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Scooped by Dr. Stefan Gruenwald!

Delphi to Test World-First Self-Driving Taxi Service In Singapore

Delphi to Test World-First Self-Driving Taxi Service In Singapore | Amazing Science |

Robotaxi tests will soon begin in Singapore, and commercial service is projected for 2019, says Delphi, the auto supplier that’s running the project alongside the Singaporean government and with help from Mobileye.  


“It’s one of the first, if not the very first, pilot programs where we’ll demonstrate mobility-on-demand systems,” Glen DeVos, a Delphi senior vice president, told Bloomberg News at a press briefing at the company’s headquarters in Troy, Michigan.


Mobility on demand is fancy-speak for ride-hailing, such as Uber and Lyft offer.  DeVos added that later this year Delphi will announce similar programs in Europe and the United States. 


Nutonomy, a spinoff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has already road-tested its own robotaxi concept in Singapore’s central business district. That company also plans to go commercial soon.


Delphi’s first modified cars—Audi Q5’s, fitted with extra sensors—will have drivers behind the wheel and will follow three, well-mapped circuits just 5.6 kilometers (3.5 miles) around. After researchers gain experience, they will let the cars dispense with their human minders and range over the entire city-state.


Singapore, as an island, is a good testbed because of its compact size, sober drivers, unified government, and congested roads. Robotaxis can ease congestion because they should decrease the number of cars on the road and they rarely need a parking space. A cab ride in a dense urban area can cost US $3 to 4 a mile, DeVos said. “We think we can get to 90 cents a mile.” 

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Will Organs-in-a-Dish Ever Replace Animal Models?

Will Organs-in-a-Dish Ever Replace Animal Models? | Amazing Science |

Increasingly sophisticated tissue organoids can model many aspects of disease, but animal studies retain a fundamental role in research, scientists say.


From mini brains to mini kidneys, an increasing number of organ models can now be grown in vitro. Some of these “organoids” can even perform certain functions of the human body in both health and disease, reducing the need for animal models. But organoid-based models still can’t fully recapitulate complex aspects of physiology that can only be studied in whole organisms.


“I believe that organoid models will replace a lot of current animal experimentation,” Hans Clevers of the Hubrecht Institute in Utrecht, Netherlands, one of the field’s pioneers, wrote in an email to The Scientist. However, “a living organism is more than the sum of its parts,” he added. “There will always be the need for confirmation of any finding . . . in vivo.”


Organoids are three-dimensional miniature organs grown in vitro from adult or embryonic stem cells under chemical and physical conditions that mimic the human body. Clevers and colleagues grew the first mini guts in 2009; since then, researchers have succeeded in growing mini brains, kidneys, livers, pancreases, and prostate glands (see “Orchestrating Organoids,” The Scientist, September 1, 2015).


One area where organoids are well suited to reduce the use of animal models is toxicology, Clevers and others have noted.

Many drugs prove successful in mouse models only to fail in human trials. Organoids, on the other hand, can be grown from human stem cells. “The fact that [the cells are] human is really important,” James Wells, a professor of pediatrics at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center whose lab develops stomach organoids, told The Scientist. “There can be very different responses to drugs in a mouse and a human.”


Another advantage of organoids is that they can be used for personalized medicine.


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Skull implant delivers life-saving laser treatments to patients with brain disorders

Skull implant delivers life-saving laser treatments to patients with brain disorders | Amazing Science |

Researchers at the University of California, Riverside have developed a transparent “window to the brain” — a skull implant that is biocompatible, infection-resistant, and does not need to be repetitively replaced.


Part of the ongoing “Window to the Brain” project, a multi-institution, cross-disciplinary effort, the idea is to use transparent skull implants to provide laser diagnosis and treatment of a wide variety of brain pathologies, including brain cancers, traumatic brain injury, stroke, and neurodegenerative diseases, without requiring repeated craniotomies (a surgical operation in which a bone flap is temporarily removed from the skull to access the brain). Such operations are vulnerable to bacterial infections.


The researchers have developed a transparent version of the material yttria-stabilized zirconia (YSZ), a ceramic material used in hip implants and dental crowns.


The researchers implanted the material in a hamster, where it integrated into the host tissue without causing an immune response or other adverse effects, as they describe in a paper in the journal Nanomedicine: Nanotechnology, Biology and Medicine. The internal toughness of YSZ, which is more impact-resistant and biocompatible than the titanium, thermoplastic polymers, and glass-based materials developed by other researchers, makes it “the only transparent skull implant that could conceivably be used in humans,” according to the researchers.


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Artificial pancreas likely to be available by 2018

Artificial pancreas likely to be available by 2018 | Amazing Science |

The artificial pancreas -- a device which monitors blood glucose in patients with type 1 diabetes and then automatically adjusts levels of insulin entering the body -- is likely to be available by 2018, conclude authors of a paper in Diabetologia (the journal of the European Association for the Study of Diabetes). Issues such as speed of action of the forms of insulin used, reliability, convenience and accuracy of glucose monitors plus cybersecurity to protect devices from hacking, are among the issues that are being addressed.


Currently available technology allows insulin pumps to deliver insulin to people with diabetes after taking a reading or readings from glucose meters, but these two components are separate. It is the joining together of both parts into a 'closed loop' that makes an artificial pancreas, explain authors Dr Roman Hovorka and Dr Hood Thabit of the University of Cambridge, UK. "In trials to date, users have been positive about how use of an artificial pancreas gives them 'time off' or a 'holiday' from their diabetes management, since the system is managing their blood sugar effectively without the need for constant monitoring by the user," they say.


One part of the clinical need for the artificial pancreas is the variability of insulin requirements between and within individuals -- on one day a person could use one third of their normal requirements, and on another 3 times what they normally would. This is dependent on the individual, their diet, their physical activity and other factors. The combination of all these factors together places a burden on people with type 1 diabetes to constantly monitor their glucose levels, to ensure they don't end up with too much blood sugar (hyperglycaemic) or more commonly, too little (hypoglycaemic). Both of these complications can cause significant damage to blood vessels and nerve endings, making complications such as cardiovascular problems more likely.  


 There are alternatives to the artificial pancreas, with improvements in technology in both whole pancreas transplantation and also transplants of just the beta cells from the pancreas which produce insulin. However, recipients of these transplants require drugs to suppress their immune systems just as in other organ transplants. In the case of whole pancreas transplantation, major surgery is required; and in beta cell islet transplantation, the body's immune system can still attack the transplanted cells and kill off a large proportion of them (80% in some cases). The artificial pancreas of course avoids the need for major surgery and immunosuppressant drugs.


Researchers globally continue to work on a number of challenges faced by artificial pancreas technology. One such challenge is that even fast-acting insulin analogues do not reach their peak levels in the bloodstream until 0.5 to 2 hours after injection, with their effects lasting 3 to 5 hours. So this may not be fast enough for effective control in, for example, conditions of vigorous exercise. Use of the even faster acting 'insulin aspart' analogue may remove part of this problem, as could use of other forms of insulin such as inhaled insulin. Work also continues to improve the software in closed loop systems to make it as accurate as possible in blood sugar management.


A number of clinical studies have been completed using the artificial pancreas in its various forms, in various settings such as diabetes camps for children, and real life home testing. Many of these trials have shown as good or better glucose control than existing technologies (with success defined by time spent in a target range of ideal blood glucose concentrations and reduced risk of hypoglycemia). A number of other studies are ongoing.


The authors say: "Prolonged 6- to 24-month multinational closed-loop clinical trials and pivotal studies are underway or in preparation including adults and children. As closed loop devices may be vulnerable to cybersecurity threats such as interference with wireless protocols and unauthorised data retrieval, implementation of secure communications protocols is a must."


The actual timeline to availability of the artificial pancreas, as with other medical devices, encompasses regulatory approvals with reassuring attitudes of regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is currently reviewing one proposed artificial pancreas with approval possibly as soon as 2017. And a recent review by the UK National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) reported that automated closed-loop systems may be expected to appear in the (European) market by the end of 2018. The authors say: "This timeline will largely be dependent upon regulatory approvals and ensuring that infrastructures and support are in place for healthcare professionals providing clinical care. Structured education will need to continue to augment efficacy and safety."

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Hyperloop One shows off magnetic drive in dramatic demonstration in Nevada desert

Hyperloop One shows off magnetic drive in dramatic demonstration in Nevada desert | Amazing Science |

Hyperloop One demonstrated its rapidly developing technology earlier this year in the Nevada desert. There, electromagnets propelled a sled at 115 mph (185 km/h) along a special test track. The ultimate goal of the Hyperloop system is the create a tube in which a vacuum in front of a passenger or cargo capsule removes air friction and allows mass ground travel at unprecedented speeds. The company is currently working to bring about a magnetic drive that could get a capsule up to 700 mph (1,126 km/h), for example.


According to a press release about today's announcement, Hyperloop One now has feasibility studies being conducted in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Dubai, Los Angeles, the UK, Finland, and Sweden.

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Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis

Here’s How Electric Cars Will Cause the Next Oil Crisis | Amazing Science |
This isn’t something oil markets are planning for, and it’s easy to see why. Plug-in cars make up just one-tenth of 1 percent of the global car market today. They’re a rarity on the streets of most countries and still cost significantly more than similar gasoline burners. OPEC maintains that electric vehicles (EVs) will make up just 1 percent of cars in 2040. Last year ConocoPhillips Chief Executive Officer Ryan Lance told me EVs won’t have a material impact for another 50 years—probably not in his lifetime.

But here’s what we know: In the next few years, Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan plan to start selling long-range electric cars in the $30,000 range. Other carmakers and tech companies are investing billions on dozens of new models. By 2020, some of these will cost less and perform better than their gasoline counterparts. The aim would be to match the success of Tesla’s Model S, which now outsells its competitors in the large luxury class in the U.S. The question then is how much oil demand will these cars displace? And when will the reduced demand be enough to tip the scales and cause the next oil crisis?
Marc Kneepkens's curator insight, June 19, 2016 3:20 PM

Major shifts are happening, we're about to witness what humans are capable of once they put their minds together for change.

Carlos Garcia Pando's comment, June 20, 2016 3:27 AM
Good point, thanks for sharing.
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Gene circuits in live cells can perform complex computations

Gene circuits in live cells can perform complex computations | Amazing Science |
MIT researchers have developed a technique to integrate both analogue and digital computation in living cells, allowing them to form gene circuits capable of carrying out complex processing operations.


Living cells are capable of performing complex computations on the environmental signals they encounter. These computations can be continuous, or analogue, in nature — the way eyes adjust to gradual changes in the light levels. They can also be digital, involving simple on or off processes, such as a cell’s initiation of its own death. Synthetic biological systems, in contrast, have tended to focus on either analogue or digital processing, limiting the range of applications for which they can be used.


But now a team of researchers at MIT has developed a technique to integrate both analogue and digital computation in living cells, allowing them to form gene circuits capable of carrying out complex processing operations. The synthetic circuits, presented in a paper published today in the journal Nature Communications, are capable of measuring the level of an analogue input, such as a particular chemical relevant to a disease, and deciding whether the level is in the right range to turn on an output, such as a drug that treats the disease. In this way they act like electronic devices known as comparators, which take analogue input signals and convert them into a digital output, according to Timothy Lu, an associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering, and head of the Synthetic Biology Group at MIT’s Research Laboratory of Electronics, who led the research alongside former microbiology PhD student Jacob Rubens. “Most of the work in synthetic biology has focused on the digital approach, because digital systems are much easier to program,” Lu says.


However, since digital systems are based on a simple binary output such as 0 or 1, performing complex computational operations requires the use of a large number of parts, which is difficult to achieve in synthetic biological systems.


“Digital is basically a way of computing in which you get intelligence out of very simple parts, because each part only does a very simple thing, but when you put them all together you get something that is very smart,” Lu says. “But that requires you to be able to put many of these parts together, and the challenge in biology, at least currently, is that you can’t assemble billions of transistors like you can on a piece of silicon,” he says.


The mixed signal device the researchers have developed is based on multiple elements. A threshold module consists of a sensor that detects analogue levels of a particular chemical.

This threshold module controls the expression of the second component, a recombinase gene, which can in turn switch on or off a segment of DNA by inverting it, thereby converting it into a digital output.


If the concentration of the chemical reaches a certain level, the threshold module expresses the recombinase gene, causing it to flip the DNA segment. This DNA segment itself contains a gene or gene-regulatory element that then alters the expression of a desired output.


“So this is how we take an analogue input, such as a concentration of a chemical, and convert it into a 0 or 1 signal,” Lu says. “And once that is done, and you have a piece of DNA that can be flipped upside down, then you can put together any of those pieces of DNA to perform digital computing,” he says.


The team has already built an analogue-to-digital converter circuit that implements ternary logic, a device that will only switch on in response to either a high or low concentration range of an input, and which is capable of producing two different outputs.

Ziggi Ivan Santini's curator insight, June 13, 2016 3:35 AM

Researchers have developed a technique to integrate both analogue and digital computation in living cells, allowing them to form gene circuits capable of carrying out complex processing operations.

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Plan to build human genome from scratch could kick off in 2016

Plan to build human genome from scratch could kick off in 2016 | Amazing Science |

A group of 25 scientists officially announced their plan to build a human genome from scratch within the next 10 years. They have also given more details about their intended applications for the synthetic DNA – but not everyone is convinced by their approach.

The team bills this grand challenge as a natural extension of the Human Genome Project. If that was about reading – or sequencing – the code of life, this new project proposes to write it, chemically synthesising each letter or base pair.

Poring over our DNA has limitations, the team argues. “Reading the genome can only get you so far,” says Susan Rosser, a co-author on the paper and the director of the Mammalian Synthetic Biology Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh, UK. “At some point you have to build it.”

The team, which is led by maverick geneticist George Church at Harvard University and Andrew Hessel of design software company Autodesk, says it is aiming to launch the ambitious initiative – known as The Human Genome Project–Write – this year, depending on raising an initial £100 million.

Stem cell boon
Within 10 years, the project’s primary goal is to engineer large genomes of up to 100-billion base pairs (a human genome is 3 billion base pairs), which could include “whole genome engineering of human cell lines and other organisms of agricultural and public health significance”. This will require technological development early on in the project “to propel large-scale genome design and engineering,” the researchers write.

While difficult to put a figure on at this early stage, the team says it expects the final bill for the project to be less than the $3-billion cost of the first Human Genome Project.

Alongside the main project, they outline several pilot projects that will take advantage of the progress as it is made. Those discussed in the paper published today include the development of an ultra-safe line of cells that would be virus resistant, cancer resistant and free of potentially harmful genes that could lead, for example, to prion diseases.

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Soon We Won’t Program Computers. We’ll Train Them Like Dogs

Soon We Won’t Program Computers. We’ll Train Them Like Dogs | Amazing Science |
Welcome to the new world of artificial intelligence. Soon, we won't program computers. We'll train them. Like dolphins. Or dogs. Or humans.


Over the past several years, the biggest tech companies in Silicon Valley have aggressively pursued an approach to computing called machine learning. In traditional programming, an engineer writes explicit, step-by-step instructions for the computer to follow. With machine learning, programmers don’t encode computers with instructions. They train them. If you want to teach a neural network to recognize a cat, for instance, you don’t tell it to look for whiskers, ears, fur, and eyes. You simply show it thousands and thousands of photos of cats, and eventually it works things out. If it keeps misclassifying foxes as cats, you don’t rewrite the code. You just keep coaching it.


This approach is not new—it’s been around for decades—but it has recently become immensely more powerful, thanks in part to the rise of deep neural networks, massively distributed computational systems that mimic the multilayered connections of neurons in the brain. And already, whether you realize it or not, machine learning powers large swaths of our online activity. Facebook uses it to determine which stories show up in your News Feed, and Google Photos uses it to identify faces.


Machine learning runs Microsoft’s Skype Translator, which converts speech to different languages in real time. Self-driving cars use machine learning to avoid accidents. Even Google’s search engine—for so many years a towering edifice of human-written rules—has begun to rely on these deep neural networks. In February the company replaced its longtime head of search with machine-learning expert John Giannandrea, and it has initiated a major program to retrain its engineers in these new techniques. “By building learning systems,” Giannandrea told reporters this fall, “we don’t have to write these rules anymore.”

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Dubai unveils world's first 3D-printed office building

Dubai unveils world's first 3D-printed office building | Amazing Science |

The world's first 3D-printed office building opened this week in DubaiReuters reports. The 2,700-square-foot, single-story building was built in just 17 days using a gigantic, 20-foot tall 3D printer and a special mix of concrete, fiber reinforced plastic and glass fiber reinforced gypsum.


Although the "printer" was massive at about two stories tall, 120 feet long and 40 feet wide, it only needed one staffer to make sure it was functioning properly. The rest of the 18-person construction crew consisted of installers, electricians and mechanical engineers who completed the job for a mere $140,000 in construction and labor costs — or about half the price of a comparable structure built with conventional methods. Of course, the building is more than just another gold star in the UAE's ultramodern playland — it will also serve, appropriately enough, as the temporary headquarters for the Dubai Future Foundation. Next year, the structure is scheduled to become the home of Dubai's Museum of the Future.


"This is the first 3D-printed building in the world, and it's not just a building, it has fully functional offices and staff," the UAE Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Mohamed Al Gergawi said. According to Gergawi, Dubai plans to have 25 percent of the buildings in the emirate built via 3D printing by the year 2030.

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By the year 2040, embryo selection could replace sex as the way to make babies

By the year 2040, embryo selection could replace sex as the way to make babies | Amazing Science |

Human reproduction is about to undergo a radical shift. Embryo selection, in connection with in-vitro fertilization (IVF), will help our species eliminate many genetic diseases, extend healthy lifespans, and enhance people’s overall well-being. Within 20 years, I predict that it will supplant sex as the way large numbers of us conceive of our children. But while the embryo selection revolution will do a lot of good, it will also raise thorny ethical questions about diversity, equality and what it means to be human–questions we are woefully unprepared to address.


IVF for humans has been around since 1978, the year Louise Brown, the first so-called “test-tube baby,” was born in the UK. Since then, nearly six million infants around the world have been conceived via IVF, with the procedure growing in popularity each year. Starting in the 1990s, doctors began using preimplantation genetic screening (PGS) to extract cells from early-stage embryos and screen them for simple genetic diseases.


Over time, many genetic diseases will come to be seen as preventable parental lifestyle choices rather than bad luck. At present, over a thousand such diseases, including cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease, Tay-Sachs, sickle-cell anemia, and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, can be screened during PGS and the list is growing constantly. With this information, parents using IVF and PGS can select embryos not carrying those diseases if they choose to do so. Some jurisdictions, including the US, Mexico, Italy, and Thailand, also allow parents to select the gender of their future children.


These are still the early days of PGS. The process of linking single gene mutations to specific diseases has been slow and painstaking, but also relatively straightforward. As increasingly more people have their full genomes sequenced, an essential foundation for the future of personalized medicine, scientists will be able to uncover and screen for genetic and epigenetic patterns underpinning far more genetically complex diseases like epilepsy and type 1 diabetes.


As the PGS procedure improves and the number of diseases it prevents increases, I foresee that growing numbers of parents will decide to use assisted reproduction technologies when conceiving children. Over time, many genetic diseases will come to be seen as preventable parental lifestyle choices rather than bad luck. People will be free to opt out of laboratory-managed conception for religious, ideological, or economic reasons—or in fits of passion.


But having children through IVF and embryo selection will become the norm for parents of all ages and genetic predispositions. We’ll still have sex for most of the wonderful reasons we do now, just not to have babies. Governments and insurance companies will have strong incentives to cover the expense of IVF and embryo screening.


In the few countries like Australia, France, Israel, and Sweden, where assisted reproduction is covered by national health plans, the popular shift toward managed conception will not pose challenging questions of socio-economic equity. In other countries where the cost of IVF and PGS remains high—the procedures currently cost up to $20,000 in the US—the equity challenge will be greater. And in the poorest countries, IVF and PGS may not be available at all.


But as IVF and PGS become more widely accepted, the cost will go down and access percentages will go up. In many countries, governments and insurance companies will have strong incentives to cover the expense of IVF and embryo screening. This cost will be far less than that of providing lifetime care for all the children born with preventable genetic diseases in the absence of screening. Another option would be pre-natal screening of embryos during pregnancy, a far more morally fraught process with significantly fewer benefits.


Even as the procedures become more prevalent, IVF and PGS will not be without risk. Egg extraction can be extremely painful and sometimes even dangerous for women. Early-stage embryos can be damaged during the biopsy process, and up to a fifth of the embryos may not survive cryogenic freezing prior to implantation. The process can also be expensive, time-consuming, and stressful for parents. And a preliminary study released in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) earlier this year suggested that children born from IVF may be slightly more likely to carry certain birth defects than their non-IVF peers.


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The next big thing in space is really, really small

The next big thing in space is really, really small | Amazing Science |
Going into space is now within your grasp. A tiny spacecraft being developed at Arizona State University is breaking the barrier of launch cost, making the price of conducting a space mission radically cheaper.


“With a spacecraft this size, any university can do it, any lab can do it, any hobbyist can do it,” said Jekan Thanga, assistant professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration and head of the Space and Terrestrial Robotic Exploration (SpaceTREx) Laboratory. Thanga and a team of graduate and undergraduate students — including Mercedes Herreras-Martinez, Andrew Warren and Aman Chandra — have spent the past two years developing the SunCube FemtoSat. It’s tiny — 3 cm by 3 cm by 3 cm. Thanga envisions a “constellation of spacecraft” — many eyes in many places. A swarm of them could inspect damaged spacecraft from many angles, for example.


Thanga and the School of Earth and Space Exploration will host a free kickoff event Thursday night introducing the SunCube, followed by a panel discussion with scientists and space-industry professionals on the logistics, opportunities and implications of this breakthrough technology. (Find event details here.)

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The Amphibian SCUBA diving simulator: Experiencing underwater worlds, virtually

The Amphibian SCUBA diving simulator: Experiencing underwater worlds, virtually | Amazing Science |

The Amphibian SCUBA diving simulator, a research project from the MIT Media Lab, lets users experience the underwater world through a high presence virtual reality system. The system includes a motion platform, Oculus Rift head-mounted display, snorkel with sensors, leg-motion sensors, and gloves that enable motion detection, temperature simulation, and physical feedback of objects. Captured sensor data is fed into a processing unit that converts the users physical motion into virtual movement in the Oculus app.

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New haptic shoes can avoid stumbles, from spacewalks to sidewalks

New haptic shoes can avoid stumbles, from spacewalks to sidewalks | Amazing Science |

MIT engineers find a new haptic interface could enable obstacle avoidance both for astronauts engaged in extravehicular activity and for the visually impaired.


Video of astronauts tripping over moon rocks can make for entertaining Internet viewing, but falls in space can jeopardize astronauts’ missions and even their lives. Getting to one’s feet in a bulky, pressurized spacesuit can consume time and precious oxygen reserves, and falls increase the risk that the suit will be punctured.


Most falls happen because spacesuits limit astronauts’ ability to both see and feel the terrain around them, so researchers from MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AeroAstro) and the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory in Cambridge, Massachusetts are developing a new space boot with built-in sensors and tiny “haptic” motors, whose vibrations can guide the wearer around or over obstacles.


Recently, at the International Conference on Human-Computer Interaction, the researchers presented the results of a preliminary study designed to determine what types of stimuli, administered to what parts of the foot, could provide the best navigation cues. On the basis of that study, they’re planning further trials using a prototype of the boot.


The work could also have applications in the design of navigation systems for the visually impaired. The development of such systems has been hampered by a lack of efficient and reliable means of communicating spatial information to users.


“A lot of students in my lab are looking at this question of how you map wearable-sensor information to a visual display, or a tactile display, or an auditory display, in a way that can be understood by a nonexpert in sensor technologies,” says Leia Stirling, an assistant professor of AeroAstro and an associate faculty member at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, whose group led the work.


“This initial pilot study allowed Alison Gibson, a graduate student in AeroAstro and first author on the paper, to learn about how she could create a language for that mapping.” Gibson and Stirling are joined on the paper by Andrea Webb, a psychophysiologist at Draper.

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Why Tomorrow Won't Look Like Today: Things that Advance at Rapid Speed

Just when it seems that technology can't amaze us further, here comes a new batch of next-gen, gee-whiz projects en route to reality. Our panel of big thinkers opens a window on tomorrow. Have you heard of asteroid mining? Eric Anderson's company plans to probe space rocks for water and platinum group metals. Or how about John Kelly's vaunted IBM research team, tooling up its Watson technology (of "Jeopardy!" fame) to help sequence DNA and speed cancer treatment? Or Eric David's Organovo scientists developing printing capabilities to create living tissue--and even human organs--on demand? From the vastness of the cosmos to the microscopic foundations of life, this panel of visionaries points us to the marvels of the future.

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Smart Dust Is Coming: New Camera Is the Size of a Grain of Salt

Smart Dust Is Coming: New Camera Is the Size of a Grain of Salt | Amazing Science |
The researchers believe future applications include less invasive endoscopic medical imaging of the body—even injection into the brain—and nearly invisible camera sensors on miniature drones or robots.


Miniaturization is one of the most world-shaking trends of the last several decades. Computer chips now have features measured in billionths of a meter. Sensors that once weighed kilograms fit inside your smartphone. But it doesn't end there. Researchers are aiming to take sensors smaller—much smaller.


In a new University of Stuttgart paper published in Nature Photonics, scientists describe tiny 3D printed lenses and show how they can take super sharp images. Each lens is 120 millionths of a meter in diameter—roughly the size of a grain of table salt—and because they're 3D printed in one piece, complexity is no barrier. Any lens configuration that can be designed on a computer can be printed and used. This allows for a variety of designs to be tested to achieve the finest quality images.


According to the paper, the new method not only demonstrates high-quality micro-lenses can be 3D printed, but it also solves roadblocks to current manufacturing methods. These include limitations on how small you can go, failure to combine multiple elements, surface design restrictions, and alignment difficulties.

Via Julie O'Donnell, eMedToday
Julie O'Donnell's curator insight, July 1, 2016 12:50 AM
The stuff of Star Trek episodes.
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Could a space-based solar farm become a reality by 2040?

Could a space-based solar farm become a reality by 2040? | Amazing Science |

It was just over 40 years ago that the concept of a solar power satellite (SPS) first emerged. American scientist and aerospace engineer Dr. Peter Glaser won a patent for a broadcast system using a one-square kilometer antenna to channel power via microwaves to a receiver on the ground. The advantage of such a system, and space-based solar power in general, is that it harnesses the unobstructed output of the sun, unlike land-based solar systems which are affected by the weather and Earth's day/night cycle.


While Glaser's proposal never got off the ground, it did inspire further investigation of the potential of space-based solar power by various government departments and institutions. In 2008, a company called Space Energy conducted a long-range wireless power transmission test using a microwave beam between two Hawaiian islands, a distance of 148 km (91.96 mi). The result was a power yield of 1/1000th of one percent on the receiving end, raising questions over whether the technique could be employed over the much larger distance between a satellite in geosynchronous Earth orbit (GEO) and a ground station.


Writing in IEEE Spectrum, Professor Emeritus at JAXA, Susumi Sasaki, argues that this experiment failed largely due to the dense atmosphere disturbing the microwaves' phases as a result of the horizontal transmission. In detailing the agency's proposal he emphasized that in a space-based system the microwaves only need to pass through this dense atmosphere for the last few kilometers of their journey. This, along with new designs for the solar power satellites and anticipated advances in technology over the coming decades, gives JAXA confidence that it can eventually achieve an effective wireless transmission of solar energy over the necessary 36,000 km (22,500 miles) from GEO.


JAXA is working on two concepts. The simpler one involves a huge square panel that measures 2 km (1.24 mi) per side. The top surface would be covered with photovoltaic elements, with transmission antennas on the bottom side. A small bus housing controls and communication systems would be tethered to the panel via 10 km (6.2 mi) long wires. A limitation with this design is that the orientation of the panel is fixed, meaning that as the Earth and the satellite spin, the amount of sunlight the panel receives will vary, impacting its ability to generate power.

Via Tania Gammage
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Molecular mechanical computers are up to 100 billion times more energy efficient

Molecular mechanical computers are up to 100 billion times more energy efficient | Amazing Science |

Ralph Merkle, Robert Freitas and others have a theoretical design for a molecular mechanical computer that would be 100 billion times more energy efficient than the most energy efficient conventional green supercomputer. Removing the need for gears, clutches, switches, springs makes the design easier to build.

Existing designs for mechanical computing can be vastly improved upon in terms of the number of parts required to implement a complete computational system. Only two types of parts are required: Links, and rotary joints. Links are simply stiff, beam-like structures. Rotary joints are joints that allow rotational movement in a single plane.

Simple logic and conditional routing can be accomplished using only links and rotary joints, which are solidly connected at all times. No gears, clutches, switches, springs, or any other mechanisms are required. An actual system does not require linear slides.

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Wearable Artificial Kidney Completes First Clinical Trial, Could Free People From Dialysis

Wearable Artificial Kidney Completes First Clinical Trial, Could Free People From Dialysis | Amazing Science |
Positive results from the first clinical trial on a wearable artificial kidney may soon replace dialysis.For anyone suffering from kidney disease, their only course of treatment is hemodialysis—a costly, time consuming, and cumbersome method that requires a patient being hooked up to a machine. Through the years, researchers have sought to find a wearable and portable alternative that could allow for more mobility and more sessions, but minus the hassle.

Now, the results of an FDA-approved human trial of a wearable artificial kidney have just been published. The device is essentially a miniature version of the traditional, stationary hemodialysis machine, and it could one day change current methods of dialysis.

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Fireworks of the Future? Startup Looks to Launch Manmade Meteor Shower for Tokyo Olympics

Fireworks of the Future? Startup Looks to Launch Manmade Meteor Shower for Tokyo Olympics | Amazing Science |

The company's "Sky Canvas" project would launch a microsatellite into space (the first is scheduled for next year) that's loaded up with 500 to 1,000 proprietary pellets containing various elements. In the company's earthbound testing, they've place these pellets into a vacuum chamber and blasted them with hot gases traveling at supersonic speeds, simulating atmospheric re-entry, and found that as the pellets burn, they produce different colors depending on which elements they contain.

The plan is that once the satellite is locked into geostationary orbit over the desired site, an onboard device will start spitting the pellets out like a baseball pitching machine. 

Based on their testing, researchers have "no doubt" that the pellets will burn brightly enough to be seen on the ground, even over light-polluted Tokyo, within a 200-kilometer (125-mile) radius. In the event of inclement weather, the meteor shower can be remotely canceled and postponed prior to starting.

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Engineered bacterium grows on carbon dioxide and hydrogen and excretes fuel alcohols

Engineered bacterium grows on carbon dioxide and hydrogen and excretes fuel alcohols | Amazing Science |

Harvard Chemist Daniel Nocera has announced during a lecture at the Energy Policy Institute in Chicago, that he and his colleagues have engineered a bacterium that has made it capable of taking in carbon dioxide and hydrogen, and excreting several types of alcohol fuels, along with biomass that can be burned and used as an energy source. During the talk, he claimed that a paper he and his colleagues have written regarding the work will soon be published in the journal Science.

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New in-ear device could be the beginning of a world without language barriers

New in-ear device could be the beginning of a world without language barriers | Amazing Science |

From Gene Roddenberry in Star Trek to Douglas Adams in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, anyone who spends much time forecasting the future comes to realize that language has simply got to go. In a connected world, it’s one of the only things remaining that truly separates us — it’s what keeps keeps us from being able to directly consume and understand one another’s film and literature, and what keeps occupying soldiers from being able to effectively make alliances with local peoples. It’s a primitive relic of a bygone age — if we can convert MP4 to AVI, certainly we ought to be able to convert Mandarin to German. Now, a new device called Pilot could make that dream (mostly) a reality.


A real-world Babelfish, or Universal Translator if you prefer, has been slow to materialize. We’ve got speech recognition, and we’ve got translation, and we’ve even got both of those things in real-time in some very specific cases, but a portable, near-real-time translation device that moves with you? Despite rumors of GoogleX super-projects, it hasn’t happened yet.


One big reason is that real-time translation is hard. It’s so hard, in fact, that all the advancement in computing power we’ve seen in the past 20 years did little to get us closer to the goal. It took a revolution in how we compute information, the influx of neural network models and machine learning algorithms, before we could crunch natural language and produce a translation in a reasonable amount of time — but there’s still a problem. Neural networks are themselves very hard to run, meaning we need a super-computer to do translation.


In the context of a wearable, that means you’ll probably need an always-on data connection, which itself means you’ll need a subscription and a hefty power supply to keep the connection going all day. Pilot gets around this by wirelessly accessing your cell phone’s processor to do the work locally; prior on-phone translation services have been imperfect, but Pilot claims to have reached true real-time speeds.


What this does to your cellphone’s battery is anybody’s guess, but I’d bet this sort of intensive crunching would burn through even giant Galaxy S-series batteries in a short time. It’s not exactly living “untethered” if you have to plug your phone in every 45 minutes, but sci-fi beggars can’t be choosers, and the early adopters who buy one of these for a cool $300 will still be able to feel like they’re legitimately at the forefront of a tech revolution.


The other problem that has held back universal translators is that making one is a complex challenge many practical concerns. Do you turn it on only when you need it, and if so aren’t you going to miss a lot of the unexpected banter that you’d want to hear? How does it know who you’re talking to, in a crowded room full of people speaking? How does it fit on my damn head?


Pilot gets around these problems by splitting the service into two pieces. It’s not actually an earpiece, but two earpieces. When you’ve decided you want to talk to somebody (like the dreamy French girl who allegedly inspired this thing), you simply hand them their ear-piece to begin talking. Each of you now has a translator, so you can both understand one another — this takes the place of any sort of speaker that most sci-fi translators use to say our words out loud.


So, it’s not quite a “put it in your ear and it’s like everyone’s speaking English” super-invention, and since this came out of an Indiegogo campaign, you wouldn’t really expect it to. But it is incredibly ambitious, and it could spark existing translation efforts from Skype (Microsoft) and Google to shoot a little higher, a little faster.

Lynnette Van Dyke's curator insight, May 29, 2016 7:00 AM
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Fast, stretchy circuits could yield new wave of wearable electronics

Fast, stretchy circuits could yield new wave of wearable electronics | Amazing Science |

The consumer marketplace is flooded with a lively assortment of smart wearable electronics that do everything from monitor vital signs, fitness or sun exposure to play music, charge other electronics or even purify the air around you - all wirelessly.


Now, a team of University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers has created the world's fastest stretchable, wearable integrated circuits, an advance that could drive the Internet of Things and a much more connected, high-speed wireless world.


Led by Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma, the Lynn H. Matthias Professor in Engineering and Vilas Distinguished Achievement Professor in electrical and computer engineering at UW-Madison, the researchers published details of these powerful, highly efficient integrated circuits today, May 27, 2016, in the journal Advanced Functional Materials.


The advance is a platform for manufacturers seeking to expand the capabilities and applications of wearable electronics—including those with biomedical applications—particularly as they strive to develop devices that take advantage of a new generation of wireless broadband technologies referred to as 5G.


With wavelength sizes between a millimeter and a meter, microwave radio frequencies are electromagnetic waves that use frequencies in the .3 gigahertz to 300 gigahertz range. That falls directly in the 5G range.


In mobile communications, the wide microwave radio frequencies of 5G networks will accommodate a growing number of cellphone users and notable increases in data speeds and coverage areas.


In an intensive care unit, epidermal electronic systems (electronics that adhere to the skin like temporary tattoos) could allow health care staff to monitor patients remotely and wirelessly, increasing patient comfort by decreasing the customary tangle of cables and wires.


What makes the new, stretchable integrated circuits so powerful is their unique structure, inspired by twisted-pair telephone cables. They contain, essentially, two ultra-tiny intertwining power transmission lines in repeating S-curves.


This serpentine shape—formed in two layers with segmented metal blocks, like a 3-D puzzle—gives the transmission lines the ability to stretch without affecting their performance. It also helps shield the lines from outside interference and, at the same time, confine the electromagnetic waves flowing through them, almost completely eliminating current loss. Currently, the researchers' stretchable integrated circuits can operate at radio frequency levels up to 40 gigahertz.


And, unlike other stretchable transmission lines, whose widths can approach 640 micrometers (or .64 millimeters), the researchers' new stretchable integrated circuits are just 25 micrometers (or .025 millimeters) thick. That's tiny enough to be highly effective in epidermal electronic systems, among many other applications.

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Scientists Want To Sequence The Genome Of Leonardo Da Vinci

Scientists Want To Sequence The Genome Of Leonardo Da Vinci | Amazing Science |

Five hundred years ago, Leonardo da Vinci was pioneering pretty much every field of study going, from poetry to mathematics, engineering, anatomy, science, astronomy, and geology. He wasn’t bad at painting either, apparently. Seemingly inspired by his feverishly creative spirit, scientists have hatched a mad plan to sequence his genome and attempt to piece together his incredible life.


The Leonardo Project is bringing together a wealth of scientists, historians, archeologists and art experts from universities around the world. They have recently outlined a few of their plans in a special edition of the Human Evolution journal.


The team is going to look for traces of DNA and fingerprints on his books, notepads, paintings, and equipment. They then hope to pair this with information from the hair, bones, fingerprints, and skin cells of his known past and present relatives. As you can imagine, this is no small feat. Much of the work will include tracking the history and final resting place of Leonardo’s family from the 14th century right up to now.


Rhonda Roby, a geneticist on the project, spoke to Gizmodo about some of the challenges in finding the physical remnants of Da Vinci, saying: “More and more techniques are being developed to recover DNA from people touching things.” “I also think there’s a possibility of biological material inside paintings,” she added. “The challenge would be actually getting that material out without damaging the artwork.”


The legacy of Da VInci’s work in science, engineering, and culture is nothing short of superhuman. But despite this, very little is known about the man himself. One of the things that will be revealed from this genome sequencing is the appearance of the Renaissance polymath. By fitting together bits of the genetic jigsaw, they’ll be able to get a fair idea of his eye color, skin tone, hair color, weight, height, and face shape. They also reckon they’ll be able to get a fair idea of his diet, his health, and his personality.


There’re no plans to clone the great polymath just yet, though.

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Danko Nikolić: How to Make Intelligent Robots That Understand the World

There are some amazing robots roving the surface of Mars. However, they are heavily dependent on their human operators. But what if we could provide them with human-like intelligence so that they could find their own way without assistance? What if we could teach them to autonomously deal with completely novel situations? Danko Nikolić, a neuroscientist at the Max-Planck Institute for Brain Research, has his own vision: a novel approach to Artificial Intelligence (AI) that could give robots the capability to understand the world through a method called “AI-Kindergarten”. So, can we provide for a sufficiently strong artificial intelligence to enable a robot to find its way in an environment as hostile and as unpredictable as space?

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