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New 'cyborg' spinal implant attaches directly to the spine and could help paralysed to walk again

New 'cyborg' spinal implant attaches directly to the spine and could help paralysed to walk again | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Paralysed patients have been given new hope of recovery after rats with severe spinal injuries walked again through a ‘groundbreaking’ new cyborg-style implant. In technology which could have come straight out of a science fiction novel or Hollwood movie, French scientists have created a thin prosthetic ribbon, embedded with electrodes, which lies along the spinal cord and delivers electrical impulses and drugs.

The prosthetic, described by British experts as ‘quite remarkable’, is soft enough to bend with tissue surrounding the backbone to avoid discomfort.


Paralysed rats who were fitted with the implant were able to walk on their own again after just a few weeks of training. Researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne are hoping to move to clinical trials in humans soon. They believe that a device could last 10 years in humans before needing to be replaced. 


The implant, called ‘e-Dura’, is so effective because it mimics the soft tissue around the spine – known as the dura mater – so that the body does not reject its presence. “Our e-Dura implant can remain for a long period of time on the spinal cord or cortex,” said Professor Stéphanie Lacour.


“This opens up new therapeutic possibilities for patients suffering from neurological trauma or disorders, particularly individuals who have become paralyzed following spinal cord injury.” Previous experiments had shown that chemicals and electrodes implanted in the spine could take on the role of the brain and stimulate nerves, causing the rats' legs to move involuntarily when they were placed on a treadmill.


However the new gadget is flexible and stretchy enough that it can be placed directly onto the spinal cord. It closely imitates the mechanical properties of living tissue, and can simultaneously deliver electric impulses and drugs which activate cells. The implant is made of silicon and covered with gold electric conducting tracks that can be pulled and stretched. The electrodes are made of silicon and platinum microbeads which can also bend in any direction without breaking.


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Mike Dele's curator insight, March 21, 1:50 AM

This research is astounding and it will be most valued in Africa.

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World Energy Outlook: In 2040, Fossil Fuels Will Still Reign

World Energy Outlook: In 2040, Fossil Fuels Will Still Reign | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

By 2040, the world’s energy supply mix will be divided into nearly four equal parts; Oil, gas, coal and low-carbon sources—nuclear and renewables—according to the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) 2014 World Energy OutlookThe assessment by the IEA finds that under current and planned policies, the average temperature will also increase by 3.6 degrees Celsius by 2100. Renewable energy takes a far greater role in new electricity supply in the near future—expanding from about 1700 gigawatts today to 4550 gigawatts in 2040—but it is not enough to offset the global dominance of fossil fuels.


“As our global energy system grows and transforms, signs of stress continue to emerge,” IEA Executive Director Maria van der Hoeven, said in a statement. “But renewables are expected to go from strength to strength, and it is incredible that we can now see a point where they become the world’s number one source of electricity generation.”


Renewable energy production will double as a share of world electricity demand by 2040, according to the report. But that still does not dethrone coal in electricity generation. Coal will simply shift regionally from the United States and China to Southeast Asia and India, according to the EIA.


The least attractive piece of all, energy efficiency, is poised to be a winner in coming decades and could have an even greater impact if some of the world’s largest energy users carry through with proposed efficiency plans. Efficiency measures are set to halve the global growth in energy demand from 2 percent annually to about 1 percent beginning in 2025, according to the IEA.


Efficiency standards for cars and more stringent energy efficiency targets for industry and everyday devices are key to slowing the demand for energy, but they do not necessarily help diminish the world’ reliance on fossil fuels because the true price of fossil fuels are not acurately reflected in the price people pay in some regions.


Fossil fuels receive about $550 billion in subsidies in 2013, compared to $120 billion for all renewable energies. Although the fossil fuel subsidies were $25 billion lower than 2012, there is still vast room for improvement to end price breaks for the mature industries, especially in gas and oil-rich nations, which offer the bulk of the subsidies.

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pdeppisch's comment, December 15, 2014 4:20 PM
Except that the world will not be recognizable in 2040!
J. Steven Sprenger ✔'s curator insight, December 16, 2014 4:07 PM

Disruptive technologies, as the article points out, could be the game changer that could change these projections. 

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Experiment demonstrates direct brain to brain interface between humans

Experiment demonstrates direct brain to brain interface between humans | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

University of Washington researchers have successfully replicated a direct brain-to-brain connection between pairs of people as part of a scientific study following the team’s initial demonstration a year ago. In the newly published study, which involved six people, researchers were able to transmit the signals from one person’s brain over the Internet and use these signals to control the hand motions of another person within a split second of sending that signal.


At the time of the first experiment in August 2013, the UW team was the first to demonstrate two human brains communicating in this way. The researchers then tested their brain-to-brain interface in a more comprehensive study, published Nov. 5 in the journal PLOS ONE ("A Direct Brain-to-Brain Interface in Humans").


“The new study brings our brain-to-brain interfacing paradigm from an initial demonstration to something that is closer to a deliverable technology,” said co-author Andrea Stocco, a research assistant professor of psychology and a researcher at UW’s Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences. “Now we have replicated our methods and know that they can work reliably with walk-in participants.”


In this photo, UW students Darby Losey, left, and Jose Ceballos are positioned in two different buildings on campus as they would be during a brain-to-brain interface demonstration. The sender, left, thinks about firing a cannon at various points throughout a computer game. That signal is sent over the Web directly to the brain of the receiver, right, whose hand hits a touchpad to fire the cannon.

Read more: Study shows direct brain interface between humans (w/video) 

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New System Lets Humans Control Mouse Genes With Their Thoughts

New System Lets Humans Control Mouse Genes With Their Thoughts | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Scientists have been able to tinker with the genes of other organisms for some time now—that’s nothing new. But controlling genes in another animal using only your thoughts? Sounds a rather insane idea that wouldn’t be out of place in a Sci-Fi movie, but it turns out it’s now possible, thanks to a newly-developed mind-controlled system.


As described in the journal Nature Communications, the system works by using brain waves from human participants to activate a light inside a mouse’s brain, which then switches on a particular set of genes. This marks the first time that synthetic biology has been linked to the mind, and the authors believe this work could lead to the development of novel ways totreat medical conditions. For example, the technology could one day be used to instantly deliver drugs when epileptic patients are about to experience a seizure. However, the authors note that the study is very much proof-of-concept at the moment.


To create the system, scientists from ETH Zurich married up two different technologies that were already in existence. The first is a brain computer interface (BCI) device that is capable of processing brain waves recorded by an electroencephalography (EEG) headset. Recently, this system allowed paralysed people to power a robotic arm using their thoughts. The second is a method called optogenetics which uses light to control specific events within cells.


The researchers started off by inserting a gene from a species of bacteria that uses light as a source of energy into designer human kidney cells. This gene is responsible for the production of a protein that is responsive to near-infrared light. The cells were engineered in such a way that when this protein is activated, a cascade of events are triggered that ultimately switch on a different gene that encodes a specific human protein. Alongside an infrared LED light that can be activated wirelessly, these cells were put inside a tiny implant that was inserted into the brain of a mouse.


Next, the researchers recorded the brain waves of eight volunteers while they were either meditating or concentrating. These activities produce different signatures of brain activity, which can then be recognized and processed by the EEG headset they were wearing. This information was then fed wirelessly into the brain implant, and if a particular threshold of brain activity was reached, the LED was switched on.


Via Neelima Sinha
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Neelima Sinha's curator insight, November 12, 2014 5:29 PM

Mind control of gene expression, Wild!

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Man vs. Machine: Will Computers Soon Become More Intelligent Than Us?

Man vs. Machine: Will Computers Soon Become More Intelligent Than Us? | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Computers might soon become more intelligent than us. Some of the best brains in Silicon Valley are now trying to work out what happens next.


Nate Soares, a former Google engineer, is weighing up the chances of success for the project he is working on. He puts them at only about 5 per cent. But the odds he is calculating aren’t for some new smartphone app. Instead, Soares is talking about something much more arresting: whether programmers like him will be able to save mankind from extinction at the hands of its own most powerful creation.


The object of concern – both for him and the Machine Intelligence Research Institute (Miri), whose offices these are – is artificial intelligence (AI). Super-smart machines with malicious intent are a staple of science fiction, from the soft-spoken Hal 9000 to the scarily violent Skynet. But the AI that people like Soares believe is coming mankind’s way, very probably before the end of this century, would be much worse.


Besides Soares, there are probably only four computer scientists in the world currently working on how to programme the super-smart machines of the not-too-distant future to make sure AI remains “friendly”, says Luke Muehlhauser, Miri’s director. It isn’t unusual to hear people express big thoughts about the future in Silicon Valley these days – though most of the technology visions are much more benign. It sometimes sounds as if every entrepreneur, however trivial the start-up, has taken a leaf from Google’s mission statement and is out to “make the world a better place”.


Warnings have lately grown louder. Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking, writing earlier this year, said that AI would be “the biggest event in human history”. But he added: “Unfortunately, it might also be the last.”


Elon Musk – whose successes with electric cars (through Tesla Motors) and private space flight (SpaceX) have elevated him to almost superhero status in Silicon Valley – has also spoken up. Several weeks ago, he advised his nearly 1.2 million Twitter followers to read Superintelligence, a book about the dangers of AI, which has made him think the technology is “potentially more dangerous than nukes”. Mankind, as Musk sees it, might be like a computer program whose usefulness ends once it has started up a more complex piece of software. “Hope we’re not just the biological boot loader for digital superintelligence,” he tweeted. “Unfortunately, that is increasingly probable.”

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Google X project plans to use magnetic nanoparticles and wearable sensor to detect diseases

Google X project plans to use magnetic nanoparticles and wearable sensor to detect diseases | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Google announced a new “Nanoparticle Platform” project Tuesday to develop medical diagnostic technology using nanoparticles, Andrew Conrad, head of the Google X Life Sciences team, disclosed at The Wall Street Journal’s WSJD Live conference. The idea is to use nanoparticles with magnetic cores circulating in the bloodstream with recognition molecules to detect cancer, plaques, or too much sodium, for example.


There are a number of similar research projects using magnetic (and other) nanoparticles in progress, as reported onKurzweilAI. What’s new in the Google project is delivering nanoparticles to the bloodstream via a pill and using a wearable wrist detector to detect the nanoparticles’ magnetic field and read out diagnostic results.


But this is an ambitious moonshot project. “Google is at least five to seven years away from a product approved for use by doctors,” said Sam Gambhir, chairman of radiology at Stanford University Medical School, who has been advising Dr. Conrad on the project for more than a year, the WSJ reports.


“Even if Google can make the system work, it wouldn’t immediately be clear how to interpret the results. That is why Dr. Conrad’s team started the Baseline study [see “New Google X Project to look for disease and health patterns in collected data”], which he hopes will create a benchmark for comparisons.”

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Geneticist George Church: A Future Without Limits

Geneticist George Church: A Future Without Limits | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In the future, George Church believes, almost everything will be better because of genetics. If you have a medical problem, your doctor will be able to customize a treatment based on your specific DNA pattern. When you fill up your car, you won't be draining the world's dwindling supply of crude oil, because the fuel will come from microbes that have been genetically altered to produce biofuel. When you visit the zoo, you'll be able to take your children to the woolly mammoth or passenger pigeon exhibits, because these animals will no longer be extinct. You'll be able to do these things, that is, if the future turns out the way Church envisions it—and he's doing everything he can to see that it does.


In 2005 he launched the Personal Genome Project, with the goal of sequencing and sharing the DNA of 100,000 volunteers. With an open-source database of that size, he believes, researchers everywhere will be able to meaningfully pursue the critical task of correlating genetic patterns with physical traits, illnesses, and exposure to environmental factors to find new cures for diseases and to gain basic insights into what makes each of us the way we are. Church, tagged as subject hu43860C, was first in line for testing. Since then, more than 13,000 people in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. have volunteered to join him, helping to establish what he playfully calls the Facebook of DNA.


Church has made a career of defying the impossible. Propelled by the dizzying speed of technological advancement since then, the Personal Genome Project is just one of Church's many attempts to overcome obstacles standing between him and the future.


"It's not for everyone," he says. "But I see a trend here. Openness has changed since many of us were young. People didn't use to talk about sexuality or cancer in polite society. This is the Facebook generation." If individuals were told which diseases or medical conditions they were genetically predisposed to, they could adjust their behavior accordingly, he reasoned. Although universal testing still isn't practical today, the cost of sequencing an individual genome has dropped dramatically in recent years, from about $7 million in 2007 to as little as $1,000 today.


"It's all too easy to dismiss the future," he says. "People confuse what's impossible today with what's impossible tomorrow.", especially through the emerging discipline of "synthetic" biology. The basic idea behind synthetic biology, he explained, was that natural organisms could be reprogrammed to do things they wouldn't normally do, things that might be useful to people. In pursuit of this, researchers had learned not only how to read the genetic code of organisms but also how to write new code and insert it into organisms. Besides making plastic, microbes altered in this way had produced carpet fibers, treated wastewater, generated electricity, manufactured jet fuel, created hemoglobin, and fabricated new drugs. But this was only the tip of the iceberg, Church wrote. The same technique could also be used on people.


"Every cell in our body, whether it's a bacterial cell or a human cell, has a genome," he says. "You can extract that genome—it's kind of like a linear tape—and you can read it by a variety of methods. Similarly, like a string of letters that you can read, you can also change it. You can write, you can edit it, and then you can put it back in the cell."


This April, the Broad Institute, where Church holds a faculty appointment, was awarded a patent for a new method of genome editing called CRISPR (clustered regularly interspersed short palindromic repeats), which Church says is one of the most effective tools ever developed for synthetic biology. By studying the way that certain bacteria defend themselves against viruses, researchers figured out how to precisely cut DNA at any location on the genome and insert new material there to alter its function. Last month, researchers at MIT announced they had used CRISPR to cure mice of a rare liver disease that also afflicts humans. At the same time, researchers at Virginia Tech said they were experimenting on plants with CRISPR to control salt tolerance, improve crop yield, and create resistance to pathogens.


The possibilities for CRISPR technology seem almost limitless, Church says. If researchers have stored a genetic sequence in a computer, they can order a robot to produce a piece of DNA from the data. That piece can then be put into a cell to change the genome. Church believes that CRISPR is so promising that last year he co-founded a genome-editing company, Editas, to develop drugs for currently incurable diseases.

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This Device Lets Fully Paralyzed Rats Walk Again, and Human Trials Are Planned

This Device Lets Fully Paralyzed Rats Walk Again, and Human Trials Are Planned | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

In the past few years, there have been some pretty impressive breakthroughs for those suffering from partial paralysis, but a frustrating lack of successes when it comes to those who are fully paralyzed. But a new technique pioneered by scientists working on project NEUWalk at the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology (EPFL) have figured out a way to reactivate the severed spinal cords of fully paralyzed rats, allowing them to walk again via remote control. And, the researchers say, their system is just about ready for human trials.


Previous studies have had some success in using epidural electrical stimulation (EES) to improve motor control in rodents and humans with spinal cord injuries. However, electrocuting neurons in order to get allow natural walking is no easy task, and it requires extremely quick and precise stimulation. 


As the researchers wrote in a study published in Science Translational Medicine, "manual adjustment of pulse width, amplitude, and frequency" of the electrical signal being supplied to the spinal cord was required in EES treatment, until now. 


Manual adjustments don't exactly work when you're trying to walk.

The team developed algorithms that can generate and accommodate feedback in real-time during leg movement, making motion natural. Well, sort of. We’re talking about rats with severed spinal cords hooked up to electrodes being controlled by advanced algorithms, after all.


"We have complete control of the rat's hind legs," EPFL neuroscientist Grégoire Courtine said in a statement. "The rat has no voluntary control of its limbs, but the severed spinal cord can be reactivated and stimulated to perform natural walking. We can control in real-time how the rat moves forward and how high it lifts its legs."

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Next-Gen Glaucoma Treatments: Microfluidic Implant And Smart Phone App Monitoring

Next-Gen Glaucoma Treatments: Microfluidic Implant And Smart Phone App Monitoring | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Stanford Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics, Stephen Quake, and Head of the Ophthalmic Science and Engineering Lab at Bar Ilan University Dr. Yossi Mandell teamed up to create a state-of-the-art intraocular implant that will change glaucoma treatment by making intraocular pressure readings frequent, easy and convenient.


Made to fit inside a commonly used intraocular lens prosthetic, and implanted through simple surgery such as for cataracts which many glaucoma patients already receive, the device measures the pressure of the fluid within the eye.  A smart phone app or a wearable device such as Google Glass allows the wearer to take “snapshots” of the device that reports back the pressure.


The lens device holds a tiny tube, capped at one end and opened on the other, filled with gas. As the fluid pressure pushes against the gas, a marked scale permits reading of the intraocular pressure.  The implant does not interfere with vision, as proven in an Air Force-approved vision test, and in one reported study the implant was responsible for changes to treatment for glaucoma in nearly 80 percent of the wearers.


Nearly 2.2 million Americans battle the eye disease glaucoma.  Patients endure weekly visits to the ophthalmologist to have the disease monitored and treated. The disease is characterized by increasing pressure inside the eye, which results in a continuous loss of a specific type of retinal cell accompanied by degradation of the optic nerve fiber.  The mechanism that links pressure to damage is not clear but there is correlation between the intensity of pressure readings and level of damage.

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Google's fact-checking bots are automatically building the Knowledge Vault for access to the world's facts

Google's fact-checking bots are automatically building the Knowledge Vault for access to the world's facts | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

The search giant is automatically building Knowledge Vault, a massive database that could give us unprecedented access to the world's facts

GOOGLE is building the largest store of knowledge in human history – and it's doing so without any human help.


Instead, Knowledge Vault autonomously gathers and merges information from across the web into a single base of facts about the world, and the people and objects in it.


The breadth and accuracy of this gathered knowledge is already becoming the foundation of systems that allow robots and smartphones to understand what people ask them. It promises to let Google answer questions like an oracle rather than a search engine, and even to turn a new lens on human history.


Knowledge Vault is a type of "knowledge base" – a system that stores information so that machines as well as people can read it. Where a database deals with numbers, a knowledge base deals with facts. When you type "Where was Madonna born" into Google, for example, the place given is pulled from Google's existing knowledge base.


This existing base, called Knowledge Graph, relies on crowdsourcing to expand its information. But the firm noticed that growth was stalling; humans could only take it so far.


So Google decided it needed to automate the process. It started building the Vault by using an algorithm to automatically pull in information from all over the web, using machine learning to turn the raw data into usable pieces of knowledge.


Knowledge Vault has pulled in 1.6 billion facts to date. Of these, 271 million are rated as "confident facts", to which Google's model ascribes a more than 90 per cent chance of being true. It does this by cross-referencing new facts with what it already knows.


"It's a hugely impressive thing that they are pulling off," says Fabian Suchanek, a data scientist at Télécom ParisTech in France. Google's Knowledge Graph is currently bigger than the Knowledge Vault, but it only includes manually integrated sources such as the CIA Factbook.


Knowledge Vault offers Google fast, automatic expansion of its knowledge – and it's only going to get bigger. As well as the ability to analyse text on a webpage for facts to feed its knowledge base, Google can also peer under the surface of the web, hunting for hidden sources of data such as the figures that feed Amazon product pages, for example.


Tom Austin, a technology analyst at Gartner in Boston, says that the world's biggest technology companies are racing to build similar vaults. "Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon and IBM are all building them, and they're tackling these enormous problems that we would never even have thought of trying 10 years ago," he says.

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Computer generated math proof is too large for humans to check

Computer generated math proof is too large for humans to check | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

A pair of mathematicians, Alexei Lisitsa and Boris Konev of the University of Liverpool, U.K., have come up with an interesting problem—if a computer produces a proof of a math problem that is too big to study, can it be judged as true anyway? In a paper they've uploaded to the preprint server arXiv, the two describe how they set a computer program to proving a small part of what's known as "Erdős discrepancy problem"—the proof produced a data file that was 13-gigabytes in size—far too large for any human to check, leading to questions as to whether the proof can be taken as a real proof.

Anyone who has taken a high level math course can attest to the fact that math proofs can sometimes grow long—very long. Some mathematicians have dedicated years to creating them, filling whole text volumes in the process. Quite naturally then, mathematicians have increasingly turned to computers to perform some of the more mundane parts of proof creation. It wasn't long, however, before some began to realize that at some point, the proofs spit out by the computer would be too long, complicated or both for a human reader to fully comprehend. It appears, with this new effort that that day might have come.


Erdős discrepancy problem revolves around trying to find patterns in an infinite list of just the two numbers "1" and "-1". Named after Paul Erdős, the discrepancy problem arises when cutting off the infinite sequence at some point and then creating a finite sequence using a defined constant. When the numbers are added up, the result is called the discrepancy figure. Lisitsa and Konev entered the problem (with a discrepancy constant of 2) into a computer running what they describe as state of the art SAT solvers—software that has been written to create mathematical proofs. The proof that the computer came up with proves, the two researchers claim, "that no sequence of length 1161 and discrepancy 2 exists."


Unfortunately the file produced was too large to read—for comparison's sake, it was a couple of gigabytes larger than the whole of Wikipedia. This leads to an interesting conundrum for mathematicians going forward.


Do we begin accepting proofs that computers create as actual proofs if they are too long or perhaps too difficult for our minds to comprehend? If so, we might just be at a crossroads. Do we trust computers to handle things for us that our beyond our abilities, or constrain our reach by refusing to allow for the creation of things that we cannot ever possibly understand?

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In-car heads-up display lets you respond to texts with hand motions and voice

In-car heads-up display lets you respond to texts with hand motions and voice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

We've seen companies take a few stabs at smartphone-savvy heads-up displays for cars, but they tend to be one-way devices -- while they'll feed you info, you still have to reach for your phone to answer a message or get directions. Navdy may just have a smarter solution in store. Its namesake HUD not only projects car stats, navigation and notifications, but lets you interact with them through a blend of gestures and speech. You swipe with your fingers to either respond to or dismiss any alert that comes in; the system leans on the built-in voice commands from Android and iOS, so you can tell Navdy to get directions in Google Maps or play iTunes music as if you were speaking to the phone itself.


Navdy announced on 8/5/2014 a Head­Up Display (HUD) aftermarket car console that allows drivers to access their smartphone’s apps while keeping their eyes on the road. Navdy combines a high quality projection display with voice and gesture controls to create a safer, highly intuitive driving experience. Combining advanced display technology with touch­less controls means drivers no longer need to fumble around with their phone to navigate, communicate or control their music. Navdy's display technology projects a bright transparent image directly within your field of vision that appears to float six feet in front of your windshield, allowing you to keep your eyes on the road while simultaneously seeing navigation instructions or incoming phone calls. The device comes with advanced dimming and stabilization controls, to optimize usability in any driving conditions.


Due to voice and gesture controls, you’ll never need to look away from the road to use Navdy. Your app’s simplified Navdy menus can be navigated with intuitive hand gestures. Voice recognition captures more complex commands and text message responses. Navdy’s noise cancellation and wide angle gesture sensors are specifically designed to create an optical driving experience.

The device mounts on a flexible footer that fits on practically any car dashboard, and is powered by plugging in to the onboard computer (OBD II port), available in all cars produced since 1996. This makes the only required cord less intrusive, while providing car status information to the Navdy processor.

Navdy works with popular navigation apps like Google Maps to display turn­by­turn directions; it controls your music apps like Spotify, Pandora, or Google Music; it reads or displays notifications from text messages or social media apps, fully controlled by its Parental Control settings; and it displays car alerts such as true­speed, miles­to­empty, or battery­voltage from its access to the car’s computer.

Navdy works with iPhone (iOS 7+) and Android (4.3+) smartphones, and can move easily to another car or another smartphone. Once a Navdy has been paired over bluetooth for the first time, it can share data with your phone over wifi. Navdy does not require it’s own data subscription service. Initial device dashboard placement takes 60­90 seconds. Slightly longer if you read instructions.


The company is getting its display off the ground through crowdfunding. If you're willing to commit within the first 30 days, you can pay $299 for a Navdy unit instead of the $499 it will cost when it ships in early 2015.

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Elon Musk Says Artificial Intelligence Could Be More Dangerous Than Nuclear Weapons

Elon Musk Says Artificial Intelligence Could Be More Dangerous Than Nuclear Weapons | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

When Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, comments on the future, ears in the tech space perk up. But a weekend mini-rant from the futurist drew the attention of even some non-techies and revealed that he's more worried about an artificial intelligence (A.I.) apocalypse than he's let on in recent months.


Posting his thoughts to Twitter on Saturday, after recommending a book about A.I., Musk made what might be the most controversial technology statement of his career: "We need to be super careful with A.I. Potentially more dangerous than nukes."


Others, like Google's Ray Kurzweil, have discussed a technological "singularity," in which A.I.'s take over from humans, but rarely has such a high profile voice with real ties to the technology business put the prospect in such stark terms.


To be fair, Musk's thoughts should be considered within the context he made them, that is, suggesting the book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, a work by Nick Bostrom that asks major questions about how humanity will cope with super-intelligent computers in the future.


Nevertheless, the comparison of A.I. to nuclear weapons, a threat that has cast a worrying shadow over much of the last 30 years in terms of humanity's longevity possibly being cut short by a nuclear war, immediately raises a couple of questions.


The first, and most likely from many quarters, will be to question Musk's future-casting. Some may use Musk's A.I. concerns — which remain fantastical to many — as proof that his predictions regarding electric cars and commercial space travel are the visions of someone who has seen too many science fiction films. "If Musk really thinks robots might destroy humanity, maybe we need to dismiss his long view thoughts on other technologies." Those essays are likely already being written.


In recent years, Musk's most science fiction-inspired comments have revolved around colonizing Mars, but this latest comment, and the one he made back in June about fearing a "Terminator" future, indicate that this is a serious issue for the tech mogul. As for whether his concerns hold any weight, we can't be sure, just yet, but Musk is hedging his bets by investing in an artificial intelligence research company called Vicarious.


Apparently, although not as vocal about it, others in the tech space agree with Musk's investment approach toward super-intelligent machines. Investors in Vicarious include the likes of Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg and Amazon's Jeff Bezos.

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IT's curator insight, August 5, 2014 4:34 PM

Raději varovat dříve než-li později litovat 

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The High-Tech Future of the Uterus: Scientists are pursuing the new frontier of a bioengineered womb

The High-Tech Future of the Uterus: Scientists are pursuing the new frontier of a bioengineered womb | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Following the recent success of the world's first uterus transplant, scientists are pursuing the new frontier of the bioengineered womb.


Bioengineered organs have a number of practical advantages over donor transplants, including the fact that recipients wouldn’t need to take immunosuppressants for the rest of their lives, as transplant recipients typically do to prevent their bodies from rejecting the new organ. “A bio-regenerated uterus allows you to avoid immunosuppression, and you get rid of the risks of surgery for the person donating the uterus,” says Dr. Arthur Caplan, director of the Division of Medical Ethics at the NYU Langone Medical Center. “The failure rates of transplanted organs are high, and we don’t have enough organs. Bioengineered organs are definitely the long-term solution.”


But the bioengineered uterus is years, if not decades, away. Hellström’s research group at the University of Gothenburg is on the cutting edge with their recent experiments in rat-uterus decellularization, a process that involves removing cells from tissue, leaving behind only the extracellular matrix (ECM), which then serves as a 3-D scaffold for introducing new cells. Yet Hellström laughed at my suggestion that artificial-uterus transplants might be available within 10 years: “Look at how long it took my colleague [Mäts Brannström] to develop the live-donor uterus transplant: 15 years of nonstop work. Now I have the same journey to make, the only difference being that my colleagues started with perfect material to transplant. I’m constructing the material as well.”


Years ago, the theoretical possibility of an artificial uterus gave rise to the idea of gestating a baby outside the mother’s body rather than transplanting the organ. This came to be called “Baby in a Box” after journalist Natalie Angier’s widely-read 1999 New York Times Magazine article of the same title. Angier predicted that the artificial uterus was “coming, if not in 10 years, then in 15 or 50.” The introduction to a 2006 anthology of bioethics essays, titled Ectogenesis: Artificial-Womb Technology and the Future of Human Reproductionpredicted that “we might soon see the day when a woman’s contribution to the birth of a live baby will be similar to that of a man, namely, both will only need to provide or donate gametes.”


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Hooking Up The Brain To A Computer: Human Cyborgs Reveal How We Learn

Hooking Up The Brain To A Computer: Human Cyborgs Reveal How We Learn | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Hooking the brain up to a computer can do more than let the severely disabled move artificial limbs. It is also revealing the secrets of how we learn


When the patient Scheuermann began losing control of her muscles in 1996, due to her genetic disorder—spinocerebellar degeneration— she gave up her successful business as a planner of murder-mystery-themed events. By 2002 her disease had confined her to a wheelchair, which she now operates by flexing her chin up and down. She retains control of the muscles only in her head and neck. “The signals are not getting from my brain to my nerves,” she explains. “My brain is saying, ‘Lift up!’ to my arm, and my arm is saying, ‘I caaaan't heeeear you.’”


Yet technology now exists to extract those brain commands and shuttle them directly to a robotic arm, bypassing the spinal cord and limbs. Inside Scheuermann's brain are two grids of electrodes roughly the size of a pinhead that were surgically implanted in her motor cortex, a band of tissue on the surface of the brain that controls movement. The electrodes detect the rate at which about 150 of her neurons fire. Thick cables plugged into her scalp relay their electrical activity to a lab computer. As Scheuerman thinks about moving the arm, she produces patterns of electrical oscillations that software on the computer can interpret and translate into digital commands to position the robotic limb. Maneuvering the arm and hand, she can clasp a bar of chocolate or a piece of string cheese before bringing the food to her mouth.


When neuroscientists first set out to develop brain-controlled prostheses, they assumed they would simply record neural activity passively, as if taping a speech at a conference. The transcript produced by the monitored neurons would then be translated readily into digital commands to manipulate a prosthetic arm or leg. “Early on there was this thought that you could really decode the mind,” says neuroscientist Karunesh Ganguly of the University of California, San Francisco.


Yet the brain is not static. This extraordinarily complex organ evolved to let its owner react swiftly to changing conditions related to food, mates and predators. The electrical activity whirring inside an animal's head morphs constantly to integrate new information as the external milieu shifts.


Ganguly's postdoctoral adviser, neuroscientist Jose M. Carmena of the University of California, Berkeley, wondered whether the brain might adapt to a prosthetic device as well. That an implant could induce immediate changes in brain activity—what scientists call neuroplasticity—was apparent even in 1969, when Eberhard Fetz, a young neuroscientist at the University of Washington, reported on an electrode placed in a monkey's brain to record a single neuron. Fetz decided to reward the animal with a banana-flavored pellet every time that neuron revved up. To his surprise, the creature quickly learned how to earn itself more bites of fake banana. This revelation—that a monkey could be trained to control the firing rate of an arbitrary neuron in its brain—is what Stanford University neuroscientist Krishna Shenoy calls the “Nobel Prize moment” in the field of brain-computer interfaces.


Scientists were beginning to discover, however, that neurons can adjust their tuning in response to the software. In a 2009 study Carmena and Ganguly detailed two key ways that neurons begin to learn. Two monkeys spent several days practicing with a robotic arm. As their dexterity improved, their neurons changed their preferred direction (to point down rather than to the right, for example) and broadened the range of firing rates they were capable of emitting. These tuning adjustments gave the neurons the ability to issue more precise commands when they dispatched their missives.

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40,000-year-old blood brings mammoth cloning closer

40,000-year-old blood brings mammoth cloning closer | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
Mammoth cloning is closer to becoming a reality following the discovery of blood in the best-preserved specimen ever found.


An autopsy on a 40,000-year-old mammoth has yielded blood that could contain enough intact DNA to make cloning possible, galvanising scientists who have been working for years to bring back the extinct elephant relative. Tests are still being conducted on the blood to see if it will yield a complete genome – the genetic code necessary to build an organism.


The mammoth (nicknamed Buttercup) was discovered in 2013 on Maly Lyakhovsky Island in northern Siberia and excavated from the permafrost. The flesh was remarkably well-preserved, and oozed a dark red liquid when scientists cut into it. That liquid has now been confirmed as blood, following an autopsy conducted by scientists including Museum palaeobiologist Dr Tori Herridge.


'As a palaeontologist, you normally have to imagine the extinct animals you work on,' said Dr Herridge. 'So actually coming face-to-face with a mammoth in the flesh, and being up to my elbows in slippery, wet, and frankly rather smelly mammoth liver, counts as one of the most incredible experiences of my life.' The South Korean firm Sooam Biotech Research Foundation is leading the research project.

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Google[x] Reveals Nano Pill To Seek Out Cancerous Cells

Google[x] Reveals Nano Pill To Seek Out Cancerous Cells | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Detecting cancer could be as easy as popping a pill in the near future. Google’s head of life sciences, Andrew Conrad, took to the stage at the Wall Street Journal Digital conference to reveal that the tech giant’s secretive Google[x] lab has been working on a wearable device that couples with nanotechnology to detect disease within the body.


“We’re passionate about switching from reactive to proactive and we’re trying to provide the tools that make that feasible,” explained Conrad. This is a third project in a series of health initiatives for Google[x]. The team has already developed a smart contact lens that detects glucose levels for diabetics and utensils that help manage hand tremors in Parkinson’s patients.


The plan is to test whether tiny particles coated “magnetized” with antibodies can catch disease in its nascent stages. The tiny particles are essentially programmed to spread throughout the body via pill and then latch on to the abnormal cells. The wearable device then “calls” the nanoparticles back to ask them what’s going on with the body and to find out if the person who swallowed the pill has cancer or other diseases.


“Think of it as sort of like a mini self-driving car,” Conrad simplified with a clear reference to Google[x]‘s vehicular project. “We can make it park where we want it to.” Conrad went on with the car theme, saying the body is more important than a car and comparing our present healthcare system as something that basically only tries to change our oil after we’ve broken down. “We wouldn’t do that with a car,” he added.

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New brain decoder algorithm can eavesdrop on your inner voice

New brain decoder algorithm can eavesdrop on your inner voice | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

As you read this, your neurons are firing – that brain activity can now be decoded to reveal the silent words in your head. TALKING to yourself used to be a strictly private pastime. That's no longer the case – researchers have eavesdropped on our internal monologue for the first time. The achievement is a step towards helping people who cannot physically speak communicate with the outside world.


"If you're reading text in a newspaper or a book, you hear a voice in your own head," says Brian Pasley at the University of California, Berkeley. "We're trying to decode the brain activity related to that voice to create a medical prosthesis that can allow someone who is paralysed or locked in to speak."


When you hear someone speak, sound waves activate sensory neurons in your inner ear. These neurons pass information to areas of the brain where different aspects of the sound are extracted and interpreted as words.


In a previous study, Pasley and his colleagues recorded brain activity in people who already had electrodes implanted in their brain to treat epilepsy, while they listened to speech. The team found that certain neurons in the brain's temporal lobe were only active in response to certain aspects of sound, such as a specific frequency. One set of neurons might only react to sound waves that had a frequency of 1000 hertz, for example, while another set only cares about those at 2000 hertz. Armed with this knowledge, the team built an algorithm that could decode the words heard based on neural activity alone

 (PLoS Biology, doi.org/fzv269).

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Biomedical Sensors That Dissolve in Your Body and Reduce Infection and Waste

Biomedical Sensors That Dissolve in Your Body and Reduce Infection and Waste | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

John Rogers, a professor of engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, was the lead author on a recent study published in the journal Advanced Materials. This study tested biodegradable printed circuit boards, a very efficient type of sensor with a large surface area. In the study, Rogers and his team showed they had effectively created a sensor that both does its job and is fully dissolvable.


Rogers spearheads a lab that has been at the forefront of this technology since 2008. When they were first getting started in the field of biodegradable sensors, the researchers spent several years coming up with the materials and processes that worked, Rogers said in an email. “Our research now is focusing on systems and applications, in areas ranging from biomedicine to consumer electronics,” he added.


The semiconductor, the part of the device that does the sensing, is made of two materials. One is extremely thin silicon, which the researchers shave down to the nano scale. They combine the silicon with metals that are familiar components of food and vitamins, like magnesium, zinc, and iron. The sensor is encapsulated by and rests on a set of polymers that, Rogers said, “are already used, for other purposes, in the body.”


Rogers and his team are still perfecting the sensors, but they anticipate that they could even work wirelessly by transmitting information via radio waves back to doctors’ devices. Typically, the silicon dissolves in the body in a few weeks, Rogers said, but different substances could extend the device’s lifespan.


Devices like these have the potential to change medicine for the better. Currently, the infection rate for surgeries—including the procedure needed to implant a biomedical device—is 1 to 3 percent. Usually this happens because the wound gets contaminated.


The logic for Rogers’ devices is simple: when doctors have to cut a person open less often, there’s less chance of infection. And the devices could be used as more than sensors; they could administer programmed drug delivery for conditions that require daily injections, or reduce pain by stimulating stressed nerve endings.


There are also environmental implications. In an effort to decrease the chance of infection, the health industry has relied for years on disposable, one-use devices, from syringes to hospital gowns. The result is that medical facilities generate billions of tons of trash per year, although no one is sure exactly how much. And although much of this trash could be recycled with the proper treatment, almost all of it just ends up in landfills, where it biodegrades very slowly and could present potential health hazards if people are exposed to it. Dissolvable, biodegradable devices would mean less waste in a landfill, and if a device did end up there, it would decompose rapidly.


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Tesla CEO Elon Musk promises a self-driving model for next year

Tesla CEO Elon Musk promises a self-driving model for next year | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Last night, Elon Musk told the world that Tesla was ready to reveal its "D" on October 9th, as well as preparing us for "something else" to expect along the way. But the CEO isn't done teasing just yet. In a recent interview with CNN Money, Musk's let it be known that a Tesla car next year "will probably be 90 percent capable of autopilot," though he didn't dive into any specifics about which model(s) this comment was in reference to.


"So 90 percent of your miles could be on auto. For sure highway travel," the Tesla boss added. Such a thingwould be possible, Musk said, by combining different sensors with image-recognition cameras, radars and long-rage ultrasonics -- which, without a doubt, paints a bright picture for future vehicles from the company. "Other car companies will follow ... Tesla is a Silicon Valley company. I mean, if we're not the leader, then shame on us."

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AAAS: Global Population Won't Stabilize This Century

AAAS: Global Population Won't Stabilize This Century | Amazing Science | Scoop.it
The population of Earth is unlikely to stabilize this century, according to a new analysis published in the 19 September issue of the journal Science. The findings are contrary to past studies, which have predicted that the world population will peak around 2050 and then level off or decline.

The results — based on a statistical analysis of the most recent population projections from the United Nations — suggest the global population will continue to grow through and beyond 2100. Based on their analysis, the researchers estimate an 80% probability that the world population, now 7.2 billion, will increase to between 9.6 and 12.3 billion by 2100.

"This finding is not completely in line with the conventional wisdom of the past 15 years," said co-author Adrian Raftery, professor of statistics and sociology at the University of Washington, "and this made us check all our results even more carefully."

"Our work," he said, "showed different results for two main reasons: new data and new methods."

The main driver of global population growth in their study is an increase in the projected population of Africa, the researchers found. Demographers had projected that the decline in fertility seen in Asia and Latin America since 1950 would continue in Africa, too, but Raftery and colleagues show that this decline has actually stalled in Africa.

What's more, many African women are still having larger families (the median size is 4.6 children), in part due to a lack of contraceptives. Mortality from HIV has been reduced in Africa as well, and the results of the study show the clear impact of this improvement.
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Cloud Robotics: The Plan to Build a Massive Online Brain for All the World’s Robots

Cloud Robotics: The Plan to Build a Massive Online Brain for All the World’s Robots | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

If you walk into the computer science building at Stanford University, Mobi is standing in the lobby, encased in glass. He looks a bit like a garbage can, with a rod for a neck and a camera for eyes. He was one of several robots developed at Stanford in the 1980s to study how machines might learn to navigate their environment—a stepping stone toward intelligent robots that could live and work alongside humans. He worked, but not especially well. The best he could do was follow a path along a wall. Like so many other robots, his “brain” was on the small side.


Now, just down the hall from Mobi, scientists led by roboticist Ashutosh Saxena are taking this mission several steps further. They’re working to build machines that can see, hear, comprehend natural language (both written and spoken), and develop an understanding of the world around them, in much the same way that people do.


Today, backed by funding from the National Science Foundation, the Office of Naval Research, Google, Microsoft, and Qualcomm, Saxena and his team unveiled what they call RoboBrain, a kind of online service packed with information and artificial intelligence software that any robot could tap into. Working alongside researchers at the University of California at Berkeley, Brown University, and Cornell University, they hope to create a massive online “brain” that can help all robots navigate and even understand the world around them. “The purpose,” says Saxena, who dreamed it all up, “is to build a very good knowledge graph—or a knowledge base—for robots to use.”


Any researcher anywhere will be able use the service wirelessly, for free, and transplant its knowledge to local robots. These robots, in turn, will feed what they learn back into the service, improving RoboBrain’s know-how. Then the cycle repeats.


These days, if you want a robot to serve coffee or carry packages across a room, you have to hand-code a new software program—or ask a fellow roboticist to share code that’s already been built. If you want to teach a robot a new task, you start all over. These programs, or apps, live on the robot itself, and that, Saxena says, is inefficient. It goes against all the current trends in tech and artificial intelligence, which seek to exploit the power of distributed systems, massive clusters of computers that can power devices over the net. But this is starting to change. RoboBrain is part of an emerging movement known as cloud robotics.


Via Mariaschnee
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Tekrighter's curator insight, August 28, 2014 10:01 AM

One of the most perplexing problems in science today is efficient integration of disparate data repositories. This is a step in the right direction.

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Scientists bypass spinal cord non-invasively to trigger walking

Scientists bypass spinal cord non-invasively to trigger walking | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Japanese researchers have created an “artificial neural connection” (ANC) from the brain directly to the spinal locomotion center in the lower thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine, potentially one day allowing patients with spinal-cord damage, such as paraplegics, to walk.


The study led by Shusaku Sasada, research fellow, and Yukio Nishimura, associate professor, both of the National Institutes of Natural Sciences (NINS), was published online in The Journal of Neuroscience on August 13, 2014.


Neural networks called “central pattern generators” (see Ref. 2 and 3 below) in the locomotion center (lower than the lesion site) are capable of producing rhythmic movements, such as walking, even when isolated from the brain, the researchers suggest.


The researchers worked with neurologically intact subjects who are were asked to allow the computer to passively control their leg movements.


As a surrogate, the researchers used muscle signals normally generated by the arm movements associated with leg movements. These signals were used to control a computer-driven magnetic device that non-invasively (externally) stimulated neurons in the spinal locomotion center.


Additional simultaneous peripheral electrical stimulation to the foot via the ANC enhanced this walking-like behavior. Kinematics of the induced behaviors were identical to those observed in normal voluntary walking. The researchers said they are planning clinical studies in the near future.

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Driverless cars to hit UK roads next year

Driverless cars to hit UK roads next year | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

Driverless cars are an exciting glimpse of the future, with great potential to improve road safety. It seems the UK has caught on to this, announcing a £10 million (US$17 million) scheme to test driverless cars on public roads from January 2015.


The UK Government is calling on all major cities to join together with businesses and research organizations to put forward a proposal for the country to become a test location for autonomous cars. Trials are expected to last between 18 and 36 months, and the £10 million funding pot will serve as a competition prize for up to three UK cities, with London being confirmed as a hopeful bid.


Currently, self-driving cars are only allowed on private roads in the UK, but the new scheme will allow for the testing of fully autonomous vehicles on public roads, as well as cars with self-driving features.

"Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network – they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2," said the UK’s Transport Minister, Claire Perry.


Driverless cars have been coming for some time, with manufacturers including AudiBMWMercedesToyotaFord and Volvo all working on the technology. Jaguar also recently previewed its self-learning smart car which can mimic a driver's behavior.


Nissan recently carried out the first public road test of a driverless car on a Japanese highway, and has said it plans to be manufacturing driverless cars by 2020. Meanwhile, several states in the US have already passed legislation which will allow driverless cars, including California, Nevada and Florida.


Much of the limelight has centered on Google thus far; its driverless car has completed 804,000 km (500,000 miles) of road tests. The technology giant has set 2017 as the date its cars will hit the roads.

"Britain is brilliantly placed to lead the world in driverless technology. It combines our strengths in cars, satellites, big data and urban design; with huge potential benefits for future jobs and for the consumer," said Science Minister Greg Clark.

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Marco Bertolini's curator insight, August 7, 2014 2:09 PM

Des voitures sans chauffeur au Royaume Uni dès l'an prochain !


Eric Chan Wei Chiang's curator insight, August 8, 2014 10:01 PM

Google isn't the only one working on a driverless car. However, they would be the most ambitious and perhaps the only company which could imagine digitizing all the surface streets of the United States as a key part of the solution of self-driving cars. Read more about it here: http://sco.lt/5XGlH7

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WiFi Backscatter: How to enable the Internet of Things without batteries

WiFi Backscatter: How to enable the Internet of Things without batteries | Amazing Science | Scoop.it

University of Washington engineers have designed a clever new communication system called Wi-Fi backscatter that uses ambient radio frequency signals as a power source for battery-free devices (such as temperature sensors or wearable technology) and also reuses the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure to provide Internet connectivity for these devices.


“If Internet of Things devices are going to take off, we must provide connectivity to the potentially billions of battery-free devices that will be embedded in everyday objects,” said Shyam Gollakota, a UW assistant professor of computer science and engineering.


“We now have the ability to enable Wi-Fi connectivity for devices while consuming orders of magnitude less power than what Wi-Fi typically requires.”


To supply power to the devices, the system uses an “ambient backscatter” scheme previously developed by the UW group, which allows two devices to communicate with each other by harvesting ambient radio, TV, and cellular transmissions, as KurzweilAI described last year.


So the new research takes that a step further by also connecting each individual device to the Internet. But but even low-power Wi-Fi consumes 1000 to 10,000 times more power than can be harvested in these wireless signals. Instead, the new system uses an ultra-low-power “tag” with an antenna and circuitry that can talk to Wi-Fi-enabled laptops or smartphones while consuming negligible power (less than 10 microwatts).


These tags work by essentially “looking” for Wi-Fi signals moving between the router and a laptop or smartphone. The tags encode data in real time by either reflecting or not reflecting the Wi-Fi router’s signals, thus slightly changing the wireless signal. Wi-Fi-enabled devices like laptops and smartphones would detect these minute changes (by analyzing changes in reflected signals) and receive data from the tag.


So far, the UW’s Wi-Fi backscatter tag has communicated with a Wi-Fi device at rates of 1 kilobit per second with about 2 meters between the devices. The researchers plan to extend the range to about 20 meters and have files patents on the technology.


The “Internet of Things” would extend connectivity to perhaps billions of devices. Battery-free sensors could be embedded in everyday objects to help monitor and track everything from the structural safety of bridges to the health of your heart. For example, your smart watch could upload your workout data onto a Google spreadsheet.


Or sensors embedded around your home could track minute-by-minute temperature changes and send that information to your thermostat to help conserve energy.


The researchers will publish their results at the Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Data Communication‘s annual conference this month in Chicago. The team also plans to start a company based on the technology.


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Philippe Andre's curator insight, August 7, 2014 2:57 AM
 A very clever use of wifi waves to communicate without devices energy (or almost free energy). This way, if confirmed, opens up possibilities for M2M connection in economic conditions. If ever the technology allowed the same thing using the waves of mobile networks, this still open more opportunities for rapid expansion of M2M in particular environments (without WiFi but with very good mobile networks as in some African countries, for example )