All posts by Daniel Davies

Factor reimagines the Christmas nativity

Christmas Day has finally arrived. We assume that you’ve given and received all your gifts and are now relaxing after some form of festive feast, but we’re really happy that you decided to spend part of the day with us.

But today is about more than just indulging, so we thought we’d remind you of what it’s really all about, with a little Factor-style twist of course.

So sit back, relax and enjoy our light-hearted imagining of how the birth of Jesus may have looked had he been surrounded by the technology we’ve brought you news on for the past 12 months.

And from everyone here at Factor have a very merry Christmas.

Donkey to Bethlehem

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While a donkey to Bethlehem may have been the most practical way to travel over 2000 years ago, adoption of the Internet of Things in the coming years will likely lead to a self-driving public transportation system.

Self driving cars are almost upon us, and Elon Musk has said this week that Tesla vehicles will drive themselves in two years.

Musk has confirmed the software used in his cars will “work on millions of different roads all around the world in a wide range of circumstances—in winter, in summer, in rain, in dust”, so they could have provided a much more comfortable way for Mary and Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.

Star of Bethlehem

Everyone knows that the Star of Bethlehem guided the three wise men to baby Jesus, but in the not too distant future the sky could be a whole lot more cluttered. In a few short years, if you happen to gaze up at the night sky you’ll more than likely be looking at drones.

Amazon has already unveiled footage of its delivery drones in action, and if the company has things its way it won’t be long before these mini messengers are zipping across the nation’s sky.

While they don’t have the majesty of the Star of Bethlehem, it would be pretty cool to see them in action. However, their ubiquitousness might be affected by the US Government implementing a registration system for Americans who own drones.

Born in a stable

Jesus was born in a stable, surrounded by livestock and shepherds, because there was no room at the inn. The idea of Jesus, Mary and Joseph being rejected by the Inn Keeper reminds us of people less fortunate than ourselves at this time.

A team in Austria has developed a cheap and environmentally sound way of housing people. Ready to assemble residential units can be set up within a few days, for example on plots that are temporarily not in use. If the building site is needed for something else, the dorm can simply be moved to a different place.

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This may not have helped Jesus, but it may be a way of helping the homeless in modern society.

Shepherds’ message

In the Bible, it was the shepherds who spread the news of Jesus’ birth, but in our time we’re lucky enough to have a major tool for spreading news: the internet.

Google and Facebook both have ongoing projects that aim to boost internet connectivity in 2016. Facebook’s satellites and Google’s balloons mean that even in the most remote environments everyone can share glad tidings.

Mark Zuckerberg said in a Facebook post about his company’s project: “Connectivity changes lives and communities.”

Tech has come a long way and continues to improve people’s lives to this day. Although our look at the nativity is playful, it illustrates the impact technology has had on many aspects of modern living.

We bring you news of how science and tech is changing the world around us, but on this day we can also consider how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve still to go.

But don’t worry we’ll be here to tell you everything you need to know in 2016, but if you want to get a head start check out our latest issue here.

NASA satellite measures the impact of regulation on air quality

NASA’ s study of worldwide air pollution trends over the last decade has highlighted humanity’s impact on  global air quality.

Using high-resolution satellite maps gathered from the Aura satellite, the NASA team analysed nitrogen dioxide levels around the globe between 2005 and 2014. They found that where governments had stepped in with deliberate policies to curb emissions their influence on nitrogen dioxide levels in the atmosphere could clearly be seen.

“These changes in air quality patterns aren’t random,” said lead researcher, Bryan Duncan. “When governments step in and say we’re going to build something here or we’re going to regulate this pollutant, you see the impact in the data.”

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

NASA identified the United States and Europe as the largest emitters of nitrogen dioxide, but both regions also showed the most dramatic reductions between 2005 and 2014, with both territories reducing emissions by as much as 50%.

On the other hand, China, the world’s growing manufacturing hub, saw an increase of 20 to 50% in nitrogen dioxide emissions. However, demand for cleaner air from Beijing’s middle-class residents has caused a reduction in emissions in the city.

In Syria, nitrogen dioxide levels decreased since 2011, most likely because of the civil war, which has interrupted economic activity and displaced millions of people, but levels have increased in neighbouring countries as Syrians seek refuge.

“By monitoring levels of nitrogen dioxide from space we can see and quantify the effects of things like energy usage, environmental policy and even civil unrest on air quality across the globe,” said Duncan.

Image courtesy of NASA

Image courtesy of NASA

The space-based mapping allowed scientists to gather information on pollution for cities and countries that have limited ground-based air monitoring stations.

South Africa, for instance, was shown to have the highest nitrogen dioxide levels in the Southern Hemisphere, but has achieved decreases in Johannesburg and Pretoria after new cars were required to have better emissions controls. The heavily industrialized area just east of the cities, however, shows both decreases and increases. The decreases may be associated with fewer emissions from eight large power plants east of the cities since the decrease occurs over their locations.

“We had seen seemingly contradictory trends over this area of industrial South Africa in previous studies,” said co-author, Anne Thompson. “Until we had this new space view, it was a mystery.”