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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

ViaCyte Starts Stem-Cell Clinical Trial of Bioartificial Pancreas

ViaCyte Starts Stem-Cell Clinical Trial of Bioartificial Pancreas | Amazing Science |

Fourteen years ago, during the darkest moments of the “stem-cell wars” pitting American scientists against the White House of George W. Bush, one group of advocates could be counted on to urge research using cells from human embryos: parents of children with type 1 diabetes. Motivated by scientists who told them these cells would lead to amazing cures, they spent millions on TV ads, lobbying, and countless phone calls to Congress.

Now the first test of a type 1 diabetes treatment using stem cells has finally begun. In October, a San Diego man had two pouches of lab-grown pancreas cells, derived from human embryonic stem cells, inserted into his body through incisions in his back. Two other patients have since received the stand-in pancreas, engineered by a small San Diego company called ViaCyte.

It’s a significant step, partly because the ViaCyte study is only the third in the United States of any treatment based on embryonic stem cells. These cells, once removed from early-stage human embryos, can be grown in a lab dish and retain the ability to differentiate into any of the cells and tissue types in the body. One other study, since cancelled, treated several patients with spinal-cord injury (see “Geron Shuts Down Pioneering Stem-Cell Program” and “Stem-Cell Gamble”), while tests to transplant lab-grown retina cells into the eyes of people going blind are ongoing (see “Stem Cells Seem Safe in Treating Eye Disease”).

Douglas Melton, a biologist at Harvard University who has two children with type 1 diabetes, worries that the ViaCyte system may not work. He thinks deposits of fibrotic, scarlike tissue will glom onto the capsules, starving the cells inside of oxygen and blocking their ability to sense sugar and release insulin. Melton also thinks it might take immature cells up to three months to become fully functional. And many won’t become beta cells, winding up as other types of pancreatic cells instead.

Melton says the “inefficiency” of the system means the company “would need a device about the size of a DVD player” to have enough beta cells to effectively treat diabetes. ViaCyte says it thinks 300 million of its cells, or about eight of its capsules, would be enough. (Each capsule holds a volume of cells smaller than one M&M candy.)    Last October, Melton’s group announced it had managed to grow fully mature, functional beta cells in the lab, a scientific first that took more than 10 years of trial-and-error research. Melton thinks implanting mature cells would allow a bioartificial pancreas to start working right away.

To encapsulate his cells, Melton has been working with bioengineer Daniel Anderson at MIT to develop their own capsule. Anderson doesn’t want to say exactly how it works, but a recent patent filing from his lab describes a container made of layers of hydrogels, some containing cells and others anti-inflammatory drugs to prevent the capsule from getting covered with fibrotic tissue. Both Melton and Anderson are cagey about discussing their results. “We do have some successes we are very excited about,” Anderson says. “The bottom line is we have reason to believe it is possible to use Doug’s cells in our devices and cure diabetes in animals.”

After the stem-cell wars, and then a decade of trying to turn the technology’s promises into reality, Henry says he feels convinced that “cells in bags” of some kind are going to be the answer to type 1 diabetes. He’s aware that curing rodents doesn’t guarantee the technology will help people, but he says the clinical trial he’s running is another in a series of “small steps” toward much-improved lives for millions of people. “I am just so positive that this is the future,” he says. 

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Randal Koene – The Neuroscientist Who Wants To Upload The Mind To A Computer

Randal Koene – The Neuroscientist Who Wants To Upload The Mind To A Computer | Amazing Science |


While the first upload of a human brain remains decades—if not centuries— away, proponents believe humanity may be far closer to reaching another key technological milestone: a preservation technique that could store a brain indefinitely without damaging its neurons or the trillions of microscopic connections between them.

“If we could put the brain into a state in which it does not decay, then the second step could be done 100 years later,” says Kenneth Hayworth, a senior scientist at Howard Hughes Medical Institute, “and everyone could experience mind uploading first hand.”

To promote this goal, Hayworth cofounded The Brain Preservation Foundation, a nonprofit that is offering a $106,000 technology prize to the first scientist or team to rise to that challenge. He says the first stage of the competition—the preservation of an entire mouse brain—may be won within the year, an achievement that would excite many mainstream neuroscientists, who want to map the brain’s circuitry to better understand memory and behavior.

Current preservation methods (aside from cryonics, which has never successfully been demonstrated to preserve the brain’s wiring) involve pumping chemicals through the body that can fix proteins and lipids in place. The brain is then removed and immersed in a series of solutions that dehydrate naturally occurring water and replace it with a plastic resin. The resin prevents chemical reactions that cause decay, preserving the brain’s intricate architecture. But in order for all of the chemicals to fully permeate brain tissue, scientists must first slice the organ into sections 100 to 500 microns thick—a process that destroys information stored in connections made along those surfaces.

Shawn Mikula, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, Germany, developed a protocol that appears to safeguard all of the brain’s synapses. It preserves the extracellular space in the brain so that the chemicals can diffuse through myriad layers of the whole organ. Then, if the brain is sliced and analyzed at a future date, all of its circuitry will remain visible. Hayworth is currently using electron microscopy to examine the mouse brains sent to him as proof of principle. (In order to win the technology prize, the protocol must also be published in a peer-reviewed journal.) So far, Hayworth says, Mikula’s technique seems effective.

If immortality is defined as brain preservation via plastination, Mikula says, then it’s a reasonable extrapolation of his research results. But as for actually uploading it to a computer: “Who can predict these things? Science is modern-day magic,” Mikula says, “and in the absence of a strong argument against the future feasibility of mind uploading, anything is possible.”

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Water-soluble silicon leads to dissolvable electronics

Water-soluble silicon leads to dissolvable electronics | Amazing Science |

Researchers working in a materials science lab are literally watching their work disappear before their eyes—but intentionally so. They're developing water-soluble integrated circuits that dissolve in water or biofluids in months, weeks, or even a few days. This technology, called transient electronics, could have applications for biomedical implants, zero-waste sensors, and many other semiconductor devices.

The researchers, led by John A. Rogers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Fiorenzo Omenetto at Tufts University, have published a study in a recent issue of Applied Physics Letters in which they analyzed the performance and dissolution times of various semiconductor materials.

The work builds on previous research, by the authors and others, which demonstrated that silicon—the most commonly used semiconductor material in today's electronic devices—can dissolve in water. Although it would take centuries to dissolve bulk silicon, thin layers of silicon can dissolve in more reasonable times at low but significant rates of 5-90 nm/day. The silicon dissolves due to hydrolysis, in which water and silicon react to form silicic acid. Silicic acid is environmentally and biologically benign.

In the new study, the researchers analyzed the dissolution characteristics of silicon dioxide and tungsten, which they used to fabricate two electronics devices: field-effect transistors and ring oscillators. Under biocompatible conditions (37 °C, 7.4 pH), dissolution rates ranged from 1 week for the tungsten components, to between 3 months and 3 years for the silicon dioxide components. The dissolution rates can be controlled by several factors, such as the thickness of the materials, the concentration and type of ions in the solution, and the method used to deposit the silicon dioxide on the original substrate.

As shown in the microscope images, the circuits do not dissolve in a uniform, layer-by-layer mode, but instead some places dissolve more rapidly than others. This is due to mechanical fractures in the fragile circuits, which cause the solution to penetrate through the layers more in some locations than in others. Although organic electronic materials are also often biodegradable, silicon-based electronics have the advantages of an overall higher performance and the use of complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) fabrication processes that allow for mass-production.

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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 |

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.

Mike Dele's curator insight, March 21, 2015 1:50 AM

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

Tamer Tekin's curator insight, September 30, 2015 5:04 PM

It is very new innovation.

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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 |

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.

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 |

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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Rescooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald from Popular Science!

New System Lets Humans Control Mouse Genes With Their Thoughts

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

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
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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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 |

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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Doomsday Clock Set at 3 Minutes to Midnight

Doomsday Clock Set at 3 Minutes to Midnight | Amazing Science |
Frustrated with a lack of international action to address climate change and shrink nuclear arsenals, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists decided to push the minute hand of its iconic Doomsday Clock to 11:57.

It's the first time the clock hands have moved in three years; since 2012, the clock had been fixed at 5 minutes to symbolic doom, midnight. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists doesn't use the clock to make any real doomsday predictions. Rather, the clock is a visual metaphor to warn the public about how close the world is to a potentially civilization-ending catastrophe. Each year, the magazine's board analyzes threats to humanity's survival to decide where the Doomsday Clock's hands should be set.

Experts on the board said they felt a sense of urgency this year because of the world's ongoing addiction to fossil fuels, procrastination with enacting laws to cut greenhouse gas emissions and slow efforts to get rid of nuclear weapons.

Sharon Squassoni, a board member and director of the Proliferation Prevention Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said nuclear disarmament efforts have "ground to a halt" and many nations are expanding, not scaling back, their nuclear capabilities. Russia is upgrading its nuclear program, India plans to expand its nuclear submarine fleet, and Pakistan has reportedly started operating a third plutonium reactor, Squassoni said. She also said the United States has good rhetoric on nuclear nonproliferation, but at the same time is in the midst of a $335 billion overhaul of its nuclear program.

"The risk from nuclear weapons is not that someone is going to press the button, but the existence of these weapons costs a lot of time, effort and money to keep them secure," Squassoni said, adding that there have been troubling safety discrepancies reported in recent years at power plants. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists was founded in 1945 by scientists who created the atomic bomb as part of the Manhattan Project and wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of nuclear technology.

The Doomsday Clock first appeared on a cover of the magazine in 1947, with its hands set at 11:53 p.m. The clock's hands shifted quite a bit over the following seven decades. They were closest to midnight in 1953, set at 11:58 p.m., after both the United States and the Soviet Union conducted their first tests of the hydrogen bomb. The clock's hands were pushed all the way back to 11:43 p.m., 17 minutes to midnight, in December 1991, after the world's superpowers signed the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which at the time, seemed like a promising move toward nuclear disarmament.

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Elon Musk reveals plan to put internet connectivity in space

Elon Musk reveals plan to put internet connectivity in space | Amazing Science |

At the SpaceX event held in Seattle, Elon Musk revealed his grand (and expensive) $10 billion plan to build internet connectivity in space. Musk’s vision wants to radically change the way we access internet. His plan includes putting satellites in space, between which data packets would bounce around before being passed down to Earth. Right now, data packets bounce about the various networks via routers.

Some say that Elon Musk’s ambitious project would enable a Smartphone to access the internet just like it communicates with GPS satellites. SpaceX will launch its satellites in a low orbit, so as to reduce communication lag. While geosynchronous communication satellites orbit the Earth from an altitude of 22,000 miles, SpaceX’s satellites would be orbiting the Earth from an altitude of 750 miles.

Once Musk’s system is in place, data packets would simply be sent to space, from where they would bounce about the satellites, and ultimately be sent back to Earth. “The speed of light is 40 percent faster in the vacuum of space than it is for fiber,” says Musk, which is why he believes that his unnamed SpaceX venture is the future of internet connectivity, replacing traditional routers and networks.

The project is based out of SpaceX’s new Seattle office. It will initially start out with 60 workers, but Musk predicts that the workforce may grow to over 1,000 in three to four years. Musk wants “the best engineers that either live in Seattle or that want to move to the Seattle area and work on electronics, software, structures, and power systems,” to work with SpaceX.

JebaQpt's comment, January 21, 2015 11:21 PM
Elon Musk quotes
Justin Boersma's curator insight, March 27, 2015 7:12 AM

Global internet connectivity through Low Earth Orbit satellites can prove to be incredibly useful and revolutionise the way certain information may travel, e.g. designate specific types of data to be transmitted only through this network of satellites. This would overall increase connectivity and speed across the globe, and most likely require an overhaul of current networking hardware.

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The future of fitness could just be a chest-worn sticker

The future of fitness could just be a chest-worn sticker | Amazing Science |

For the last couple of years, medical science has been working on a way to build health sensors into stickers for better patient monitoring. It looks as if the folks behind AmpStrip might have gotten there first. AmpStrip is a piece of wearable technology that sticks onto your chest (we're told that the ideal location is below your nipple) and monitors your vitals without needing any other of the numerous fitness products we've seen on the market.

Nestled within the Band-Aid-sized hardware is an accelerometer, thermometer and a heart rate sensor, which, combined, are capable of monitoring your heart rate, movement and activity. You don't actually stick the AmpStrip directly onto your skin, it has to be said; instead you use a sticky pad that lasts for between three and seven days, depending on your workout. Stick it down properly, however, and it should hold firm even when you go swimming, which you can do with the AmpStrip.

Because the hardware is self-contained, you'll need to drop it onto a wireless charging plate for a couple of hours. That's not much charging, but the company promises that a combination of Bluetooth Low Energy and some secret algorithmic sauce will keep the battery ticking over for a full seven days. The hardware itself is currently in beta, but now that AmpStrip has beaten its Indiegogo goal, production should begin sometime this summer.

judyhaar's curator insight, January 15, 2015 12:42 PM
Wow, state of the art.
MyHealthyBee's curator insight, January 28, 2015 5:10 AM

Will you wear a health sensor on your chest?

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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 |
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 |
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 |
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 |

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 |

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,

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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 |

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 |

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 |
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 |

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
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.