Friday, March 31, 2006

Nanoshuttles Deliver Targeted Drugs

Nanoshuttles Deliver Targeted Drugs.

Scientists have developed a way to build self-piloted "nanoshuttles." These tiny structures, just a few billionths of a meter long, could someday attack troublesome tissue, carry drugs, or reflect signals back to imaging systems.

The nanoshuttles' guidance system depends on two parts.

Onboard the nanoshuttle itself is a special type of virus called a bacteriophage, or phage for short, that infects only bacteria. The scientists engineer these phages to include peptides—molecules that include at least two but no more than 50 amino acids each—that exactly match certain proteins in the body.

The other part of the guidance system is a kind of phage library that the scientists have spent years building. The work is led by the University of Texas husband-and-wife team of Wadih Arap and Renata Pasqualini.

"We do molecular mapping of zip codes in the body," Pasqualini, a professor of medicine and cancer biology, told LiveScience. "We now have a large collection of phage particles that display peptides that can be directed at nearly any organ or disease."

Delivering drugs in a targeted manner will do much for medicine. It will allow, for one thing, the targeted killing of tumors.

In the old days, they gave you treatment that poisoned your entire body, as opposed to only the tumor you were suffering from.

Methods like these are way less invasive.

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More Progress In Solar Cells

OrionSolar Develops Advanced Second Generation Solar Cell.

OrionSolar® Photovoltaics, Ltd., a leading global developer of solar energy photovoltaics, today announced that it has completed development of an advanced second generation photovoltaic solar energy cell. The new patented technology significantly reduces the high cost of producing solar electricity with polycrystalline silicon photovoltaic cells by over 50 percent. In marking today's milestone, OrionSolar also announced the receipt of $1 million Series B financing from its sole institutional investor, New York-based 21Ventures LLC.

The company will use this upfunding to finance its marketing initiatives and to develop the pilot production and manufacturing program for the new energy cell. Monies will also be used for additional R&D activities related to optimizing OrionSolar's solar technology for solar home systems in Developing Nations and "Do It Yourself" home installation. OrionSolar's technology will be ready for market in 2007.

"The solar energy market is growing at a rate of 35 percent annually, but it still only accounts for less that 0.5 percent of the world's energy consumption," discussed David Anthony, Managing Partner of 21Ventures. "In the past, solar energy was hindered by the prohibitive costs of solar technology, but with the development of OrionSolar's new photovoltaic cell, this is no longer an issue. Given this combined with the worldwide need to eliminate our dependence on fossil fuels, 21Ventures believes OrionSolar is poised for tremendous success. They have strategically important Intellectual Property aimed at a very large global market opportunity and are supported by the most talented engineers and scientists in the solar energy industry."

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Thursday, March 30, 2006

Digital Face Scanning Breakthrough

Researchers of the Sheffield HallamUniversity in the UK have created a technology that allows a person to easily and quickly create a fully 3D scan of his/her face.

digital representation of a real life face

This technology is truly amazing, since it constructs a 3D face from one single snapshot directly facing the face to be digitized in 40 ms.

Be sure to check out the videoclips at the source. They are well worth your time.

A few screenshots of one of the video's (click to enlarge):

We are spending more and more of our time in virtual environments (VE). Everytime you converse with someone over your phone or over the Internet, you are spending your time in VE. Everytime you are playing a videogame that really draws you in, you are effectively living your adventure in VE.

As you can read in The Future Of Virtual Environments, VE's will become more and more compelling in the near future. As a direct result of that, we will be spending more and more of our time in VE. Eventually, we will be living the bigger portion of our lives there.

Naturally, we'll want digital representations (that we will likely end up enhancing) of ourselves in such a future. This facescanning technology is just the technology we need in order to do that.

  • For everyone who is having problems imagining how computer graphics might get to the point where they're indistinguishable from real life, it is interesting to check out a movie clip of the upcoming videogame Crysis. Especially the clip on the right, Tech Demo, is well worth your time.
  • This article (scroll down to Cell Phones, Reality Gaming and Industrial Gaming) also describes how our lives are gradually moving into VE.
  • A recent post of mine, The Future Of Videogames, reported on very realistic physics in upcoming games. Naturally, that is also essential if you're out to create compelling VE's.
  • Did you know people are already living big portions of their lives inVE? They're turning real life cash into virtual money. The virtual money is then used to buy virtual land. The virtual land is rented out to interested parties, for which virtual money is received. The virtual money can then be converted back to real life cash. As an example, see Second Life.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A Collection Of Nanotech Related Essays

WiseNano now features a number of nanotech related essays, written by the CRNano Taskforce.

The essays available are:

Also on nanotechnology and the implications thereof (but not listed in the collection above):


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Chips Talking To Neurons

Researchers have gotten neurons and silicon to talk to each other.

A specialised microchip that could communicate with thousands of individual brain cells has been developed by European scientists.

The device will help researchers examine the workings of interconnected brain cells, and might one day enable them to develop computers that use live neurons for memory.

The computer chip is capable of receiving signals from more than 16,000 mammalian brain cells, and sending messages back to several hundred cells. Previous neuron-computer interfaces have either connected to far fewer individual neurons, or to groups of neurons clumped together.


Firstly, the researchers genetically modified the neurons to add more pores. Secondly, they added proteins to the chip that glue neurons together in the brain, and which also attract the sodium pores. Applying this neural glue meant that the extra sodium channels collected around the transistor and capacitor connections. This improved its chance of translating the movement of ions into electrical signals on the chip.

Having boosted the electrical connection between the cells and chip, the researchers hope to be able to extend the chips influence further. "It should be possible to make the signals from the chip cause a neuron to alter its membrane and take up a new gene, or something that switches one off," says Vassanelli. "Now the chip has been developed, we plan to use it to try and switch genes on and off."

Here is another article reporting on it.
The ultimate applications are potentially limitless. In the long term it will possibly enable the creation of very sophisticated neural prostheses to combat neurological disorders. What's more, it could allow the creation of organic computers that use living neurons as their CPU.

Again, the boundaries between man and machine have faded a little more today.

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Holographic Breakthrough Stores 0.5 Terabyte Per Square Inch

Holographic Breakthrough Stores 0.5 Terabyte Per Square Inch

InPhase Technologies claims to have broken the record for the highest data density of any commercial storage technology after successfully recording 515Gb of data per square inch.

Holographic storage can dramatically boost capacity as it takes advantage of volumetric efficiencies rather than recording only on the surface of the material.

Densities in holography are achieved by different factors to magnetic storage. Density depends on the number of pixels/bits in a page of data, the number of pages stored in a particular volumetric location, the dynamic range of the recording material, the thickness of the material, and the wavelength of the recording laser.

In this demonstration there were over 1.3 million bits per data page, and 320 data pages spaced 0.067 degrees apart were stored in the same volume of material.

A collection of data pages is referred to as a 'book', and InPhase's PolyTopic recording architecture enables more holograms to be stored in the same volume of material by overlapping not only pages, but books.


InPhase promised to begin shipping the first holographic drive and media later this year.

The first generation drive has a capacity of 300GB on a single disk with a 20Mbps transfer rate. The first product will be followed by a family ranging from 800GB to 1.6TB capacity.

"The latest results from our ongoing tests on holographic data density have surpassed expectations," said Kevin Curtis, chief technology officer at InPhase.

"We are particularly pleased at the rate of improvement. In April 2005 we demonstrated 200 Gb/in data density and a year later the density has increased more than 2.5 times."

Imagine how easy it would be to log your entire life in real time given obscene amounts of storage capacity like these.

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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

2020 - Future Of Computers

A number of commentaries on the future of computing, written by leading scientists, has appeared on Nature.

In the last two decades advances in computing technology, from processing speed to network capacity and the internet, have revolutionized the way scientists work. From sequencing genomes to monitoring the Earth's climate, many recent scientific advances would not have been possible without a parallel increase in computing power - and with revolutionary technologies such as the quantum computer edging towards reality, what will the relationship between computing and science bring us over the next 15 years?

The list of freely accessible commentaries:
  1. Champing at the bits (about quantum computers)
  2. Milestones in scientific computing
  3. Everything, everywhere
  4. Exceeding human limits
  5. The creativity machine
  6. Science in an exponential world
  7. Can computers help explain biology?
  8. A two-way street to science's future

The titles are pretty much self explanatory, with the exception of the first one.

The first one is about quantum computers. Here's a little quote from the article:
Five years ago, if you'd have asked anyone working in quantum computing how long it would take to make a genuinely useful machine, they'd probably have said it was too far off even to guess. But not any longer.

"A useful computer by 2020 is realistic," says Andrew Steane of the quantum-computing group at the University of Oxford, UK.
David Deutsch, the Oxford physicist who more or less came up with the idea of quantum computation, agrees. Given recent theoretical advances, he is optimistic that a practical quantum computer "may well be achieved within the next decade".


A quantum simulator would describe and predict the structure and reactivity of molecules and materials by accurately capturing their fundamental quantum nature. This is the sort of employment the early machines are likely to find: doing calculations of interest to chemists, materials scientists and possibly molecular biologists, says Steane.

Since quantum computers can solve exponential problems in seconds that would take a conventional computer billions of years, they are very useful in running simulations of molecular interactions such as the ones going on in our bodies.

This is very important. Simulations are one of the holy grails of medicinal science.

The more accurate and faster our simulations are, the easier it will be to come up with new drugs, solve health problems, and find useful genetic modifications to upgrade the human body a bit.

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10 Emerging Technologies

Technology Review is doing their annual coverage of 10 emerging technologies.

They are up to eight now. The other two will appear in due time to make the list complete.

So far, they have articles on:

  1. Epigenetics
  2. Nuclear Reprogramming
  3. Universal Authentication
  4. Cognitive Radio
  5. Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  6. Nanobiomechanics
  7. Comparative Interactomics
  8. Nanomedicine

Which are about:
  1. Detecting cancer early by looking at genetic changes.
  2. An ethical way of deriving stemcells, thereby resolving the embryo debate.
  3. Internet security.
  4. Avoiding future wireless traffic jams.
  5. Brain imaging to understand schizophrenia.
  6. Measuring tiny forces on cells and learning more about diseases.
  7. Creating maps of the body's complex molecular interactions to find drugs more easily.
  8. Guiding drugs directly into cancer cells.

Also recently posted by Technology Review:

Do-It-Yourself Nanotech
A simple new method could allow students to build complex molecule-scale structures -- and lead to advanced nanoelectronics.

Mini Robots For Nano Construction
Tiny robots can operate on single cells and assemble microelectronics -- and could lead to cheap nanoscale manufacturing.

I meant to make individual posts about those two, but things are moving so fast these days (way faster than when I started this blog, not even one year ago) that I'm having a hard time keeping up.

So many things to write about, so little time...

Such is the life of a technology freak. *sigh*

So I'm just lumping them into this post.

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Sunday, March 26, 2006

Special Feature: Receive Our Technological Future On Your Smartphone/PDA!

This blog now has a special feature.

You can receive my posts on your PDA or smartphone, so you can be up to date in real time of tomorrow's technological future... today.

Subscribing is real easy. Just follow these simple instructions:

1. Go to

2. Download free software to your PDA or smartphone.

3. Subscribe to Our Technological Future.

4. After registration on the Newsland site, go to Catalog and choose Our Technological Future by topic.

Here is a preview of how it will look:

(click to enlarge)

All your friends are gonna think you are so cool!

So what are you waiting for?

Register, subscribe and start receiving this blog right now!

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First Molecular Machine Combination Revealed

First Molecular Machine Combination Revealed

It twists and swims - and little else - but the first combination of two molecular machines is an important step on the long path to nanodevices sophisticated enough to, for example, perform repair functions within our cells.

“The next step is to integrate multiple molecular machines" into much bigger devices, says Kazushi Kinbara, who developed the tiny contraption with colleagues at the University of Tokyo, Japan. “That project is now in progress.”

The last decade of research has produced a wide array of nanoscale widgets - ranging from a 350-atom propeller to an elevator with a 2.5-nanometre rise. But virtually all have been a demonstration of principle, and of little or no real use in isolation.

“The motion of just one of these types of constructs is something that researchers spend years on,” says Ross Kelly, who built a molecular motor in 1999 at Boston College. “Joining two moving pieces, and actually getting them to work together, is a considerable achievement.”

The orange "piston" is opened and closed by light,
causing the red arms on the other side of the blue joint to twist,
operating the yellow pedals

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Nanotubes As Transistors In Integrated Circuits

IBM researchers have made a breakthrough by using nanotubes as transistors in integrated circuits.

IBM has created an integrated circuit with a carbon nanotube, a first that shows the feasibility of one day using the touted tubes for commercial devices, the firm said.


IBM made nanotube transistors before, but an integrated circuit is more complicated. Transistors are essentially on-off switches, while an integrated circuit is a collection of transistors that work together to perform a function. The IBM scientists will now use the ring oscillator to test improved carbon nanotube transistors and circuits, and to gauge their performance in complete chip designs.

"Carbon nanotube transistors have the potential to outperform state-of-the-art silicon devices," TC Chen, vice-president of science & technology at IBM Research, said in a statement. "However, scientists have focused so far on fabricating and optimising individual carbon nanotube transistors. Now, we can evaluate the potential of carbon nanotube electronics in complete circuits — a critical step toward the integration of the technology with existing chipmaking techniques."

Also see this article.

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Friday, March 24, 2006

Transparant Integrated Circuit Invented

World's First Completely Transparent IC

Oregon State University (OSU) researchers claim to have fabricated the world's first "completely transparent" ICs from inorganic compounds. The technology can enable extremely inexpensive electronics for use in "throw away" devices, and is expected to be used in automobile windshields, cell phones, TVs, games, and toys, among other applications, OSU said.

OSU also believes that the technology might result in more efficient solar cells and improvements to LCD displays (liquid crystal displays), it said.


n a statement, OSU called its accomplishment "another major step forward for the rapidly evolving field of transparent electronics," and said it "marks a significant milestone on the path toward functioning transparent electronics applications, which many believe could be a large future industry."

Transparant Chips (click for bigger picture)

A few years from now, there will be computer chips in just about everything. All products will become 'smart' thanks to chips embedded in them, or so I read (regularly) in the many articles I plow through in order to get content for my blog.

I can think of chairs and beds that automatically sense your personal pressure points, and then adjust their form to give you the most personal sitting/sleeping experience ever.

Can any of you think of more applications for chips in consumer products?

At the end of the article, there is an illustration of the very real exponential acceleration of technology, which is becoming more and more obvious every year.

I simply can't leave this out, so here we go:
"This is a quantum leap in moving transparent electronics from the laboratory toward working commercial applications" said John Wager, a professor of electrical engineering at OSU. "It's proof that transparent transistors can be used to create an integrated circuit, tells us quite a bit about the speeds we may be able to achieve, and shows we can make transparent circuits with conventional photolithography techniques, the basic patterning methods used to create electronics all over the world."


"What's exciting is that all of the remaining work seems very feasible," Wager added. "It will take some time, but we just don't see any major obstacles that are going to preclude the commercial use of transparent electronics with these compounds. In a way, it's shocking how fast this field has progressed. We might be able to bring transparent integrated circuits to widespread use in five years or so, a process that took a couple of decades in the early evolution of conventional electronics."

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The Future Of Videogames

For those interested in videogames, it's a good idea to have a look at these demo movie clips of the AGEIA PhysX Processor.

This nifty piece of hardware promises to deliver physics effects in videogames that rival real life physics (from what I can see in the movie clips, that is).

If you only have the time to download just one, go with Cell Factor. It is by far the most impressive of the three.

If videogames start looking like this in about a year or so, can you imagine what virtual environments will ook like once we get to The Future Of Virtual Environments?

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Cheap Hydrogen Fuel On The Way

Cheap Hydrogen Fuel

GE says its new machine could make the hydrogen economy affordable, by slashing the cost of water-splitting technology.


Now researchers at GE say they've come up with a prototype version of an easy-to-manufacture apparatus that they believe could lead to a commercial machine able to produce hydrogen via electrolysis for about $3 per kilogram -- a quantity roughly comparable to a gallon of gasoline -- down from today's $8 per kilogram. That could make it economically practical for future fuel-cell vehicles that run on hydrogen.


Today's electrolyzers are made of metal plates bolted together manually, with gaskets between them, and the whole unit is typically housed in a chamber made of the same metals used in the electrodes, says Bourgeois. The materials are expensive and assembly requires costly labor.

Bourgeois' research team came up with a way to make future electrolyzers largely out of plastic. They used a GE plastic called Noryl that is extremely resistant to the highly alkaline potassium hydroxide. And because the plastic is easy to form and join, manufacturing an electrolyzer is relatively cheap.

There are dozens of way to produce hydrogen cheaply. I've read from complex molecules that crank out hydrogen from water when they absorb sunlight to mutant algae that also produce hydrogen from water cheaply.

The mutant algae I'm referring to are especially interesting. They were engineered to manufacture (if I recall correctly) 100.000 times more hydrogen then they naturally did before being engineered. In order to become cost-efficient, this number would have to be increased another hundred-fold.

Once science manages to use easy-to-grow algae to produce hydrogen, hydrogen production can be expanded exponentially at virtually no cost.

This is why I believe that hydrogen will eventually be free once the hydrogen economy is in place.

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Will Japanese Robots Rule The World By 2020?

Will Japanese Robots Rule The World By 2020?

Robotic technology has the potential to enhance human life in numerous ways. However, as Professor Prabhu Guptara argues, this technology also has the potential to become the greatest threat to humanity if it falls into the wrong hands. In the second installment of this two-part series, he offers his recommendations for how to deal with the potential threats robots may pose to humanity.

Some people accuse me of being over-optimistic about Japan's ability to launch sophisticated entertainment and personal-service robots by 2015.

Well, I would simply invite them to consider how many cases they can recollect, in the last 50 years, where Japan has missed a nationally-set industrial target.

So I have no doubt that the Japanese will unleash the next generation of sophisticated robots starting in about 2012. That will mean that the question occupying most people's minds then (sadly, too late!) will no longer be ecological sustainability.

In my view, the real question for the future of the globe is not sustainability.


Regretfully, as far as I can see, the world will not take either my recommendations or my warnings seriously. So what will be the result? Japanese robots, launched from 2010 at the latest, will rapidly displace most human jobs in both the developed and developing worlds.

They will also replace the kinds of robotic machinery that is being installed in the "latest" factories, for example in China.

Even without the cultural reformation that is otherwise necessary, Japan will therefore finally break through its stagnation, and move from being the world's second-largest economy — a position it has held for over 30 years — to becoming the world's leading economic power by 2020 at the latest.

That’s the benefit of being the master inventor of all these robots.

What can I say?

Just another guy's opinion on the implications of the coming rise of the robots.

Also see Robotic Nation.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Robot Helper Obeys Commands

I just stumbled upon a really nice movie clip of a robot that:

  • understands spoken orders
  • locates and finds an object
  • picks up the object as ordered
  • takes the object to the instructor
  • witfully remarks that it has succeeded in holding the object

It's just a movieclip without an article. I'm not sure how old or new this is.

Also see this robotic packmule to see where robotics and artificial intelligence is going.

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Life Extension In The Mainstream Again

The mainstream media is starting to catch on: our lives will be extended in the coming decades.

The more people accept the idea of holding the grim reaper at bay, the better. If the life extension meme becomes mainstream, more money is likely to flow into life extension-related research.

It used to be thought there was some built-in limit on life span, but a group of scientists meeting at Oxford University for a conference on life extension and enhancement consigned that idea to the trash can.

Paul Hodge, director of the Harvard Generations Policy Program, said governments around the world — struggling with pension crises, graying work forces and rising health-care costs — had to face up to the challenge now.

“Life expectancy is going to grow significantly, and current policies are going to be proven totally inadequate,” he predicted.

Just how far and fast life expectancy will increase is open to debate, but the direction and the accelerating trend is clear.


Aubrey de Grey, a biomedical gerontologist from Cambridge University, goes much further. He believes the first person to live to 1,000 has already been born and told the meeting that periodic repairs to the body using stem cells, gene therapy and other techniques could eventually stop the aging process entirely.

De Grey argues that if each repair lasts 30 or 40 years, science will advance enough by the next “service” date that death can be put off indefinitely — a process he calls strategies for engineered negligible senescence.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Researcher Finds Easy Way Of Producing Nano Structures And Devices

A nanotechnologist has created the world's smallest and most plentiful smiley, a tiny face measuring a few billionths of a metre across assembled from strands of DNA.

Dr Paul Rothemund at the California Institute of Technology can make 50 billion smileys, each a thousand times smaller than the diameter of a human hair, with his technique.

DNA has long been known for its versatility as a microscopic building block.

The molecule can be 'cut' using enzymes and reassembled using matching rungs in its double-helix structure.

This theoretically opens the way to making DNA quantum computers and nano-level devices including injectable robots that can monitor the body's tissues for good health.

But, until now, nano-assembly has been a complex atom-by-atom procedure that is also costly, because it is carried out in a vacuum or at extremely coldly temperatures.

Rothemund, writing in today's issue of the journal Nature, describes a far simpler and much cheaper process in which long, single strands of DNA can be folded back and forth to form a basic scaffold.


Rothemund has been working on flat, two-dimensional shapes but says that 3D structures in DNA should be quite feasible with this technique.

One application would be a nano-scale 'cage' in which pharmaceutical researchers, working on novel drugs, could sequester enzymes until they were ready for use in turning other proteins on and off.

Nano smiley

Nano hexagon

Every year, it gets a lot easier to build structures and devices at the nanoscale.

CRNano and other experts are predicting full blown nanofactories at around 2015.

Before you know it, you're living in a world where nanobots routinely repair damage in our bodies and keep us healthy indefinately, as envisioned by Eric Drexler in his book Engines Of Creation.

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Supercomputer Simulates Virus

Supercomputer Builds Virus

One of the world's most powerful supercomputers has conjured a fleeting moment in the life of a virus. The researchers say the simulation is the first to capture a whole biological organism in such intricate molecular detail.

The simulation pushes today's computing power to the limit. But it is only a first step. In future researchers hope that bigger, longer simulations will reveal details about how viruses invade cells and cause disease.


Running on a machine at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Urbana, the program calculated how each of the million or so atoms in the virus and a surrounding drop of salt water was interacting with almost every other atom every femtosecond, or millionth of a billionth of a second.

The team managed to model the entire virus in action for 50 billionths of a second. Such a task would take a desktop computer around 35 years, says Schulten. "This is just a first glimpse," he says. "But it looks gorgeous."


Ultimately, computational biologists would like to simulate larger viruses such as influenza or the complex biological systems in a cell - and for longer periods, such as the thousandths of a second that it might take to observe proteins in a cell switch a gene off. These computer models should allow researchers to discover details about such processes that they may miss by observing a real virus.

But such simulations will not become possible until the next generation of supercomputers are built in the next five years, Schulten says.

This is a good example of the growing importance of simulations in medicine. Simulations are basically the future of medicine, simply because it is more practical to study a simulation on a computer than it is to study a physical virus that exists in real life.

In real physical life, you have no control over time and viewing angles like you do in simulations. In simulations, you get to decide when the programs runs, when it halts, or when it should rewind a bit. You are also free to define an arbitrary number of camera's inside a simulation, which can point in any direction and at any zoom-level.

In the near future, medical simulations will help a great deal in speeding up medical discoveries, which directly translates into a healthier body and longer life for all of us.

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Regrowing Nerves With Stem Cells

Researchers of AntiCancer, Inc. have accidentily made an important discovery.

Even for scientists, it's not every day you see a hairless mouse glowing bright green under a fluorescent light. And for scientists searching for stem cells that could grow into nerve or brain cells, seeing such a mouse meant finding a possible whole new source of such cells.

The scientists had given the mouse a gene so that areas would glow green where such stem cells might be found. They expected part of the mouse around the head to glow green. Instead, the entire mouse was aglow. "I'll never forget the minute that we made that observation," says Robert Hoffman, president of AntiCancer, Inc., where the finding took place.

Because of that moment, which Hoffman says was, in fact, a "lucky discovery," company scientists have been working on what could be a new source of adult stem cells.

Their most recent research, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), shows that they've been able to use stem cells taken from a mouse hair follicle to help regenerate damaged nerves in mice. In previous research, also published in PNAS, they showed the stem cells could become special brain cells called neurons.


In their first experiments, they tried to, according to Hoffman, "convert the hair follicle stem cells into brain cells in the laboratory." When that worked, he says, "Then we knew there was a real relationship between the hair follicle stem cells and the brain stem cells." They then put them in mice, and found they still formed neurons.

From there they worked with mice with injured nerves. "We injected these hair follicle stem cells into the area where the nerve or the spinal cord is severed… [and] found that the nerve or spinal cord could be regenerated because we injected these hair follicle stem cells," says Hoffman.

Potent stem cells in hair follicles glow green

Summarized: hair follicles of mice are an easily accessible source of stem cells with a very high potential (meaning they can turn into all sorts of tissues). If this is also true in humans, it would mean there is no more need for embryonic stem cells, thereby completely passing by the whole controversy that accompanies these embryonic stem cells.

There is an interesting, 1.5 minute movie clip available at the source.

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Nanofactory Movie - Improved

A good while ago, John Burch (fan of this blog ;) and Eric Drexler (father of the nanotechnology field) produced a 4-minute movie that takes an inside look inside a nanofactory. The nanofactory in the movie has been simulated. The simulations show that it would actually work like this if it existed in the real, physical world.

The nanofactory demonstrates the steps that are necessary to print superproducts (outperforming our current products by a factor of 1000), layer by layer. In this case, a one billion CPU laptop with a 100 hour battery life is produced.

CNano reports that the movie has now been improved with better visuals, comments and sound effects.

The movie can be downloaded here.

You don't want to miss out on this. Trust me.

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Nanotechnology Restores Sight Of Blind Hamsters

Nanotech Helps Blind Hamsters See

Nanotechnology has restored the sight of blind rodents, a new study shows.

Scientists mimicked the effect of a traumatic brain injury by severing the optical nerve tract in hamsters, causing the animals to lose vision.

After injecting the hamsters with a solution containing nanoparticles, the nerves re-grew and sight returned.

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the team hopes this technique could be used in future reconstructive brain surgery.


The researchers injected the blind hamsters at the site of their injury with a solution containing synthetically made peptides - miniscule molecules measuring just five nanometres long.

Once inside the hamster's brain, the peptides spontaneously arranged into a scaffold-like criss-cross of nanofibres, which bridged the gap between the severed nerves.

The scientists discovered that brain tissue in the hamsters knitted together across the molecular scaffold, while also preventing scar tissue from forming.

Importantly, the newly formed brain tissue enabled the brain nerves to re-grow, restoring vision in the injured hamsters.

"We made a cut, put the material in, and then we looked at the brain over different time points," explained Dr Rutledge Ellis-Behnke, a neuroscientist at MIT and lead author on the paper.

"The first thing we saw was that the brain had started to heal itself in the first 24 hours. We had never seen that before - so that was very surprising."

Sounds like a major breakthrough to me...

Makes you wonder what will be possible only a few years from now, say 2010.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Nanotechnology Could Improve Solar Cells

Nanotechnology Could Improve Sattelites And Solar Cells

More efficient space solar cells could mean better imagery satellites and improved solar energy technology.

Scientists at the NanoPower Research Labs at Rochester Institute of Technology, led by director Ryne Raffaelle, are using nanotechnology to explore this possibility through a project funded by an $847,109 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. The project aims to take current state-of-the-art solar cells used for space power to the next level by developing nanostructured materials and, ultimately, by producing nanostructured cells. The program may extend to three and half years, with total funding reaching $3 million.

"If successful, the results of this program will improve current solar array and satellite technology, and lay the foundation for long-term improvement in our ability to use solar energy," Raffaelle says.

Unique to this project is the ability to exploit the fundamental behavior of nanoscale crystals, also known as quantum dots, which alter the way a solar cell absorbs light and converts it into electricity. According to Raffaelle, the electrical, optical, mechanical and even thermal properties of nanomaterials can be controlled by changing the particle size, making them highly useful in semiconductor device development.


"The use of the quantum confinement offered by nanostructured materials provides us with a new means of breaking out of the normal design constraints associated with ordinary crystalline device growth," says Raffaelle. "The theoretical improvements that this can provide are truly remarkable. It's our job to turn these theories into experimental realities."

There are many more posts on progress in solar panels on my blog. Too many to link back to. Check the archives if you're interested.

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Research On The Road To Intelligent Cars

Research On The Road To Intelligent Cars

Although intelligent ICT-based systems already exist, their market take-up has been very slow. Reasons for this include legal and institutional barriers, competition among car-makers, the relatively high cost of intelligent systems, lack of customer demand, and above all a general lack of information on and awareness of the potential benefits of such systems.

Partly to counter this, the PReVENT integrated project is devoting 55 million euro to the safety of drivers, passengers and pedestrians. Including over 50 partners, it is made up of sub-projects covering specific road traffic and accident situations.

"What we have are car-safety systems that can support the driver in critical situations," says Maxime Flament PReVENT manager from ERTICO. In essence, the preventive safety applications help a driver to avoid or mitigate accidents by sensing the nature and significance of the danger, while taking into account the driver's own state. But this technology must not take control away from drivers, which would restrict user-acceptance.

Take for instance, the MAPS&ADAS sub-project that is creating safety-enhanced digital maps for a variety of other applications other than just route guidance. "We use digital maps as a predictive sensor," says Vincent Blervaque, project coordinator from ERTICO. "They complement other vehicle speed and position sensors such as lasers and video cameras, which have limited range, to extend the driver horizon at least 300 to 500 metres ahead. For example, a driver can be alerted to what is coming after the next road curve or intersection."

By look at it, I'd say cars will probably be doing a great deal of our driving for us by the time we get to 2020.

Having a rough time imagining how that might happen so soon?

Then be sure to read Driverless Cars Race 130 Miles.

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Long Distance Lovers Virtually Share Drink

Some progress on the virtual environment front...

Long Distance Lovers Virtually Share Drink

Long distance lovers could soon be able to bond by sharing a wi-fi glass of wine.

Researchers at MIT's Media Lab in Boston say the idea is to give the feeling of a shared drinking experience.

The high-tech glasses will glow warmly when raised, no matter how far apart the drinkers are, reports New Scientist.

Jackie Lee and Hyemin Chung, experts in human-computer interaction, say that communal drinking is an important social interaction that helps bind friendships and relationships.

Lee and Chung have incorporated a variety of coloured LEDs, liquid sensors and wireless links into a pair of glass tumblers.

When either person picks up a glass, red LEDs on their partner's glass glow gently. And when either puts the glass to their lips, sensors make white LEDs on the rim of the other glass glow brightly.

Following tests in separate labs, Lee says the wireless glasses really do "help people feel as if they are sharing a drinking experience together".

The glasses, dubbed lover's cups, will be unveiled at the CHI 2006 conference on computer-human interaction in Montreal in April.

Also see The Future Of Virtual Environments.

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Thought Controlled Shark As Stealth Spies

After two posts about thought control (see mental typewriter and cyberhand), just one more isn't going to hurt.

Thought Controlled Sharks

The Pentagon is working on using remote-controlled sharks as stealth spies.

Engineers funded by the US military have created a neural implant designed to enable a shark's brain signals to be manipulated remotely.

The Pentagon hopes to exploit sharks' natural ability to glide quietly through the water, sense delicate electrical gradients and follow chemical trails, reports New Scientist.

The project, funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, was presented at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Neural implants consist of a series of electrodes are embedded into the animal's brain, which can then be used to stimulate various functional areas.

Biologist Jelle Atema of Boston University and his students are using them to "steer" spiny dogfish in a tank via a phantom odour.

Project engineer Walter Gomes, of the Naval Undersea Warfare Centre, says the next step will be to implant the device into blue sharks and release them into the ocean off the coast of Florida.

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Doctors Find Holy Grail Of Heart Disease

Doctors Find Heart Disease Holy Grail

A new drug is being hailed as the "holy grail" in the fight against heart disease.

Doctors believe they may have found a way of reversing the illness for the first time.

The health of more than two million people in the UK is thought to be affected by arteries narrowed by the build-up of fatty deposits.

The process, known as atherosclerosis, can lead to potentially fatal conditions including heart attacks and strokes.

In the past, medical experts focused their efforts on slowing the progress of what was thought to be an irreversible disease.

But a new study shows a powerful new cholesterol-reducing drug can also reduce the deposits, known as atheroma.

Patients were given intensive treatment with a new form of statin, a type of drug used to reduce cholesterol levels, known as Rosuvastatin.

Tests found that as cholesterol was reduced, build-ups of fatty deposits in the patients' arteries also showed a slight regression, with some reduction in the level of atherosclerosis in 78% of patients.

The reductions were found to be greatest in the arteries with the greatest severity of the disease.

Dr Neal Uren said atheroma reduction was the "holy grail" in the fight to combat heart disease.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Cyberhand - Thought Controlled Robot Hand With Feeling

I've posted a thought control related post recently, and found another one that matches nicely with that previous post.

Have a look at this cyberhand.

... Now a team of European scientists led by Paolo Dario, a professor of biomedical robotics at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy, has unveiled the first brain-controlled prosthetic hand. The metal-clad prototype, dubbed the Cyberhand, combines unprecedented mechanical dexterity with a sophisticated computer system designed to harness brain signals from the wearer, allowing him to move and feel the hand as though it were his own.

Dario and his team expect to begin testing the Cyberhand on patients this year, during which time they aim to perfect its sensory interface. Consisting of a microprocessor, electrodes and a telemetry system implanted in the wearer’s lower arm, the interface will act as a sort of man-machine interpreter, translating and ferrying electrical signals back and forth between the hand and the patient’s central nervous system. To do this, the team has invented electrodes that record electrical data from nerve cells and stimulate the cells to provide the wearer with sensory feedback. Current systems do just half the job, recording electrical signals without sending any data back to the brain.

In addition to its ability to communicate with the body, the Cyberhand features a number of mechanical advances, including five independently moving fingers. A DC motor in each digit gives the robotic hand 16 degrees of freedom, so it can move in a variety of subtle directions (the human hand has 22 degrees of freedom). Each motor pulls a Teflon-sheathed cable that mimics actual tendons and muscle in the fingers, enabling them to curl around a coffee mug, for instance. With pressure sensors embedded along the surface of the fingers, the hand can pick up even delicate objects without crushing them.

I wonder for how long advanced prosthetics like these will be useful, as stem cell therapy tantalizingly promises us to regrow our organs and limbs.

However, if these robotic appendages were to eventually become better than our own biological limbs, things could get very interesting...

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Heart Patients Keen On Stem Cell Therapy

I've seen dozens of news articles about heart patients getting benefit from experimental stem cell therapies. It's about time I post one.

Australian scientists have had no shortage of patients willing to undergo experimental stem cell treatment for heart disease.

Although the procedure is still unproven, volunteers lining up to trial stem cell therapy have reached the end of the road in terms of conventional medicine.

Sydney man Bill Henry had 80 million stem cells injected into his ailing heart a month ago via a catheter through his groin.

The 52-year-old is one of two patients to have the world-first procedure and is already talking about the possibility of returning to full-time employment.

When reading news like this, you've gotta feel thankful that we won't be worrying about heart disease anymore a few years from now.

Not that stem cell therapies are limited to the heart alone...

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

Brain Swapping Comes Of Age

Brain Swapping Comes Of Age:

For more than two decades, Evan Balaban has honed his skills at manipulating embryonic tissue samples using tiny instruments of his own making. He can cut a small access window into a quail's egg, and using a scalpel no wider than a human hair, excise a few hundred thousand cells from the bird's developing central nervous system. This is only the first step of the intricate process required to place this minuscule brain into another animal's head. Some of these surgeries end in untimely death for brain-transplanted embryos, but Balaban says he has elevated the typical survival rate from less than 20% to more than 60%. That was unimaginable in the 1950s, he says, when success was more along the lines of one or two in 1,000, and some researchers "were doing this with piano wire."


Balaban's work focuses on how nature and nurture blend together to create a seamless set of brain circuits. Other brain-swappers have focused on how brain structure makes males and females different, or how dysfunctional circuitry manifests itself in congenital abnormalities such as epilepsy.

Simply amazing, isn't it?

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Anti Aging Breakthroughs May Add 25 Years To Life

It looks like the mainstream media is catching on to idea of dramatic life extension:

Imagine living to age 50 sans wrinkles, without relinquishing any youthful gaiety, to maybe even see your great-granddaughter's high school education. Sounds implausible, but science is working on it.

Recent research is beginning to reveal anti-aging technologies which could prolong life-spans a full 25 years.


The War On Aging

De Grey calls the time during which the technologies will experience the most development the War On Aging.

"I use the phrase to describe the period starting when we get results in the laboratory with mice that are impressive enough to make people realize that life extension is possible, and ending when the first effective therapies for humans are developed," de Grey said. "I estimate that the War On Aging will start 10 years from now, subject to funding of research, and will last for 15 years, but this latter estimate is extremely speculative."

Also see The Quest For Immortality

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One Million To Fund Limb Growth Trials

$1M to fund clinical limb regrowth trials:

Thousands of wounded soldiers could benefit from clinical trials that will study the possibility of growing back severed limbs and other body parts, officials at the University of Pittsburgh said Friday.

Five trials focusing on regenerative medicine could start within the next year using a $1 million grant announced yesterday by U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Penn Hills.

Santorum made the announcement at Pitt's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where scientists have been working on cell-based methods to regrow damaged or destroyed muscle, bone and tissue.


The grant also will support the creation of the new Soldier Treatment and Regeneration Consortium, a national partnership of military and academic research centers and industry.


The consortium's five-year goal is the creation of a fully functional finger.

Imagine a world where we can regrow spare parts for our aging/wounded bodies. Wouldn't that be fantastic?

Another one on fast growing stem cells:
A team of researchers has succeeded in engineering stem cells taken from tooth germ to quickly develop into liver or bone tissue, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology's Research Institute (AIST) for Cell Engineering said.

A joint team of scientists from the institute and Osaka University succeeded in repairing damaged liver and bones in rats using stem cells taken from wisdom tooth germ.

The finding raises hopes of developing regenerative medicine using wisdom teeth germ taken from people during orthodontic treatments.


A team of researchers has succeeded in engineering stem cells taken from tooth germ to quickly develop into liver or bone tissue, the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology's Research Institute (AIST) for Cell Engineering said.

A joint team of scientists from the institute and Osaka University succeeded in repairing damaged liver and bones in rats using stem cells taken from wisdom tooth germ.

The finding raises hopes of developing regenerative medicine using wisdom teeth germ taken from people during orthodontic treatments.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Thought Controlled Mental Typewriter

Thought Controlled Mental Typewriter:

A computer controlled by the power of thought alone has been demonstrated at a major trade fair in Germany.

The device could provide a way for paralysed patients to operate computers, or for amputees to operate electronically controlled artificial limbs. But it also has non-medical applications, such as in the computer games and entertainment industries.


The machine makes it possible to type messages onto a computer screen by mentally controlling the movement of a cursor. A user must wear a cap containing electrodes that measure electrical activity inside the brain, known as an electroencephalogram (EEG) signal, and imagine moving their left or right arm in order to manoeuvre the cursor around.


Curio says users can operate the device just 20 minutes after going through 150 cursor moves in their minds. This is because the device rapidly learns to recognise activity in the area of a person's motor cortex, the area of the brain associated with movement. "The trick is the machine-learning algorithms developed at the Fraunhofer Institute," Curio says.

John Chapin, an expert in using implanted electrodes to control computers, agrees EEG sensing technology is advancing rapidly. "There's been a lot of progress on the non-invasive side in recent years," he told New Scientist.

The German researchers hope to develop a commercial version of the device as an aid for paralysed patients and amputees.

Chapin adds that brain-computer interfaces could have a range of uses beyond the medical. "Signals from the brain give you a fraction of a second advantage," he says. The device could make a novel game controller and be used in other ways. The researchers have even begun testing the machine as a driving aid, as it can sense a sudden reaction and control a vehicle's brakes before even the driver can.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Tree Climbing Robot

After the packmule robot, there is now a tree climbing robot (this links to a must-see movie clip).

The robot is being built by researchers from Carnegie Mellon and several other US Universities. It is part of the RiSE project, which aims to build a walking and climbing robot.

The goal of the RiSE project is to create a bioinspired climbing robot with the unique ability to walk on land and climb on vertical surfaces.


This project is funded by the DARPA Biodynotics Program.

Robotics is moving very fast these days. It's fascinating to see all this wonderful technology materialize.

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Google To Provide Infinite Storage Space

Only yesterday, I posted something about The Future Of Computers. That post was mainly about computers shrinking and becoming really small in the future.

Also of relevance to the future of computers is a high degree of decentralization.

And Google realizes it better than anybody else.

Google Inc. apparently hopes to persuade everyone with a computer to entrust all their digital data with the online search engine leader, even though the company is having trouble controlling its own internal communications.

Plans for a Google service offering "infinite" storage capacity leaked out last week when the company inadvertently shared some information about several projects, including one named "GDrive," on its Web site.

Google quickly removed the previously confidential notes, but not before some eagle-eyed Web surfers had already made copies. Excerpts remain available on some Web sites.

In its internal notes, Google discusses an ambitious storage system that would keep its users' word processing files, e-mails, Web history and photos on the company's own computers. Google believes the service would be enticing because the information would be unleashed from a single computer in a home or office, allowing users to access their data from any place at any time.

Nobody is supposed to know about Google's GDrive plans yet, but Google accidentily leaked some memo's. Excerpts from the memo can be found here.

We won't have to wait for the future in order to start storing our files online, though. A Gmail Drive Shell is already available right now. It allows you to store files to your Gmail account by simply dragging them in there from your explorer window.

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Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Future Of Computers (5)

I read a few articles recently that were all related to one topic. Namely the ongoing trend in the miniaturisation of computers.

I have written about shrinking computers in my blogpost series The Future Of Computers.

And here's some extra info showing that the trend is still going strong.

1. Notebook-Ready Fuel Cell To Be Shown Next Week

The methanol-powered Antig fuel cell provides 45 watts of power on a single "tank" of methanol, and weighs 3.7 pounds (1.7 kg). In total, the additional power should be enough to operate the notebook for eight hours, AVC said, which was responsible for engineering the fuel cell into the notebook housing.

Fuel cells are important because they provide more power than conventional energy sources while taking up the same volume.

2. Spansion Tips 45-nm, Quad-bit Flash
As part of the roadmap, Spansion (Sunnyvale, Calif.) dropped hints about a quad-bit, NAND-like product line that is targeted for the 45-nm node in 2008.

Beyond the so-called Quad Bit line, there were no roadmap surprises at Spansion, which is experiencing a string of losses amid a downturn in the NOR flash market. The company — formerly the NOR flash venture between Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) and Fujitsu Ltd. — recently went public.


By year’s end, Spansion hopes to move to a 65-nm process in its flagship Fab 25 facility in Austin, Texas. The company’s Fab 25 plant is also making 110- and 90-nm devices as well. Its foundry partner, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd., is also ramping up 110-nm parts, according to Spanion.

And by 2008, it hopes to migrate to a four-bit-per-cell architecture, dubbed Quad Bit, based on a 45-nm process. The company did not disclose details about the product.

A size of 45 nanometers is half of what our CPU's components are at the time of writing, which is 90 nanometers. And not only are dimensions shrinking, we are also stuffing more bits in one cell. Current memory chips store only one bit per cell.

A cell stores an electrical charge, which can be either low or high, corresponding to a zero or a one (I'm not sure if that's the correct order though), which is essentially one bit.

These future flash chips are able to store 4 bits in one cell.

That's a good way of stuffing more information in the same volume, and thereby (since everything is relative) shrinking memory modules.

3. Philips Produces 65nm System On A Chip
Royal Philips Electronics today announced it is securing its position at the leading edge of low-power CMOS technology for consumer-product applications, by successfully implementing a right-first-time 65-nm System-on-Chip (SoC) with the design complexity required in next-generation mobile multimedia and home entertainment products such as 3G mobile phones and high-performance LCD TVs.

Featuring an IEM™ (Intelligent Energy Manager) technology-enabled ARM1176JZF-S™ processor, 512 Kbytes of high-speed low-power scratch-pad memory, high-speed communication ports and key analog IP blocks, the new Philips chip is the first truly consumer-product oriented SoCs to be successfully produced in 65-nm low-power CMOS. It has been designed, as a platform to demonstrate what next-generation consumer products will be able to deliver in terms of a rich multimedia experience coupled with sense and simplicity of operation. It is already at the heart of new 65-nm CMOS SoCs currently in an advanced stage of development at Philips.


Extensive testing has already seen the new Philips SoC booting and running the Linux operating system, which is rapidly gaining favor in the consumer-electronics market due to its modularity, scalability, open-source philosophy and low-cost development tool support.

The term system on a chip is gaining popularity. It means exactly what it says. It's a whole system on just one chip, as opposed to the big pc cases filled with components that are now required to build one system.

Also very impressive is that Philips has managed to run the Linux OS on it.

So all in all, this once again shows we're looking at a future filled with extremely small computers.

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Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Robotic Packmule Displays Stunning Reflexes

Robotic Packmule Displays Stunning Reflexes:

A nimble, four-legged robot is so surefooted it can recover its balance even after being given a hefty kick. The machine, which moves like a cross between a goat and a pantomime horse, is being developed as a robotic pack mule for the US military.

BigDog is described by its developers Boston Dynamics as “the most advanced quadruped robot on Earth”. The company have released a new video of the robot negotiating steep slopes, crossing rocky ground and dealing with the sharp kick. View the impressive clip here (28MB Windows media file).

“Internal force sensors detect the ground variations and compensate for them,” says company president and project manager Marc Raibert. “And BigDog's active balance allows it to maintain stability when we disturb it."

This active balance is maintained by four legs, each with three joints powered by actuators and a fourth "springy" joint. All the joints are controlled by an onboard PC processor.

(click to enlarge)

It hasn't been long since Asimo the robot learned to walk and then run. Now there is a robot which does an impressive job at maintaining its balance, even if it receives a forceful kick.

As robots are getting smarter, they will start taking over many of our jobs that require only basic cognitive skills, such as window washing, dish washing, etc. This is going to have certain implications for our society as a whole.

Be sure to watch the movie clip (right-click and save). It is very impressive. Also notice how incredibly natural the movements of this robot are. It's artificial brain has learned to walk almost the same way that real mules have.

Kind of sheds a whole different light on how we look at our own biological brains, doesn't it?

After watching this, can you imagine that one day we will build a superior artificial intelligence?

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Cyborg Walks Through Chip In Brain

I just saw an extraordinary movie clip about a guy with a chip in his brain, that he uses to steer his leg muscles. He lost control over his leg muscles when his nerves were severed in a car accident in 1989.

The narrator says that it's now 11 years later, so I guess this clip is from 2000. I had no idea technology was already this advanced back then. I wonder why we haven't seen and heard more of this in the last few years.

Check out the movie clip here.

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Laser Plasma Displays 3D Images In The Air

Real 3D images can now be displayed in mid-air:

Many previous displays in 3D have been virtual images on 2D planes which, due to human binocular disparity, appear as 3D. However, the limitation of our visual field and the physical discomfort caused by wrongly identifying virtual images makes these displays less than perfect.

The new device uses the plasma emission phenomenon near the focal point of focused laser light. By controlling the position of the focal point in the direction of the x-, y-, and z-axes, real 3D-images in air (3D-space) can be displayed.

This should be very useful for studying 3D shapes the easy way. It's also useful for studying starmaps in StarWars-style. ;)

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Nanotubes Assemble Themselves Instantly

Researchers of the Christian Albrechts University of Kiel have found a new way of making nanotubes self-assemble:

The new method causes extensive hexagonal networks of tubes, intricately branched and connected, to form in less than a second on the surface of a layered crystal. The tubes themselves are prismatic folds, having the cross section of a pitched roof.


Surface nanotube networks suggest numerous applications, including networks of pipes for the storage and transport of minute quantities of materials, or templates for the fabrication of nanowire networks.

The ability to make detailed nanotube networking is important if science wants to build fullblown nanocomputers. As you can see, we're getting there.

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