Leapfrogging cars

Setting standards for electric vehicles could make China a global leader

Can the rapidly expanding automobile industry in China leapfrog to electric vehicles and so avoid the environmental harm that further decades of internal combustion engine use could cause? In a paper published in this month’s International Journal of Automotive Technology and Management, management researchers Hua Wang and Chris Kimble of Euromed Management École de Marseille explain how China could make such a leap by setting standards.

The researchers explain how the idea of leapfrogging, where a newly industrializing nation moves directly to the use of more advanced technologies without following the path of its predecessors, is an attractive idea but is often poorly understood. They suggest that it is especially pertinent in the automobile industry where there is an urgent need to develop technologies that are more sustainable and reduce dependency on oil. Having reviewed previous research in the field, they describe three routes that China might follow as its electric vehicle industry develops and grows.

The first sees China import core technologies from abroad and, using the economies of scale available from its domestic market, take a global lead in volume production. In the second, a lack of clear government policies means that China only grows in one segment of an existing market, such as electric bikes or low-speed electric vehicles.

The researchers concede that neither of these scenarios is likely to be attractive to industry or the Chinese government. “In the first”, they explain “neither the social nor the technological pieces of the puzzle fall into place” and China ends as a volume production leader but a technology follower. In the second, “although the technology works, weak governance means that the potential dominance of a niche market could be lost.”

Their third scenario could prove more advantageous for China. Instead of following the lead of other nations, it could build on its recent domestic legislation on standards for electric vehicles and, through its sheer economic power and prowess in mass production, take the lead in setting the standards for the world market. In doing so China would take the high ground before the other nations were able to catch up and create their own standards.

“Based on its understanding of the technological constraints of EVs and systems of governance that allow it to implement a single standard across a globally significant market, it might be possible for China to implement a paradigm changing leapfrog that will make it a global leader”. However, until the race has been run, all of this will remain speculation. Will China successfully leapfrog to electric vehicles? Only time will tell, the researchers conclude.

“Leapfrogging to electric vehicles: patterns and scenarios for China’s automobile industry” in Int. J. Automotive Technology and Management, 2011, 11, 4, 312-325

The breathless problem of snoring

Anyone who shares a bed with a snorer will know how annoying the nasal noise can be. It’s a point of contention among roommates, campers and in marriages the world over. However, snoring is often accompanied by a much more sinister problem – obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), in which the upper airways can collapse during sleep. It is a known cause of tiredness among snorers but can also lead to high blood pressure and other serious health issues.

Now, researchers in Australia and Japan have used noise analysis to test audio recordings of 5,568 episodes of snoring to reveal that not only is the snoring sound complicated but it seems to follow a non-linear mathematical pattern, which is different from the linear sound pattern researchers had assumed it to follow previously. The discovery might one day help in monitoring chronic snoring to help diagnose the more serious problem of OSA.

Takahiro Emoto of the Institute of Technology and Science, at The University of Tokushima, and colleagues there and at The University of Queensland, in Brisbane, explain that while not everyone who snores suffers from OSA almost everyone with OSA snores. This means that the presence of snoring has not been considered a reliable indicator of OSA. A method of easily diagnosing the condition has therefore remained elusive.

Writing in the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, the team describes an approach to analyzing the sound of snoring that can reveal characteristic audio patterns that, in their preliminary investigation seem to correlate with a likely diagnosis of OSA. These patterns are entirely absent in the snoring of people without OSA. The team has carried out early tests of their analytical approach to snoring on a small group of just 27 volunteers, which suggests they might be able to reveal which snorers also suffer from OSA on the basis of this sound analysis. More work needs to be done before such a test can be validated for clinical use.

Research Blogging IconTakahiro Emoto, Udantha R. Abeyratne, Masatake Akutagawa, Yohsuke Kinouchi, & Shinsuke Konaka (2011). Testing the system non-linearity in snoring sound via neural networks Int. J. Medical Engineering and Informatics, 3 (3), 299-310

Detecting glaucoma before it blinds

Early detection and diagnosis of open angle glaucoma important so that treatment can be used in the early stages of the disease developing to prevent or avoid further vision loss. Writing in a forthcoming issue of the International Journal of Medical Engineering and Informatics, researchers in the US have analyzed and ranked the various risk factors for open angle glaucoma so that patients can be screened at an earlier stage if they are more likely to develop the condition.

Glaucoma is one of the main leading causes of blindness; it is a progressive and irreversible disease. Of the various forms of glaucoma, open angle glaucoma (OAG) is the most common and can cause the most damage. Unfortunately, unless a patient is undergoing regular screening from about the age of 40 years because of a family history, it is otherwise difficult to detect until substantial and irreversible vision loss has occurred. Glaucoma is the third leading cause of blindness worldwide and the second leading cause of blindness in the USA.

Now, Duo Zhou and colleagues at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Newark, have used statistical collinearity analysis to evaluate risk factors for OAG, and logistic regression models to identify a minimum set of such risk factors for prognosis and diagnosis of the disease. Their study was based on more than 400 patients with subtle or severe vision problems who attended hospital. It reveals the relative risk of being a smoker, age, visual “field test” results, presence of a localized notch or thinning of the neuroretinal rim identified during standard eye examination, cup to disk ratio (a measure of restriction of the optic nerve at the back of the eye) and other factors.

The data are complex and separating out predictors from diagnostic factors was difficult, the team admits. However, they suggest that family history, medical history, current medications, geographic location, visual field test and ocular examination must all be considered in diagnosis and prognosis for OAG. They have excluded certain factors from the OAG prognosis: gender, race, family history of glaucoma, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, thyroid disease, migraine, Reynaud’s disease and myopia as these have no direct effect on OAG development.

As revealed in the analyses, the odds of developing OAG will be increased by 91% with an increase in the Cup-to-Disc ratio of 0.1. Risk increases by 3% annually by age but decreases by 31% for every dB increase of mean deviation of Humphrey visual field. The odds of developing OAG will be 4.36 higher for patients with abnormal Humphrey visual filed overall test, 7.19 higher in patients with localized notch or thinning of the neuroretinal rim. Interestingly, patients with a smoking history seem to be less likely to develop OAG as compared to those with smoking history; although there are many smokers with OAG. Oddly, because of the location of the study, the team can also say that patients living in Atlantic/Quebec will be 73% less likely to develop OAG compared to their fellow Canadians in Ontario.

“Risk factors for open angle glaucoma – analyses using logistic regression” in Int. J. Medical Engineering and Informatics, 2011, 3, 203-222