Sunday, February 26, 2006

Flying Cars In The Near Future?

A few MIT students are designing a flying car and are aiming for the year 2009 to start manufacturing it:

Plenty of other kids (and gridlocked commuters) have had the same dream, of course. The difference is that Dietrich believed he could one day design a flying car. Now, at 28, he is doing so.

For the past year, he and two others have quietly been developing plans for a flying car, or Personal Air Vehicle. Dubbed the Transition, it is still in the design stage, but they hope to begin manufacturing it by 2009. Already they have applied for four patents with the US Patent and Trademark Office and have discussed their plans with Federal Aviation Administration officials.


Few who know Dietrich would bet against him. Even by MIT's standards, he is considered a standout -- so much so, in fact, that today he will be announced as the winner of the $30,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize. An outside panel of scientists and technologists chose Dietrich for his ''portfolio of novel inventions," including not just the flying car but also a desktop-size fusion reactor and a lower-cost rocket engine.

They're not the only ones trying to get flying cars off the ground, though. Also have a look at this SkyCar.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Designing Nanomachines

CRNano recently blogposted a very nice bit on designing nanomachines.

Especially the pictures they have posted of simulated nanomachines are worth looking at. These images would not have been possible only two years ago. Thanks to sophisticated simulation software, they are now:

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IBM Pushes Chipmaking Below 30nm

IBM pushes optical lithography below 30nm:

IBM researchers have claimed a way to extend traditional chip-manufacturing processes to generate smaller chip circuits, potentially postponing the semiconductor industry’s high-risk conversion to an alternative.

IBM scientists have created high-quality line patterns using deep-ultraviolet (DUV) 193nm optical lithography for spaced ridges 29.9nm wide, below the 32nm point that industry consensus held as the limit for optical lithography techniques.


"Our goal is to push optical lithography as far as we can so the industry does not have to move to any expensive alternatives until absolutely necessary," said Dr Robert Allen, manager of lithography materials at IBM’s Almaden Research Center.

Eventually, the whole chipmaking process will move to another paradigm. Before that happens, we'll squeeze the last few years out of Moore's Law. When Moore's Law dies, exponential acceleration in computer chip speed will still continue. Moore's Law only says something about the number of transistors on a chip. But in the future, our chips won't consist of conventional transistors anymore. They'll be built at the nanoscale, probably making use of crossbar latches.

Anybody who tells you that chip speeds will soon begin to come to a screeching halt, should definately Google up the other dozens of news articles that all report on methods to keep exponential gains going for quite some time to come.

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Singularity Institute Successfully Completes $100.000 Challenge

The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence, which is working diligently to create a superior artificial intelligence to solve the world's problems, has succeeded in collecting $100.000 from donors. The amount will be matched by Peter Thiel, former CEO of PayPal.

The money will be used to hire new staff, do more Singularity-research and to educate people on the topic of the Singularity.

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Mutant Algae Is Hydrogen Factory

Mutant Algae Is Hydrogen Factory:

Researchers at the University of California at Berkeley have engineered a strain of pond scum that could, with further refinements, produce vast amounts of hydrogen through photosynthesis.

The work, led by plant physiologist Tasios Melis, is so far unpublished. But if it proves correct, it would mean a major breakthrough in using algae as an industrial factory, not only for hydrogen, but for a wide range of products, from biodiesel to cosmetics.


Melis got involved in this research when he and Michael Seibert, a scientist at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, figured out how to get hydrogen out of green algae by restricting sulfur from their diet. The plant cells flicked a long-dormant genetic switch to produce hydrogen instead of carbon dioxide. But the quantities of hydrogen they produced were nowhere near enough to scale up the process commercially and profitably.

"When we discovered the sulfur switch, we increased hydrogen production by a factor of 100,000," says Seibert. "But to make it a commercial technology, we still had to increase the efficiency of the process by another factor of 100."

Melis’ truncated antennae mutants are a big step in that direction. Now Seibert and others (including James Lee at Oak Ridge National Laboratories and J. Craig Venter at the Venter Institute in Rockville, Maryland) are trying to adjust the hydrogen-producing pathway so that it can produce hydrogen 100 percent of the time.

Imagine that... a world in which our cars run on hydrogen, and the hydrogen is being massproduced practically for free.

I think we can all look forward to a world where our transportation is a whole lot cheaper than it is now.

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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Smart Cars To Hit The Road In 2010

Clever Cars Put The Brakes On Accidents:

In-car technology projects underway in Europe could stop thousands of accidents every year, according to the European Commission.

Driving the development of smarter, safer and cleaner cars is part of the EU's European Information Society 2010 (i2010) strategy to boost growth and jobs in the digital economy.

The 'intelligent car' is one of three i2010 flagship projects aiming to show how IT can improve quality of life. But the EC is warning more work needs to be done.


According to the EU, a series of innovations could put the brakes on accidents across Europe if adopted.

They are:

  • If all vehicles in the EU were equipped with automatic emergency call technology by 2010, road accident fatalities could be reduced by five to 15 per cent. The system could also reduce time lost to traffic congestion by between 10 and 20 per cent, with cost savings of €2bn to €4bn.
  • Autonomous Cruise Control could prevent up to 4,000 accidents per annum if just three per cent of vehicles were equipped with it by 2010.
  • Systems to warn if a car is wandering out of its lane could prevent 1,500 accidents per year, even if a mere 0.6 per cent of vehicles had it installed in four years - or 14,000 accidents if take-up was more like seven per cent.
  • The Awake project is developing a driver 'hypovigilance' system that wakes up drowsy drivers, and estimates its work can prevent up to 30 per cent of fatal crashes on motorways and nine per cent of all fatal crashes.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Solar Panels Ready For Home Use?

Scientists of the University of Johannesburg claim to have made a breakthrough in solar panels after 10 years of research:

In a scientific breakthrough that has stunned the world, a team of South African scientists has developed a revolutionary new, highly efficient solar power technology that will enable homes to obtain all their electricity from the sun.

This means high electricity bills and frequent power failures could soon be a thing of the past.

The unique South African-developed solar panels will make it possible for houses to become completely self-sufficient for energy supplies.

The panels are able to generate enough energy to run stoves, geysers, lights, TVs, fridges, computers - in short all the mod-cons of the modern house.

The new technology should be available in South Africa within a year and through a special converter, energy can be fed directly into the wiring of existing houses. New powerful storage units will allow energy storage to meet demands even in winter. The panels are so efficient they can operate through a Cape Town winter. while direct sunlight is ideal for high-energy generation, other daytime light also generates energy via the panels.

If true, then this means solar panels have become cost competative with conventional energy sources. This is remarkable, since extrapolations of solar panel efficiency point out that this should not have happened until about 2010.

But then again, cars weren't supposed to be driving 130 miles all by themselves, but they did it anyway.

And these are only two of many examples where quantum leaps are made in technology, basically bringing the technology of the future into the present.

Also have a look at these two articles in which Bush states that the U.S. (and by that he probably means the whole world) is on the verge of an energy breakthrough that will startle most Americans (by which he probably means human beings in general):
"Roof makers will one day be able to make a solar roof that protects you from the elements and at the same time, powers your house," Bush said. "The vision is this - that technology will become so efficient that you'll become a little power generator in your home, and if you don't use the energy you generate you'll be able to feed it back into the electricity grid."

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Unlocking The Secrets Of Longevity Genes

Scientific American has a lengthy article that goes into detail about unlocking the secrets of longevity genes:

A handful of genes that control the body's defenses during hard times can also dramatically improve health and prolong life in diverse organisms. Understanding how they work may reveal the keys to extending human life span while banishing diseases of old age.


And in the longer term, we expect that unlocking the secrets of longevity genes will allow society to go beyond treating illnesses associated with aging and prevent them from arising in the first place. It may seem hard to imagine what life will be like when people are able to feel youthful and live relatively free of today's diseases well into their 90s. Some may wonder whether tinkering with human life span is even a good idea. But at the beginning of the 20th century, life expectancy at birth was around 45 years. It has risen to about 75 thanks to the advent of antibiotics and public health measures that allow people to survive or avoid infectious diseases. Society adapted to that dramatic change in average longevity, and few people would want to return to life without those advances. No doubt, future generations accustomed to living past 100 will also look back at our current approaches to improving health as primitive relics of a bygone era.

That's right!

Before you ask yourself whether tinkering with our biology, ask yourself if you'd like to back in time a hundred or two hundred years.

As Ray Kurzweil writes in one of his books... We didn't stick to land. Instead we went sailing and flying, and even travelled into outer space. We won't stick with our biology. Going past our own limits is part of what defines us as humans.

(inaccurately quoted from memory, but the essence is correct)

Anybody interested in detailed talk about longevity related genes, should definately read the source article.

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Anti Aging Drugs On The Horizon

Redherring has a detailed article online that discusses the likeability of the arrival of real anti aging medication in the coming years:

But drugs that prevent aging itself are on the distant horizon, and with them could come dramatic social changes, such as much later ages for everything from puberty to retirement, and massive inequality in life expectancy between those who can afford the life-lengthening compounds, and those who can’t. These changes, in turn, would have a significant impact on the global economy.

“What we’re talking about is not curing diseases… but slowing the aging process itself,” said Alan Cohen, a graduate student at the University of Missouri, who on Friday moderated a panel on the topic at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in St. Louis.


“Over the past couple of years, definitely, aging science has experienced momentum and I think we now know enough to consider the consequences of slowing down aging,” Shin-ichiro Imai, assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Pharmacology at Washington University.

The article also reflects on the economic implications of this:
“If anti-aging drugs have effects similar to our assumptions, the ratio jump will be from 0.2 to 0.4 by 2050. In other words, the burden of supporting people if they retired at 65 would double,” added Professor Tuljapurkar.


“It is very difficult to hold down a job after 65,” he added. “We are going to have to rethink career structures away from simply hierarchies.”

He suggests careers where people can work their way up the ladder and back down the ladder again, without firings, shame, or failure.

The article has a good point that increasing lifespans would indeed create problems. But that is only true in a society which only invents rejuvenation therapies, and has no other technological types of progress.

This is ofcourse not how our society works. Next to robots entering the mainstream, we're looking at a nanotechnological industrial revolution in about 10 years. These technologies will be turning our world upside down, and major economic restructuring will likely be necessary.

As with any other industrial revolution, the result will likely be that we will work less and gain more material posessions at the same time.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

On Hydrogen Creation And Storage

The three problems standing in the way of a full blown hydrogen economy are:

  1. Hydrogen creation
  2. Hydrogen storage
  3. Hydrogen usage (fuel cells)
I recently stumbled upon two interesting articles that address the former two.

Researcher Invents New Way To Make Hydrogen:
Borrowing from two different research areas that he’s pursued over his career, Sandia researcher Rich Diver (6218) has invented a whole new way to make hydrogen to power automobiles and homes.

His invention, the Counter Rotating Ring Receiver Reactor Recuperator (CR5, for short), splits water into hydrogen and oxygen, using a simple, two-step thermochemical process.

The CR5 is a stack of rings made of a reactive ferrite material, consisting of iron oxide mixed with a metal oxide such as cobalt, magnesium, or nickel oxide. Every other ring rotates in opposite directions. Concentrated solar heat is reflected through a small hole onto one side of the stack of rings. The side of the rings in the sunlit area is hot, while the other side is relatively cold. As the rotating rings pass each other in between these regions, the hot rings heat up the cooler rings, and the colder rings cool down the hot rings. This arrangement results in a conservation of heat entering the system, limiting the energy input required from the sunlight.

Steam runs by the rings on the cooler side causing a chemical reaction to take place, allowing the ferrite material to grab oxygen out of the water, leaving the hydrogen. The hydrogen is then pumped out and compressed for use.


Rich envisions fields of large mirror dish collector systems making hydrogen, which would be stored and sent to stations where hydrogen-electric hybrid vehicles could “fill up.”

Carbon Nanotubes Store Hydrogen:
Imagine this: your fuel gauge is hovering near empty. You stop by the nearest store, turn in your empty hydrogen cartridge, buy a full one and pop it into your car. Presto, you’re on your hydrogen-powered way again, emitting just the faintest traces of water out the tailpipe.


Single-walled carbon nanotubes are essentially a one-atom-thick layer of carbon rolled into a tube. All the carbon atoms are on the surface, allowing easy access for bonding. The carbon atoms have double bonds with each other. The incoming hydrogens break the double bonds, allowing a hydrogen to attach to a carbon while the carbon atoms renew their grip on each other with single bonds. The carbon nanotubes offer safe storage because the hydrogen atoms are bonded to other atoms, rather than freely floating as a potentially explosive gas.

The researchers estimated that five percent of the total weight of the hydrogenated nanotubes came from the hydrogen atoms, and they are already working to boost that number. For its FreedomCAR program, the Department of Energy has set the goal of developing a material that can hold six percent of the total weight in hydrogen by the year 2010. Because hydrogen is the lightest element, the storage material also needs to be light—as is carbon—to hold a high percentage of hydrogen by weight.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Anti Aging Drugs To Increase Lifespan

From Ananova, there is this little and low-detail blurb about unnamed scientists making some claims regarding anti aging drugs.

Anti-ageing drugs to increase lifespan:

Anti-ageing drugs could increase lifespan by 20 years and up the retirement age to 85 by 2050, according to scientists.

Researchers in California believe new drugs capable of slowing the ageing process will start to become available in rich countries in 2010.

They say living to the age of 100 will become commonplace with an ageing workforce employed in physically undemanding jobs.

Existing drugs already alleviate medical conditions which are generally regarded as an inevitable part of ageing.

But new drugs will focus on reducing other harmful processes that bring about the cellular wear and tear of ageing.

Shripad Tuljapurkar, an expert in population studies at Stanford University in California, said there could be four pensioners for every five workers by 2050.

"If that happens, people are going to have to work to the age of 85," he said.

I agree that true anti aging medicine might be commercially available by 2010, because science is understanding the chemical processes underlying our aging process at an exponentially accelerating rate.

What I don't agree with, is that we'll only be adding a lousy 20 years to our lifespans. Maybe there will be a drug that will indeed add 20 years to our lifespan, but why assume it will stop there?

Two decades is an eternity in science. If anybody can come up with a drug that will add two decades, then the people using it will already be in 'escape velocity', as Aubrey de Grey so eloquently calls it. This basically means you'd be safely leapfrogging from one rejuvenation therapy to the next one, that arrives a couple of years later and is better. You'd be pushing death away from you faster than you were going there, so to speak.

There exists a real, honest-to-God Quest For Immortality in today's science. I'd be enormously surprised if there aren't going to come aging interventions from the coming biotech and nanotech revolutions.

Furthermore, I think the article is incorrect with regards to the idea of people having to work until 85. With robots swifly entering the mainstream to do our work for us, and another industrial revolution right around the corner, I think the quality of our lives will improve and that we'll actually be working way less than we are doing now.

That's what happened after all previous industrial revolutions, anyway...

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

1.2 Petabyte Hard Disks

1.2 Petabytes Of Storage:

p2p news / p2pnet: Can you imagine world without data compression? And where you never have to back anything up?

US inventor Michael Thomas, owner of Colossal Storage, hopes to achieve exactly that. He says he's the first person to solve non-contact optical spintronics which will in turn utlimately result in the creation of 3.5-inch discs with a million times the capacity of any hard drive - 1.2 petabytes of storage, to be exact.


"Normally all the electrons could spin randomly working against the best electrical signal. The electrons are also capable of spinning in both directions a once. But my unique method for creating uniform in-sync spinning electrons will for the first time allow a whole new field of science and electronics to emerge.

"With the ability to control electron spin we will see much smaller electronic devices on the market."


"One field under study is optical spintronics following Faradays laws," Thomas continues. "The potential data capacity is enormous, and there'd be a very high data transfer rate. Consequently, there'd be no need for expensive compression software like MPEG and others, and no need to backup data."


Thomas' agent in Japan is in talks with "several big name companies," he states, saying he expects it'll be two to three years before prototypes will be built.

"I'd say we can expect a finished product to be on the market in about four to five years," he says, adding the cost would probably be in the range of $750 each.

By the time this will come to pass, we will likely be very mobile with our computer systems (see The Future Of Computers for details). We will probably be logging our entire lives in real time constantly.

And why not... it only costs a fraction of the total storage capacity we'll have available.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Breakthrough In Computer Chip Lithography

Breakthrough Computer Chip Lithography Method Developed at RIT:

A new computer chip lithography method under development at Rochester Institute of Technology has led to imaging capabilities beyond that previously thought possible.


Leading a team of engineering students, Bruce Smith, RIT professor of microelectronic engineering and director of the Center for Nanolithography Research in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering, developed a method—known as evanescent wave lithography, or EWL—capable of optically imaging the smallest-ever semiconductor device geometry. Yongfa Fan, a doctoral student in RIT’s microsystems engineering Ph.D. program, accomplished imaging rendered to 26 nanometers —a size previously possible only via extreme ultraviolet wavelength, Smith says. By capturing images that are beyond the limits of classical physics, the breakthrough has allowed resolution to smaller than one-twentieth the wavelength of visible light, he adds.

The development comes at least five years sooner than anticipated, using the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors as a guide, Smith says. The roadmap, created by a consortium of industry groups, government organizations, universities, manufacturers and suppliers, assesses semiconductor technology requirements to ensure advancements in the performance of integrated circuits to meet future needs.


Evanescent wave lithography is an “enabling technology” permitting better understanding of how building blocks are created for future microelectronic and nanotechnology devices—the technology that consumers will use over the next five to 10 years, Smith explains.

For clarity, chip lithography is the process of making computer chips. The smaller you can get, the faster the resulting chip will be.

CRNano also reports on this, and provides a layman explanation:
The "diffraction limit" used to be thought of as a fundamental barrier: you couldn't do anything with light that involved distances smaller than half a wavelength. Imagine that you're jumping rope while dancing around and using the rope's impact on the ground to sweep patterns in the dust. By just spinning the rope around yourself, you can't make patterns that are much narrower than you are.

But if you can shake the rope in intricate, carefully controlled patterns instead of just swinging it around, you can make it touch the ground in smaller and more controlled areas. Similarly, if you send the light through very carefully calculated masks, you can make the energy -- over a very short distance -- take on patterns that are quite a lot more intricate than a simple wave of light.

The CRNano post is ended with a keen insight and an interesting question:
Another rule has been broken by this work -- this one not a "rule" of physics, but a human prediction. As the article explains, evanescent wave lithography wasn't expected to be developed for another five years. Technology seems to have a habit of doing that, these days.

So how long until we see the first positionally controlled, atomically precise diamond fabrication?

Technological progress is accelerating exponentially. Our society will be transformed as techno-revolutions start following each other up faster and faster. The implications will be vast.

Another link to the same story (but more detailed) can be found here.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

Robots Swiftly Entering The Mainstream

Robot Assisted Surgery More Accurate Than Conventional Surgery:

A new study from Imperial College London shows that robot assisted knee surgery is significantly more accurate than conventional surgery.

The robotic assistant, Acrobat, significantly improves surgeons accuracy during knee surgeryThe team of surgeons tested whether Acrobot, a robotic assistant, could improve surgical outcomes for patients undergoing partial knee replacement. Acrobot works by helping the surgeon to line up the replacement knee parts with the existing bones.

The surgeons looked at 27 patients undergoing unicompartmental knee replacement. The patients were separated into two groups as part of a randomised controlled trial, with 14 having conventional surgery, and the remaining 13 having robot assisted surgery.

Although the operations took a few minutes longer using the robotic assistant, the replacement knee parts were more accurately lined up than in conventional surgery. All of the robotically assisted operations lined up the bones to within two degrees of the planned position, but only 40 percent of the conventionally performed cases achieved this level of accuracy.

The team found there were no additional side effects from using robot assisted surgery, and recovery from surgery was quicker in most cases.

Toy Makers Hawk Robotic Playmates:
With young consumers growing out of toys faster and preferring iPod digital music players and video games, the nation's toy makers are working harder to come up with more high-tech products, particularly robotic playmates.

Such robotic toys, which are even more lifelike than a year ago, are among the thousands of toys to be featured at American International Toy Fair, officially beginning Sunday.

This year's robotic lineup includes a life-sized miniature pony that responds to touch, a Barbie doll that follows the child's dance moves and a robot made from a Lego building set that can be programmed.


"Children are migrating to consumer electronics faster than toy companies can take them there," said Sean McGowan, a toy analyst at Harris Nesbitt. He expects the industry to report a sales decline of up to 4 percent in traditional toys for 2005,


The good news is that as microchips have come down in prices, toy makers are able to make more advanced toys that are still affordable. At least 75 percent of the toys at this year's event will have some sort of microchip in them. Watching how parents spent more than $200 on iPods for their children has given toy makers more confidence in offering higher-priced toys packed with high-powered technology.


Other new robotic toys to be featured at the industry event include:
  • Amazing Allysen from Playmates Toys Inc., a companion doll to last year's Amazing Amanda, a surprise hit last holiday season. The new doll, aimed at an older girl ages 9 and 10 years old, recognizes and responds to key words and phrases with lifelike facial expressions and real emotions.
  • Cuddle Chimp, from Hasbro, the latest in the company's FurReal Friends collection responds to touch by snuggling into the owner's arms and emits happy sounds.
  • Roboreptile, the latest robotic pet from WowWee Ltd., which boasts even more advance sensor technology from last year's Roboraptor. Such advancements allow the creature to move more quickly and to avoid obstacles that get in its way.

Also see Robots Are Becoming More Like Humans.

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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Printing Organs

Changing The World With A Printer:

What if the tens of thousands of people waiting for organ transplants in the United States didn't have to wait? What if burn victims could replace their scars with skin that was indistinguishable from their own? What if an amputee could replace an entire limb with one that felt, looked and behaved exactly as the original?

In what could be the first step toward human immortality, scientists say they've found a way to do all of these things and more with the use of a technology found in many American homes: an ink-jet printer.

Researchers around the world say that by using the technology, they can actually "print" living human tissue and one day will be able to print entire organs.

"The promise of tissue engineering and the promise of 'organ printing' is very clear: We want to print living, three-dimensional human organs," Dr. Vladimir Mironov said. "That's our goal, and that's our mission."


The concept behind organ printing is one that's been used in the manufacturing world for years, "rapid prototyping."

"Rapid prototyping is nothing more than layer-by-layer deposition of any materials," explained Mironov. "What is new is that instead of ceramic, instead of polymer, instead of some other nonorganic stuff, we use living tissue and living cells."

Rapid prototyping is the process of quickly turning product designs into actual samples. Using a computer and a rapid prototype machine, one can build almost any object -- limited only by size, complexity and material.

Even though the scientists behind this are obviously not aware of the implications of exponential acceleration in technology (predicting whole-organ printing timelines such as 50 years, which is ridiculously conservative), you have to praise them for inventing such a neat technology that will be very beneficial to humanity.

Though we may be half-a-century away from being able to print entire organs, scientists say we're likely much closer to applications that will affect everyone's life.

Boland is working with colleagues at the Medical University of South Carolina to build tissue to repair a heart that's been damaged.

"The problem with heart tissue is that you can't generate your own heart cells anymore," explained Boland. "You're born with a number of heart cells -- maybe a billion or so -- then, that's it."

Mironov said there were researchers working with two-dimensional bio-printed materials for work with drugs and toxicity.

Imagine living patches of skin that could be used to test medicines or even cosmetics.

Indeed as scientists and researchers work to make organ printing a reality, Mironov knows full well the potential implications for all of mankind.

"This could have the same impact as Guttenberg's press," he said.

These scientists are going to have to keep in mind that everything they are doing right now can also be done with stemcell technology.

I wonder which one will first get to the level of producing complete organs. Not that it matters anything to the people who will actually end up making use of the technology. But hey... competition is a good thing, right?

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Friday, February 10, 2006

Nanofactories - Revolution In A Box

WorldChanging has put up an interesting interview with the Center For Responsible Nanotechnology entitled Revolution In A Box.

A fitting name for the next upcoming industrial nanotech revolution.

CRNano explains the possibilities and implications of a nanofactory:

CRN: The first, tiny nanofactory will be built by intricate laboratory techniques; then that nanofactory will have to build a bigger one, and so on, many times over. This means that even the earliest usable nanofactory will necessarily work extremely fast and be capable of making highly functional products with moving parts. So, in addition to laptops and phones, an early nanofactory should be able to make cars, home appliances, and a wide array of other products.

Medicines and food will not be early products. A large number of reactions will be required to make the vast variety of organic molecules. Some molecules will be synthesized more easily than others. It may work better first to build (using a nanofactory) an advanced fluidic system that can do traditional chemistry.

Food will be especially difficult because it contains water. Water is a small molecule that would float around and gum up the factory. Also, food contains a number of large and intricate molecules for taste and smell; furthermore, nourishing food requires mineral elements that would require extra research to handle with nanofactory-type processes.


CRN: It's important to understand that molecular manufacturing implies exponential manufacturing--the ability to rapidly build as many desktop nanofactories (sometimes called personal fabricators) as you have the resources for. Starting with one nanofactory, someone could build thousands of additional nanofactories in a day or less, at very low cost. This means that projects of almost any size can be accomplished quickly.

Those who have access to the technology could use it to build a surveillance system to track six billion people, weapons systems far more powerful than the world's combined conventional forces, construction on a planetary scale, or spaceflight as easy as airplane flight is today.

Massive construction isn't always bad. Rapid construction could allow us to build environmental remediation technologies on a huge scale. Researchers at Los Alamos National Laboratory are suggesting that equipment could be built to remove significant quantities of carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. With molecular manufacturing, this could be done far more quickly, easily, and inexpensively.

In addition to being powerful, the technology will also be deft and exquisite. Medical research and treatment will advance rapidly, given access to nearly unlimited numbers of medical robots and sensors that are smaller than a cell.

This only scratches the surface of the implications. Molecular manufacturing has as many implications as electricity, computers, and gasoline engines.

Also worth reading are Explosion Expected For Nanotechnology and New Device Revolutionizes Nano Imaging.

The latter one describes a fairly impressive breakthrough in science's quest for advanced nanotechnology (that includes nanofactories):
Georgia Tech researchers have created a highly sensitive atomic force microscopy (AFM) technology capable of high-speed imaging 100 times faster than current AFM. This technology could prove invaluable for many types of nano-research, in particular for measuring microelectronic devices and observing fast biological interactions on the molecular scale, even translating into movies of molecular interactions in real time.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Life In 2015 - Interview With Futurologist Ray Kurzweil

The Center For Responsible Nanotechnology has put up an interview with Ray Kurzweil, who has written the already legendary article The Law Of Accelerating Returns.

Ray Kurzweil is well known for making accurate future technology predictions. He has been successfully predicting the future by using extrapolations of the current state of technology since the beginning of the nineties.

It's a long read, but well worth it. Especially if you aren't familiar yet with what the future will look like.

I'll just take the liberty of copypasting question 11 of the interview right here:

Question 11: How do you envision the world in 2015? What economic and technological predictions would you make for that year?

By 2015, computers will be largely invisible, and will be very small. We will be dealing with a mesh of computing and communications that will be embedded in the environment and in our clothing. People in 2005 face a dilemma because, on the one hand, they want large, high-resolution displays. They can obtain these displays by buying expensive 72” flat-panel plasma monitors. But they also want portable devices, which have limited display capabilities. By 2015, we will have images input directly onto our retinas. This allows for a very high-resolution display that encompasses the entire visual field of view yet is physically tiny. These devices exist in 2005, and are used in high-performance applications, such as putting a soldier or a surgeon into a virtual reality environment. So in 2015, if we want a large, high-resolution computer image, it will just appear virtually in the air. We will have augmented reality, including pop-up displays explaining what is happening in the real world. We will be able to go into full-immersion, visual auditory virtual reality environments.

We will have useable language technologies. These are beginning to emerge, and by 2015 they will be quite effective. In this visual field of view, we will have virtual personalities with which you can interact. Computers will have virtual assistants with sufficient command of speech recognition that you can discuss subjects with them. Search engines won’t wait to be asked – they will track your conversation and attempt to anticipate your needs and help you with routine transactions. These virtual assistants won’t be at the human level, that won’t happen until we have strong AI. But they will be useful, and many transactions will be mediated by these assistants. Computing will be very powerful, and it will be a mesh of computing. Individuals who need the power of a million computers for 25 milliseconds will be able to obtain that as needed.

By 2015, we will have real traction with nanotechnology. I believe that we will be well on the way to overcoming major diseases, such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes through the biotechnology revolution that we talked above. We will also make progress in learning how to stop and even reverse the ageing process.

CRNano has a new interview section, which has more interviews that are also worth your time.

Also see the Singularity FAQ.

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Monday, February 06, 2006

Nantero Carbon Nanotube Memory In 2007

As nanotechnology is rapidly maturing, we can see the first applications (that are more impressive than stainfree nanopants) on the horizon.

Nantero is about to roll out carbon nanotube computer memory in 2007.

This memory will combine all the benefits of the various kinds of memory available today, without any of the disadvantages:

Sometime next year, you may be able to throw out your old memory chips and replace them with new faster and cooler carbon nanotube (CNT) memory. Greg Schmergel, co-founder, president and CEO of Nantero told TG Daily that his company is on track to bring drop-in memory sometime next year. Using carbon nanotubes, the new memory will allow future computers to instantly turn on, use less electricity and run cooler.


Schmergel told TG Daily that CNT memory will combine the speed of SRAM with the non-volitility of flash. "You can have an instant on computer, instead of waiting a few minutes for your computer to boot up," he said. In addition, he noted that unlike regular flash memory, which has a limited number of read/write cycles before dying [about 1,000,000 cycles - Ed], CNT memory achieve a much longer life. "Any other material would break, but carbon nanotubes allow a virtually infinite number of write cycles," Schmergel said.

Some background information on NRAM from the Nantero site:
Nantero, Inc. is building a high density nonvolatile random access memory chip, which can replace DRAM (dynamic RAM), SRAM (static RAM), flash memory, and ultimately hard disk storage--in other words a universal memory chip suitable for countless existing and new applications in the field of electronics. The target markets in aggregate exceed $100B in revenue per year. Nantero's product is called NRAM™ (Nanotube-based/ Nonvolatile RAM), developed using proprietary concepts and methods derived from leading-edge research in nanotechnology.

As you can see, the idea is to eventually replace hard disks with much smaller NRAM chips. This will make our computer systems smaller. Not only because we save much space otherwise taken up by hard disks, but also because less cooling is needed. So we can also save space on fans.

We are moving towards a world where we will be completely mobile, taking our computersystems wherever we go.

Also see my previous post The Future Of Computers.

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Thursday, February 02, 2006

Robots Are Becoming More Like Humans

NewScientist has a cool article, entitled Robot special: Almost human:

Robots are on the march. Already, 1.5 million Roomba vacuum-cleaning bots are crawling the globe, and autonomous planetary rovers are working overtime on Mars. But this is only the start of what engineers are hoping to achieve.

The goal is to build robots that can be let loose in our world, where they will learn to interact with humans in a messy and unpredictable environment, not just in the lab. These robots need to be able to get around in the same places we do, manipulate objects in their surroundings and communicate with others around them. In short, they need to be more like us.


But as helpmates, huge leaps in computer power and advances in control software, sensors and actuators are allowing machines to shed their clunky image and gain impressively human-like abilities. The new breed of bots may not look as slick as Toyota's trumpeter, but by digging deep into the fundamentals of locomotion, speech and dexterity, their creators have come up with designs that will put today's robots in the shade.

Over the three features listed above, New Scientist lifts the lid on the most stunning advances in humanoid bots. Researchers are poised to pull together developments in three key fields - walking, talking and manipulation - to produce a new generation of human-like machines. And when artificial intelligence catches up, they will not only be able to clean the house, do the dishes and take out the garbage, but also to play with children, help care for the elderly and even explore the farthest reaches of space and perform repairs or search-and-rescue missions in hazardous sites on Earth.

Also see my previous post: Robots Mainstream By 2006, 2007?.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Nanofactories - The Holy Grail Of Nanotechnology

CleanRooms has a must-read article on nanofactories... the machines that will initiate the next industrial revolution and turn our lives upside down in about a decade or so.

Nanofactories: Glimpsing the future of process technology:

Nanofactories-manufacturing systems that work on the atomic scale-are gradually moving from science fiction to science fact and one day could be used to build all manner of items such as drugs, semiconductor chips and even cell-sized robots that patrol the human body. But researchers first need to learn how to build a nanofactory, which means learning how to build the molecular components that will power it. With mounting theoretical and experimental evidence, proponents say these goals are within reach and will usher in a revolution in high-technology manufacturing.


Proponents say the implications for nanoscale manufacturing are nothing short of revolutionary. Because they build product molecule by molecule-even products on the macro scale-nanofactories will offer unprecedented gains in manufacturing speed, precision and energy efficiency. We read of surgical robots smaller than a human cell, introduced into the human body to remove tumors, repair cells or better oxygenate the blood. Supercomputing marvels such as the Earth Simulator, currently housed in a building roughly the size of a football field, could be built the size of a grain of rice and run on two watts of power, according to one leading voice in the field. Rapid prototyping will speed up research and development significantly, a particular concern in aerospace, where prototypes can take years and millions of dollars to build. Molecular manufacturing will allow a new airplane with revised specifications to be built in a day or two.


The only way to build a nanofactory is with another nanofactory. This involves the concept of exponential manufacturing, where a set of tools builds an equivalent or improved set of tools. This is essential to being able to scale up systems and it works in theory, Phoenix says, because the inputs to the process include not just the structure of the first tool, but the information used to control it. Because of the sequential, repetitive nature of molecular manufacturing, the amount of information that can be fed to the process is virtually unlimited, meaning large amounts of identical things can be built with one information stream. A tool of finite complexity, controlled externally, can build things far more physically complex than itself; the complexity is limited only by the quality of the design. Thus, repetitive manufacturing affords tremendous flexibility, as well.


For some applications, notably nanomedicine, manufacturing systems and their products will be designed to remain on the molecular level. Nanomedicine, says Freitas, involves the use of three conceptual classes of molecularly precise structures: nonbiological nanomaterials and nanoparticles, biotechnology-based materials and devices, and nonbiological devices including nanorobotics. It is in this third category that Freitas has concentrated most of his energies. “Medical nanorobots small enough to go into the human bloodstream will be very complex machines,” he says. “We don’t know exactly how to build them yet, but the overall pathway from here to there is slowly starting to come into focus.”

Two promising nanorobot designs developed by Freitas include respirocytes and microbivores. The respirocyte is an artificial red blood cell, a spherical 1 μm diamondoid, 1,000 atm pressure vessel with active pumping powered by endogenous serum glucose (see Fig. 4). It will be able to deliver more than 200 times more oxygen to tissues per unit volume than natural red cells and will be able to manage carbonic acidity. Primary applications will include transfusable blood substitution; partial treatment for anemia, perinatal/neonatal and lung disorders; enhancement of cardiovascular/neurovascular procedures, tumor therapies and diagnostics; prevention of asphyxia; and artificial breathing. The microbivore is an artificial mechanical phagocyte (white blood cell) whose primary function is to destroy microbiological pathogens found in the human bloodstream using a digest-and-discharge protocol. It is an oblate, spheroidal nanomedical device made of 610 billion precisely arranged structural atoms.


“I would not be surprised if the first deployment of such systems occurred during the 2020s,” Freitas says.


Freitas’s prognostication: “There is a lot that prenanorobotic nanotechnology-based medicine can do to improve human health. In the next five years, the molecular tools of nanomedicine will include biologically active materials with well-defined nanoscale structures, including those produced by genetic engineering. In the next five or ten years or so, knowledge gained from genomics and proteomics will make possible new treatments tailored to specific individuals, new drugs targeting pathogens whose genomes have been decoded, and stem cell treatments. But the advent of medical nanorobotics will represent a huge leap forward."


“We have never had a general-purpose manufacturing technology, one that has the ability to increase product power by six orders of magnitude in less than a decade,” Phoenix says. “The implications of this are enormous and will require careful planning by governments and the scientific community, now and in the years to come.”

The original article is quite lengthy, but well worth the read. I only copypasted the crowd-pleasers from it. For anybody interested in technical details, read the source.

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