The Download: fighting blackouts with battery-swap networks, and AI surgery monitoring

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.

How battery-swap networks are preventing emergency blackouts

On the morning of April 3, Taiwan was hit by a 7.4 magnitude earthquake. Seconds later, hundreds of battery-swap stations in Taiwan sensed something else: the power frequency of the electric grid took a sudden drop, a signal that some power plants had been disconnected in the disaster. The grid was now struggling to meet energy demand.

These stations, built by the Taiwanese company Gogoro for electric-powered two-wheeled vehicles like scooters, mopeds, and bikes, reacted immediately. According to numbers provided by the company, 590 Gogoro battery-swap locations (some of which have more than one swap station) stopped drawing electricity from the grid, lowering local demand by a total six megawatts—enough to power thousands of homes. It took 12 minutes for the grid to recover, and the battery-swap stations then resumed normal operation.

Gogoro is not the only company working on battery-swapping for electric scooters—New York City recently launched a pilot program to give delivery drivers the option to charge this way—but it’s certainly one of the most successful.

Now the company is putting the battery network to another use: Gogoro is working to incorporate the stations into a virtual power plant (VPP) system that helps the Taiwanese grid stay more resilient in emergencies like April’s earthquake. Read the full story.

—Zeyi Yang

What using artificial intelligence to help monitor surgery can teach us

Every year, some 22,000 Americans a year are killed as a result of serious medical errors in hospitals, many of them on operating tables. There have been cases where surgeons have left surgical sponges inside patients’ bodies or performed the wrong procedure altogether.

Teodor Grantcharov, a professor of surgery at Stanford, thinks he has found a tool to make surgery safer and minimize human error: AI-powered “black boxes” in operating theaters that work in a similar way to an airplane’s black box.

These devices, built by Grantcharov’s company Surgical Safety Technologies, record everything in the operating room via panoramic cameras, microphones in the ceiling, and anesthesia monitors before using artificial intelligence to help surgeons make sense of the data. 

These black boxes are in use in almost 40 institutions in the US, Canada, and Western Europe, from Mount Sinai to Duke to the Mayo Clinic. Organizations in all sectors are thinking about how to adopt AI to make things safer or more efficient. What this example from hospitals shows is that the situation is not always clear cut, and there are many pitfalls you need to avoid. Read the full story.

—Melissa Heikkilä

This story is from The Algorithm, our weekly AI newsletter. Sign up to receive it in your inbox every Monday.

The must-reads

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

1 Apple is weaving AI into its apps and devices
It promises that its Apple Intelligence system will preserve user privacy. (NYT $)
+ Crucially, users won’t be strong armed into using ChatGPT. (FT $)
+ If you missed the WWDC keynote, here’s a summary of the key announcements. (WP $)

2 Adobe says it won’t train AI on its customers’ work
Following a major backlash from users who feared just that. (The Verge)
+ Artists are increasingly worried that their work will be reduced to training data. (Slate $)
+ How Adobe’s bet on non-exploitative AI is paying off. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Thermoelectricity between liquid metals has been observed for the first time
It could lead to better-designed liquid batteries. (IEEE Spectrum)
+ Zinc batteries that offer an alternative to lithium just got a big boost. (MIT Technology Review)

4 The Titan submersible disaster could have been avoided
Former Oceangate workers claim its CEO lied about the vessel’s safety. (Wired $)

5 Solar-powered planes are becoming a reality
They’re super light, and super-sustainable. (WSJ $)
+ Everything you need to know about the wild world of alternative jet fuels. (MIT Technology Review)

6 A crowd-measuring AI tool helps cut through protest misinformation
It suggests that the size of a crowd gathered in support of the former Brazilian president Bolsonaro was less than a third of what was claimed. (Rest of World)

7 New tools could lower methane emissions from livestock 🐄
Breeding animals that emit less methane is one approach. (Knowable Magazine)

8 At least advertisers are enjoying the metaverse
Everyone else, not so much. (FT $)
+ Welcome to the oldest part of the metaverse. (MIT Technology Review)

9 AI is helping us to decipher how elephants communicate
They call each other by their names! (The Guardian) 🐘
+ They speak to each other using individualized rumble sounds. (NYT $)

10 TikTok is bringing talk shows to city streets
No studio, no problem. (Insider $)

Quote of the day

“Visitors will have to check their Apple devices at the door, where they will be stored in a Faraday cage.”

—Elon Musk threatens to ban Apple products from his companies if the iPhone maker integrates OpenAI at the operating system level, Reuters reports. 

The big story

Why we can no longer afford to ignore the case for climate adaptation

August 2022

Back in the 1990s, anyone suggesting that we’d need to adapt to climate change while also cutting emissions was met with suspicion. Most climate change researchers felt adaptation studies would distract from the vital work of keeping pollution out of the atmosphere to begin with.

Despite this hostile environment, a handful of experts were already sowing the seeds for a new field of research called “climate change adaptation”: study and policy on how the world could prepare for and adapt to the new disasters and dangers brought forth on a warming planet. Today, their research is more important than ever. Read the full story

—Madeline Ostrander

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction to brighten up your day. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ With the return of House of the Dragon, what’s next for the Game of Thrones franchise?
+ Here’s what top chefs like to put in their sandwiches: barbecue sauce and pickled okra.
+ How not to take the good stuff in life for granted.
+ Save the Long Island cheese pumpkin, and other endangered foods!

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