Brain-Computer Interfaces (BCIs) measure brain activity and can be used to control digital devices. The focus of BCI development has been on using the technology to allow patients to control assistive equipment such as wheelchairs or prostheses. Beyond medicine they are under development for applications in entertainment, marketing and defence. This POSTnote looks at the underpinning technology, its applications and the associated ethical and regulatory challenges.
Drones (also known as unmanned aircraft) are flying systems that do not carry a pilot. As the technology has become cheaper and more sophisticated, the use of drones for recreational and commercial purposes has grown, with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) reporting a significant increase in the number of permissions obtained for operating commercial drones in the UK. Despite their potential to reduce costs, improve efficiency and provide new services, drones may be misused accidentally or for malicious purposes. For example, reports of drone sightings at Gatwick Airport in December 2018 grounded around 1,000 flights for almost 36 hours, affecting more than 140,000 passengers.
In 2018, the Government introduced new limits on where drones can be flown and new registration and education requirements for drone operators and pilots. In January 2020, the new Government introduced an Air Traffic Management and Unmanned Aircraft Bill to Parliament that included new police powers for enforcing aviation laws (such as the power to issue a fixed penalty notice for certain drone offences). This POSTnote looks at civilian drones and their applications, focusing on potential misuse and possible responses.
Under the July 2018 revision of the National Planning Policy Framework, the government requires local authorities in England to embed relevant strategies into local plans to deliver a net environmental gain over possible reductions caused by developments and infrastructure. The initial objective of this requirement will be to deliver gains in levels of biodiversity – short for biological diversity, the abundance and variety of species and their physical habitats – at the landscape level. In December 2018, Defra
launched a consultation on implementing a mandatory biodiversity net gain requirement for development in England.
Critical materials (CMs) are key to UK manufacturing, including for the aerospace, automotive, energy and chemical sectors, which rely on materials typically extracted and processed abroad. CMs are vital components of several emerging technologies, including electric vehicles, renewable energy infrastructure such as wind turbines, and digital technologies such as computers and smartphones. The UK imports most of its CMs and faces international competition for key resources. This POSTnote looks at the demand and supply of CMs in the UK and ways of improving supply security.
5G is the next generation of mobile communications technology. It follows on from the previous generations of mobile technology, such as 3G and 4G. 5G is expected to improve on previous mobile technologies by providing faster, lower latency (response time) mobile broadband connections and being able to connect a greater number of devices to a mobile network in a particular area while maintaining good quality connections. 5G mobile broadband will be the first widespread application of the technology. However, in the longer term it may have applications in other sectors.
UK power generation from wind has increased in recent years due to sharp reductions in the costs of constructing and operating wind power facilities. Onshore wind power provides the cheapest electricity of any form of new generation built, and offshore is expected to continue to reduce in cost. Generating wind power does not emit greenhouse gases, hence future growth will help the UK meet its GHG emissions reduction targets. This POSTnote examines the innovations that have enabled wind power cost reductions, associated policy considerations and challenges for future deployment.
Under the Paris Agreement, almost all governments worldwide have agreed to collectively limit global warming to 'well below' 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and to 'pursue efforts' to limit this warming to 1.5°C. However, there has been 1°C of warming to date, and current international pledges could result in 3°C or more. A 2018 UN Special Report examined how peak global warming could be limited to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and the implications of doing so. This POSTnote outlines key messages from the UN Special Report, and UK responses to preventing and adapting to climate change.
Weaknesses in the cyber security of internet-connected consumer devices can undermine the privacy and safety of individual users and can be used for large-scale cyber-attacks. This briefing looks at the cyber threats associated with consumer devices and their causes, as well as initiatives to improve device security, and the related challenges.
A POSTnote that explains what is known about sleep and sleep disorders, the effects of poor sleep on performance, and on physical and mental health. It also describes the role of sleep in the context of public and occupational health, road safety, education and the consumer technology market.
Distributed ledger technology (DLT) is a type of digital records system that allows multiple identical copies of a ledger to be stored on different computers on a network and updated by multiple different users. This POSTbrief provides a technical overview of the different types of DLT and how they work. It discusses some of the main applications of DLT and highlights the benefits and challenges of the technology.
Telecommunications networks are essential for the day-to-day running of UK businesses and public services, however, concerns have been raised recently over their security. This POSTnote outlines the threats to these networks, the ability of networks to cope with disruption, and possible protective measures.
There is growing UK and international interest in using ‘small modular nuclear reactors’ (SMRs) to generate electricity, and the UK Government announced a number of measures to support SMR development in the 2018 Nuclear Sector Deal. Stakeholders suggest that, compared with conventional nuclear reactors, SMRs could offer cost savings to operators and consumers, more flexible energy production and a greater choice of potential sites. This note examines key aspects of SMR technology, their economics and regulation.