where model creators who need to protect their IP will leverage confidential computing to safeguard their models and to protect their customer data.”

Understanding confidential computing

“The tech industry has done a great job in ensuring that data stays protected at rest and in transit using encryption,” Bhatia says. “Bad actors can steal a laptop and remove its hard drive but won’t be able to get anything out of it if the data is encrypted by security features like BitLocker. Similarly, nobody can run away with data in the cloud. And data in transit is secure thanks to HTTPS and TLS, which have long been industry standards.”

But data in use, when data is in memory and being operated upon, has typically been harder to secure. Confidential computing addresses this critical gap—what Bhatia calls the “missing third leg of the three-legged data protection stool”—via a hardware-based root of trust.

Essentially, confidential computing ensures the only thing customers need to trust is the data running inside of a trusted execution environment (TEE) and the underlying hardware. “The concept of a TEE is basically an enclave, or I like to use the word ‘box.’ Everything inside that box is trusted, anything outside it is not,” explains Bhatia.

Until recently, confidential computing only worked on central processing units (CPUs). However, NVIDIA has recently brought confidential computing capabilities to the H100 Tensor Core GPU and Microsoft has made this technology available in Azure. This has the potential to protect the entire confidential AI lifecycle—including model weights, training data, and inference workloads.

“Historically, devices such as GPUs were controlled by the host operating system, which, in turn, was controlled by the cloud service provider,” notes Krishnaprasad Hande, Technical Program Manager at Microsoft. “So, in order to meet confidential computing requirements, we needed technological improvements to reduce trust in the host operating system, i.e., its ability to observe or tamper with application workloads when the GPU is assigned to a confidential virtual machine, while retaining sufficient control to monitor and manage the device. NVIDIA and Microsoft have worked together to achieve this.”

Attestation mechanisms are another key component of confidential computing. Attestation allows users to verify the integrity and authenticity of the TEE, and the user code within it, ensuring the environment hasn’t been tampered with. “Customers can validate that trust by running an attestation report themselves against the CPU and the GPU to validate the state of their environment,” says Bhatia.

Additionally, secure key management systems play a critical role in confidential computing ecosystems. “We’ve extended our Azure Key Vault with Managed HSM service which runs inside a TEE,” says Bhatia. “The keys get securely released inside that TEE such that the data can be decrypted.”

Confidential computing use cases and benefits

GPU-accelerated confidential computing has far-reaching implications for AI in enterprise contexts. It also addresses privacy issues that apply to any analysis of sensitive data in the public cloud. This is of particular concern to organizations trying to gain insights from multiparty data while maintaining utmost privacy.

Another of the key advantages of Microsoft’s confidential computing offering is that it requires no code changes on the part of the customer, facilitating seamless adoption. “The confidential computing environment we’re building does not require customers to change a single line of code,” notes Bhatia. “They can redeploy from a non-confidential environment to a confidential environment. It’s as simple as choosing a particular VM size that supports confidential computing capabilities.”

Some industries and use cases that stand to benefit from confidential computing advancements include:

Governments and sovereign entities

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By: MIT Technology Review Insights
Title: Unlocking secure, private AI with confidential computing
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/12/1094838/unlocking-secure-private-ai-with-confidential-computing/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 19:25:58 +0000

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https://mansbrand.com/the-download-robot-packed-meals-and-the-looming-fertility-crisis/

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Tech

The Download: robot-packed meals, and the looming fertility crisis

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

Robot-packed meals are coming to the frozen-food aisle

What’s happening: Advances in artificial intelligence are coming to your freezer, in the form of robot-assembled prepared meals. Chef Robotics, a San Francisco-based startup, has launched a system of AI-powered robotic arms that can be quickly programmed with a recipe to dole out accurate portions of everything from tikka masala to pesto tortellini.

Why it matters: You might think the meals that end up in the grocery store’s frozen aisle or on airplanes are robot-packed already, but that’s rarely the case. The vast majority of meals from recognizable brands are still typically hand-packed, because workers are often much more flexible than robots and can handle production lines that frequently rotate recipes. However, advancements from AI have changed the calculus, making robots more useful on production lines. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

IVF alone can’t save us from a looming fertility crisis

There are over 8 billion of us on the planet, and there’ll probably be 8.5 billion of us by 2030. We’re continually warned about the perils of overpopulation and the impact we humans are having on our planet. So it seems a bit counterintuitive to worry that, actually, we’re not reproducing enough.

But plenty of scientists are incredibly worried about just that. Improvements in health care and sanitation are helping us all lead longer lives. But we’re not having enough children to support us as we age. Fertility rates are falling in almost every country.

But wait! We have technologies to solve this problem! IVF is helping to bring more children into the world than ever, and it can help compensate for the fertility problems faced by older parents! Unfortunately, things aren’t quite so simple. Read the full story.

—Jessica Hamzelou

This story is from The Checkup, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on biotech and healthcare. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Thursday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Here’s how Elon Musk plans to colonize Mars
Over the past year, he’s ramped up his ambitions to build a Martian city. (NYT $)
Musk has denied that he’s volunteered his sperm to help out, though. (CoinTelegraph)
Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

2 Is Russia waging war under the sea? 
The disappearance of a subsea cable has raised some serious questions. (Bloomberg $)

3 Kamala Harris conspiracy theories are running rampant online
If Joe Biden drops out of the Presidential race, she’s most likely to replace him. (Wired $)
Three technology trends shaping 2024’s elections. (MIT Technology Review)

4 Apple is still struggling to find the Vision Pro’s killer app
Ahead of the device going on sale in Europe today. (FT $)
Apple will need to convince developers to build apps for its headset. (MIT Technology Review)

5 These scientists doubt that you’ll live to 100
They contend you’re more likely to reach somewhere between 65 and 90 instead. (WSJ $)
The quest to legitimize longevity medicine. (MIT Technology Review)

6 Google Cloud was briefly listed as a Israeli military tech conference sponsor
Before its logo was rapidly removed. (404 Media)

7 Those New York Link5G towers don’t have 5G after all
Regardless, another 2,000 towers are scheduled for installation. (NY Mag $)

8 How AI is overhauling ultrasound scans in Africa
Benefiting the women who are most in need. (The Guardian)

9 Northeast Indian YouTubers are challenging culinary stereotypes 
They’re lifting the veil on their unique food culture. (Rest of World)

10 There’s a better way to hold your phone
And you’re probably doing it wrong. (WP $)

Quote of the day

“I don’t have any idea if it’s working or not working. I just know this is what I feel like I should be doing.”

— Ruth Quint, the webmaster of the League of Women Voters of Greater Pittsburgh website, explains why she creates disinformation-bunking resources to the New York Times. 

The big story

One city’s fight to solve its sewage problem with sensors

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April 2021

In the city of South Bend, Indiana, wastewater from people’s kitchens, sinks, washing machines, and toilets flows through 35 neighborhood

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: robot-packed meals, and the looming fertility crisis
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/12/1094889/the-download-robot-packed-meals-and-the-looming-fertility-crisis/
Published Date: Fri, 12 Jul 2024 12:10:00 +0000

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The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics

This is today’s edition of The Download our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

AI is poised to automate today’s most mundane manual warehouse task

Before almost any item reaches your door, it traverses the global supply chain on a pallet. More than 2 billion pallets are in circulation in the United States alone, and $400 billion worth of goods are exported on them annually.

However, loading boxes onto these pallets is a task stuck in the past: Heavy loads and repetitive movements leave workers at high risk of injury, and in the rare instances when robots are used, they take months to program using handheld computers that have changed little since the 1980s.

Jacobi Robotics, a startup spun out of the labs of the University of California, Berkeley, says it can vastly speed up that process with AI. If successful, Jacobi aims to replace the legacy methods customers are currently using to train their bots, whittling down the time it takes to code a paletting process from months to a single day. Read the full story.

—James O’Donnell

Here’s the problem with new plastic recycling methods

Look on the bottom of a plastic water bottle or takeout container, and you might find a logo there made up of three arrows forming a closed loop shaped like a triangle. Sometimes called the chasing arrows, this stamp is used on packaging to suggest it’s recyclable.

Those little arrows imply a nice story, painting a picture of a world where the material will be recycled into a new product, forming an endless loop of reuse. But the reality of plastics recycling today doesn’t match up to that idea. Only about 10% of the plastic ever made has been recycled; the vast majority winds up in landfills or in the environment.

Researchers have been working to address the problem by coming up with new recycling methods, sometimes called advanced, or chemical, recycling. But this new approach shares a few challenges with other recycling methods. Read the full story.

—Casey Crownhart

This story is from The Spark, our weekly newsletter giving you the inside track on energy and climate technology. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Wednesday.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 Neuralink’s second brain implant is imminent
It hopes to have multiple devices implanted in human patients by the end of the year. (Bloomberg $)
Elon Musk confirmed that the company is working on a next-gen implant, too. (Wired $)
Meet the other companies developing brain-computer interfaces. (MIT Technology Review)

2 NASA’s astronauts were supposed to return to Earth weeks ago
But they’re stuck on the ISS until engineers are confident they’re safe to fly back. (Ars Technica)
Inside NASA’s bid to make spacecraft as small as possible. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Tesla’s cars’ ‘full self-driving’ capabilities are under investigation
It all hinges on whether the term implies the vehicles are autonomous. (WP $)
EV startup Rivian is snapping at Tesla’s heels. (Bloomberg $)
The Chinese government is going all-in on autonomous vehicles. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The US government is investing less in national security startups 
Compared to the vast amounts venture capitalists are pouring into the ventures. (WSJ $)

5 Apple has agreed to give its rivals access to its payments tech system
The move meets EU demands, and neatly swerves a hefty $40bn penalty. (FT $)
But Apple isn’t out of the woods quite yet. (Bloomberg $)

6 Starlink’s portable Mini dish has gone on sale
The internet-from-space kit is small enough to fit in a backpack. (The Verge)

7 Brace yourself for the rise of neurocosmetics
They’re products for your dermis and, err, your brain. (The Atlantic $)

8 Creators are turning hateful comments into content
It’s certainly one way of not letting the negativity get to you. (NYT $)

9 How Spotify turned itself into a social network
Its adoption of polls, Q&As, and comments suggests it has big ambitions. (TechCrunch)

10 It’s not just you—TikTok Shop really is annoying
Let me scroll in peace! (Vox)

Quote of the day

“No industry can thrive without regulation in the long run. It’s mayhem.”

—An AI startup founder tells the Financial Times that Biden and Trump’s lack of plans to govern the rapidly-evolving technology is sparking deep concern in Silicon Valley.

The big story

This grim but revolutionary DNA technology is changing how we respond to mass disasters

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By: Rhiannon Williams
Title: The Download: automating warehouse tasks, and problems with recycling plastics
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2024/07/11/1094856/the-download-automating-warehouse-tasks-and-problems-with-recycling-plastics/
Published Date: Thu, 11 Jul 2024 13:10:00 +0000

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