Robotic technology is advancing apace and now a top team of European scientists and engineers hope to make the leap from single function ‘dumb’ machines to adaptive learning machines.
The concept of a cognitive robotic companion inspires some of the best science fiction but one day may be science fact following the work of the four-year COGNIRON project funded since January 2004 by the IST’s Future and Emerging Technologies initiative. But what could a cognitive robot companion do?
"Well, that's a difficult question. The example that's often used is a robot that's able to fulfil your needs, like passing you a drink or helping in everyday tasks," says Dr Raja Chatila, research director at the Systems Architecture and Analysis Laboratory of the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (LAAS-CNRS), and COGNIRON project coordinator.
"That might seem a bit trivial, but let me ask you a question: In the 1970s, what was the use of a personal computer?" he asks.
It's a good point. In fact, it was then impossible to imagine how PCs would change the world's economics, politics and society in just 30 years. The eventual uses, once the technology developed, were far from trivial.
COGNIRON set out on the same principle, given that society is constantly evolving, and the project partners hope to tackle some of the key issues that need to be resolved for the development of a cognitive robot companion, which could be used as assistants for disabled and elderly people or the general population. Who wouldn't like, for instance, their breakfast ready when they awoke, deliveries accepted while they were at work and their apartment cleaned upon their return?
Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
Energy giant BP plc and the California Institute of Technology have teamed up in a research program that will develop a new type of solar-cell technology called nanorods.
In the five-year, multi-million dollar program, BP (London) and Caltech (Pasadena, Calif.) will explore a concept based on growing silicon by creating arrays of nanorods, as opposed to the more convention method of casting ingots and cutting wafers.
Nanorods are small cylinders of silicon said to be 100 times smaller than a human hair. A solar cell based on an array of nanorods will be able to absorb light along the length of the rods by collecting the electricity generated by sunlight more efficiently than a conventional solar cell, according to claims made by BP and Caltech.
The program will also investigate uses of nanotechnology to create designer solar cell materials — such as nanorods and nanowires — in order to change the conventional paradigm for solar cell materials.
Not long ago, solar energy was considered a niche market. Now, solar-cell vendors are scrambling to expand their capacities to meet huge demand from homes and businesses worldwide. Companies that have recently announced new and massive solar-cell production plants include Energy Conversion Devices, Evergreen Solar, Sharp, SunPower and Suntech.
Indeed, solar is here today, but the technology is at about three times the cost of conventionally generated electricity However, thanks to advances in conventional and thin-film technologies, some believe that the cost of solar will be on par with that of conventional electricity within 10 years.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Thursday, June 29, 2006
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
GM has built a revolutionary car called the Hy-wire. It's an amazing piece of machinery.
It has no pedals, but is entirely hand-operated. It rides on a fuel cell, and the engine is a flat block which basically forms the bottom of the car. The body of the car can be modified in half an hour.
You've gotta see the movieclip (gets interesting from 1:15) to believe it: The Next Generation Of Cars.
The GM Hy-wire, appropriately named for its technology, incorporates the features first envisioned in the AUTOnomy concept vehicle at the 2002 North American International Auto Show in Detroit and the Geneva Motor Show. Hy-wire was introduced to the public at the Paris Motor Show last year.
“ The fact that we developed Hy-wire as a driveable concept vehicle in just eight months (from its introduction in Detroit) shows our commitment to this technology and the speed at which we are progressing,” said Rick Wagoner, GM’s president and CEO.
“ With AUTOnomy, GM shared a vision. Hy-wire accelerates our progress with a functional proof of concept which strengthens our confidence in our ability to gain marketplace acceptance of production fuel cell vehicles.”
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Wednesday, June 28, 2006
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Computers are about to get a whole lot more advanced, as British and American scientists have announced they are creating a PC that is “emotionally aware.”
A raised eyebrow, a puzzled facial look or a nod of the head are just some of the expressions the computer will be able to read. Scientists say their new computer, which simply points a video camera at an individual’s face, will be able to determine a person’s thoughts by analyzing basic facial expressions that portray inside feelings.
Peter Robinson, a professor at the University of Cambridge in England, says his team's mind-reading computer could eventually be used to do everything from teaching people to drive better to developing better ad campaigns that target people’s moods.
"Imagine a computer that could pick the right emotional moment to try to sell you something, a future where mobile phones, cars and websites could read our mind and react to our moods," Robinson told Reuters.
Robinson said the computer he and his team designed is already doing quite well at recognizing various expressions generated by actors. His team is currently trying to get more data to teach the computer when a person is bored, confused, interested or agreeable. The PC will be put on display at a London exhibition today.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Monday, June 26, 2006
Stimulating a protein on the surface of the brain's stem cells helps rats recover after a stroke, US researchers have found. The discovery suggests that in humans it could be possible to provoke the body's own stem cells into repairing an injury, rather than laboriously growing and transplanting new cells.
Researchers believe that many of the body's tissues harbour stem cells capable of dividing to make new tissue. But some of these are recalcitrant and do not naturally divide to repair damage wreaked by severe injuries such as stroke or spinal-cord damage.
Ronald McKay and his colleagues at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, have now shown that one protein, called Notch, can boost the survival of three different types of stem cell. Notch sits on cell surfaces and is vital for the correct growth of embryos.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Monday, June 26, 2006
Thursday, June 22, 2006
une 20 (Bloomberg) -- In 1973, junior engineer Takeo Fukui helped put Honda Motor Co. on the U.S. map with a Civic subcompact that met clean-air standards without a $1,000 tailpipe filter known as a catalytic converter. He was 28.
Today, as Honda's chief executive officer, Fukui, 61, is racing to repeat his triumph at a lab 68 miles (109 kilometers) north of Tokyo. There, engineers are building a diesel engine for 2009 that Honda says will meet both new U.S. limits and more stringent California rules on soot and nitrous oxide emissions and still use 30 percent less fuel than gasoline models.
Honda allows no media visitors to the lab. Fukui is guarding it as his secret weapon as U.S. gasoline prices soar to an average $2.87 a gallon and global warming worries 62 percent of Americans, a March Gallup Organization Inc. poll found.
``People want cars that emit less pollutants, use less fuel and protect their occupants,'' says John Casesa, an auto industry consultant at Casesa Shapiro Group LLC in New York. ``These trends play directly to Honda's strengths.''
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Thursday, June 22, 2006
Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Even though it's only an animation, it makes me think...
How long until real life robots posess this level of cognition?
Two other robot related articles I recently spotted:
Microsoft fosters robotics.
It might take many years, but Microsoft believes robotics could present a big opportunity as the market grows, said Tandy Trower, general manager of the Microsoft Robotics Group. He cited estimates predicting that consumer robotics alone will grow into a multibillion-dollar industry in five to 10 years.
Androids Dream of Soccer Glory.
Already a few teams are working on stereoscopic vision, which would help with depth perception. Next year, the humanoid robots are likely to leave behind their Pocket PC brains, which most teams have used for weight reasons.
"Every year the teams get better and better, but there's no quantum improvements this year," Rojas says. "It has been a continuous evolution."
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Wednesday, June 21, 2006
The rapidly advancing world of regenerative medicine just got wilder as a team of researchers has reported a better technique for growing starter arteries for people with vascular disease who need replacements.
The synthetic blood vessels could eventually be used in patients undergoing heart surgery to have their hardened or blocked arteries removed and replaced with prosthetics or grafts that would allow the regeneration of a new artery.
In recent years, specialists called tissue engineers have begun to figure out how to help patients grow new tissues and even entire organs to replace ailing and failing parts such as blood vessels, skin, cartilage, bone, stomachs, bladders and even hearts. The process involves seeding specially shaped artificial scaffolds with human cells such that the body eventually grows a functional new body part around the implant.
The trick with tissue engineering is to come up with synthetic parts that can withstand the mechanical strain of doing the body's work while also biodegrading slowly as the body rebuilds the real thing.
With blood vessels, experts already have shown that it is possible to make synthetic arteries that work in the lab.
The new work is important because the team, at Virginia Commonwealth University, was able to create grafts that include elastin, which makes it so the cells seeded into the synthetic artery are much more likely to recognize and interact properly with the body. Elastin also makes the synthetic artery strong enough to work much more like our original blood vessels. The body's elastic fibers, found in nearly all organs and tissues, are made of elastin.
Engineering electrically conducting tissue for the heart.
Patients with complete heart block, or disrupted electrical conduction in their hearts, are at risk for life-threatening rhythm disturbances and heart failure. The condition is currently treated by implanting a pacemaker in the patient's chest or abdomen, but these devices often fail over time, particularly in infants and small children who must undergo many re-operations. Researchers at Children's Hospital Boston have now taken preliminary steps toward using a patient's own cells instead of a pacemaker, marking the first time tissue-engineering methods have been used to create electrically conductive tissue for the heart.
Cowan's team, including first author Yeong-Hoon Choi in Children's Department of Cardiac Surgery, obtained skeletal muscle from rats and isolated muscle precursor cells called myoblasts. They "seeded" the myoblasts onto a flexible scaffolding material made of collagen, creating a 3-dimensional bit of living tissue that could be surgically implanted in the heart.
When the engineered tissue was implanted into rats, between the right atrium and right ventricle, the implanted cells integrated with the surrounding heart tissue and electrically coupled to neighboring heart cells. Optical mapping of the heart showed that in nearly a third of the hearts, the engineered tissue had established an electrical conduction pathway, which disappeared when the implants were destroyed. The implants remained functional through the animals' lifespan (about 3 years).
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Wednesday, June 21, 2006
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
IBM and Georgia Tech have coaxed a chip to run at 500GHz, a record for a silicon-based device, by dropping the temperature to minus 451 degrees Fahrenheit.
The experiment is part of a project to explore the ultimate speed limits of silicon-germanium (SiGe) chips. SiGe chips are similar to standard silicon chips, but they also contain germanium for better performance and lower power consumption.
Adding germanium, however, increases the price of producing wafers and chips that come out of the wafers, so SiGe chips are typically only found in a few select markets. IBM has sold hundreds of millions of SiGe chips since it began selling them in 1998, but the cell phone industry gobbles up billions of plain silicon chips annually. (Germanium is sprinkled into standard silicon chips: Intel adds minute amounts of the element to create strained silicon in its processors).
At room temperature, the IBM-Georgia Tech chip operates at 350GHz, or 350 billion cycles per second. That's far faster than standard PC processors today, which range from 3.8GHz to 1.8GHz. But SiGe chips can gain additional performance in colder temperatures.
To that end, IBM and Georgia Tech scientists turned down the temperature and cryogenically froze the chip at minus 451 F. It's about as cold as things get. An extremely cold temperature like that is found naturally only in outer space, but can be artificially achieved on Earth using ultracold materials such as liquid helium. Absolute zero comes at minus 459 F.
SiGe chips, the scientists theorized, could eventually hit 1 terahertz, or 1 trillion cycles a second.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Monday, June 19, 2006
We are developing the tools to reprogram the processes involved in disease and aging, says Ray Kurzweil in his article, "Reprogramming Biology," in the July 2006 Scientific American and available free in an extended Web version.
He also cites accelerating progress in turning specific genes off by blocking the messenger RNA; adding beneficial genes to patients' bodies; activating and deactivating enzymes, to increase good cholesterol, for example; regrowing our own cells, tissues and even whole organs; capturing stem cells out of the bloodstream, to create new heart cells, for example; using nanoparticles that recognize and destroy cancer cells; and understanding and even reprogramming the brain.
Kurzweil is also optimistic about radical life extension. "I expect that within 15 years, we'll be adding more than a year each year to remaining life expectancy. So my advice is: take care of yourself the old-fashioned way for a while longer and you may get to experience the remarkable century ahead."
The New Human.
By 2020, virtual reality will allow for a full-immersion sensual encounter involving all five senses, says Ray Kurzweil in "The New Human," an interview in the July 2005 issue of Playboy.
"You'll feel as though you're really with that person.... The whole idea of what it means to have a sexual relationship will be different.
"Computers used to be remote: now they're in our pockets," says Kurzweil. Next, they'll make their way into our clothing, our body, and our brain. "You can't point to a single organ for which we haven't made enhancements or started work on them." The latest FDA-approved neural implant even allows you to "upload software from outside the patient.
Ray Kurzweil has been making predictions for a long time now. So far, he just keeps on being right. He's got a good track record.
His models, which are basically exponential extrapolations of technologies, seem to be quite reliable when it comes to looking into the future. That's why I choose to take him seriously.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Monday, June 19, 2006
Sunday, June 18, 2006
Taking issue with the perception that computer models lack realism, a Sandia National Laboratories researcher told his audience that simulations of the nanoscale provide researchers more detailed results — not less — than experiments alone.
Fang derided the pejorative “garbage in, garbage out” description of computer modeling — the belief that inputs for computer simulations are so generic that outcomes fail to generate the unexpected details found only by actual experiment.
Fang not only denied this truism but reversed it. “There’s another, prettier world beyond what the SEM [scanning electron microscope] shows, and it’s called simulation,” he told his audience. “When you look through a microscope, you don’t see some things that modeling and simulation show.”
“We need to sit back and put our mindset in a different mode,” he told his audience. “We’re all too busy doing [laboratory] research [instead of considering] how we can leverage resources to push our science to the next level.”
I've said it before elsewhere on this blog and I'll say it again: simulations are the future of science.
Soon, all computers worldwide will be linked up to form one giant virtual supercomputer. Computational power will be readily available to run very sophisticated simulations of multi-cellular systems or even organs.
Sidenote for all animal lovers out there: this means laboratory testing animals will be part of the past.
These simulations will be a boon to science. I suspect that we may expect an enormous boost in health and longevity to come forth from science, once it has shifted into next gear.
I've also said that the virtual world is better than the physical world in every aspect. If you care to read about it, take a look at The Future Of Virtual Environments.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Sunday, June 18, 2006
University of Washington scientists have made significant progress toward learning how to repair severely damaged human livers with stem cells.
A team of UW researchers for the first time isolated liver stem cells from human fetuses, grew them in the laboratory for months and infused them in laboratory mice, where they replaced thousands of dead liver cells.
If the experimental work continues successfully in the years to come, the technique could one day repair livers badly damaged by drug overdoses, hepatitis and alcoholism.
From the current research, "we gained tremendous understanding of human embryology, cell origins and how the liver is put together," Fausto said. "That kind of knowledge is absolutely crucial for future research."
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Sunday, June 18, 2006
Friday, June 16, 2006
If, hypothetically, all U.S. cars ran on 100 percent corn-based ethanol, and if one Ivy League professor's analysis is correct, then 97 percent of the entire country's land area -- including real estate now occupied by cities -- would be needed to grow corn.
Until recently, Brazil was better known for soccer and carnival than for leading the world into the future of energy consumption. But now Brazil is also famous for what might be called its "sweet gold." "Sweet" as in sugarcane, "gold" as in a fuel to replace "black gold" -- oil.
About three decades ago, Brazil decided to use its overabundance of sugarcane to decrease its overdependence on foreign oil. It created an industry of sugarcane-based ethanol, a grain alcohol fuel. That effort kicked into high gear a few years ago, when "flex-fuel" vehicles that can run on up to 100 percent sugarcane ethanol reached a critical mass in Brazil. The alternative to gasoline took off.
Now, the fifth largest country in the world is producing enough home-grown sugarcane-based ethanol to equal 300,000 barrels of oil per day. Ethanol currently supplies half of the fuel needs of Brazilian vehicles, and the government is expected to announce energy self-sufficiency within a year.
Can a similar approach lead to an energy-independent future in the U.S. and elsewhere?
Peak oil doomsday my hiney.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Friday, June 16, 2006
A lab-engineered bird flu vaccine protected ferrets against several strains of H5N1 avian influenza, offering the possibility of making a vaccine ahead of any pandemic, U.S.-based scientists said on Wednesday.
But it may be tricky to test it in humans, reported Elena Govorkova and colleagues at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
The animals were protected even though they did not show the usual antibody response -- a measure of immune system reaction often used to gauge vaccine effectiveness.
The findings suggest it may be possible to stockpile a vaccine ahead of a pandemic of H5N1 influenza, the researchers report in this week's issue of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, something that experts believed was not possible.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Friday, June 16, 2006
Thursday, June 15, 2006
A team of autonomous flying and ground-based robots have successfully cooperated to search for and locate targets in the streets of an urban warfare training ground in the US. The system could help in search and rescue efforts and military operations – and even has the potential to include humans in the team.
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, US, tested their system of team-working bots at a realistic urban warfare training ground at the US Army's Fort Benning base.
They hid bright orange boxes in the streets between buildings. An autonomous robot aircraft with a wingspan of 2.5 metres, and four autonomous ground vehicles in the form of modified model monster trucks, called Clodbusters, then set out to pinpoint the boxes’ locations.
Both types of bot carried GPS sensors and looked for the targets using colour video cameras. The Clodbusters used stereo cameras to judge distance, while the plane used a single camera. The robo-team members stay in touch via radio or Wi-Fi.
New Robot Has Powerful Cling.
A novel, walling-climbing robot could cut thousands of dollars off building inspection fees and one day work to survey urban war zones, where corners, rooftops and building materials thwart otherwise capable robots.
The City Climber rover, being developed by Jizhong Xiao and his team at the City College of New York, uses a vacuum chamber to get vertical. The robot is part of a project that aims to automate mandatory building inspections.
Robot soccer World Cup kicks off.
A football tournament played by teams of robots has kicked off in Germany.
The 10th annual RoboCup, being held in Bremen, will see more than 400 teams of robots dribbling, tackling and shooting in an effort to become world champions.
Machines compete in 11 leagues including those designed for humanoid and four-legged robots.
The organisers of the tournament hope that in 2050 the winners of the RoboCup will be able to beat the human World Cup champions.
"RoboCup 2006 is the first step towards a vision," said Minoru Asada, president of the RoboCup Federation.
"This vision includes the development of a humanoid robot team of eleven players, which can win against a human soccer world champion team."
Also see Robotic Nation.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Thursday, June 15, 2006
Sulfur causes costly problems for high-temperature fuel cells. Tufts U. researchers may have found an answer.
High-temperature fuel cells promise clean, efficient energy in quantities large enough to power cities. But, so far, they've been too expensive for widespread use. One major problem is the sulfur in fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, which contaminates the hydrogen gas that runs the cells. The sulfur attacks and degrades a part of the fuel cell called the anode, reducing power production -- and eventually shutting down the cell.
Now chemical engineers at Tufts University in Medford MA, led by Maria Flytzani-Stephanopoulos, have found a way to continuously remove sulfur from incoming hydrogen before it feeds these cells. The work, published in the June 9 issue of Science (abstract), could be a significant step in making high-temperature fuel cells practical.
Lanny Schmidt, professor of chemical engineering and materials science at the University of Minnesota, says many operational issues have kept more powerful fuel cells off the market, including long startup times and parts wearing out under high heat. But, he says, sulfur is "one of the major problems." Schmidt predicts that researchers will overcome these obstacles in the next few years, and, if successful, SOFCs "may become the fuel cell of choice." He says that Flytzani-Stephanopoulos has "an innovative, clever new way to remove sulfur."
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Thursday, June 15, 2006
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
SCIENTISTS at a Welsh university are working on a "next generation" artificial lung using futuristic nanotechnology.
The "portable lung" being developed at Swansea University has the potential to save millions of lives across the world.
It also promises to save the NHS hundreds of millions of pounds.
The device, a blood/air mass exchanger, integrates with the body's respiratory system and is designed to breathe for conscious, mobile patients whose lungs are damaged or diseased.
As a portable device, it will allow patients to recover outside intensive care units, offering them a better quality of life and saving the NHS money.
The unit could also be taken to patients in emergency situations allowing their damaged lungs to "rest" as the artificial unit takes over. It could be used by military medical units to keep alive soldiers affected by chemical weapons which often target the lungs.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Humanity is the verge of an incredible future. Technologies that seem like science fiction are already becoming science fact as researchers develop innovations that will transform the very essence of what it is to be human.
"The pace of change is exponential, not linear," says inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist Ray Kurzveil. "So things fifty years from now will be very different. That's pretty phenomenal. It took us fifteen years to sequence HIV, we sequenced SARS in 31 days."
Nanotechnology, genetics and cybernetics will mean that we will become faster, stronger and more beautiful; we will live longer and banish disease; we will be more intelligent and quicker-witted with photographic memories and the ability to go days without sleep.
"We're doubling the power of computers every year for the same cost," says Kurzveil. "In 25 years, they'll be a billion times more powerful than they are today. At the same time we're shrinking the size of all technology, electronic and mechanical, by a factor of a hundred per decade, that's a hundred thousand in 25 years."
Kurzveil argues that the growth of computing power, miniaturization and increased technical prowess will turn the world into an incredible place -- free from the conflicts over resources and wealth that have plagued it and in the last century and almost led to our obliteration in the fires of global thermonuclear war.
That is, if you believe one particular school of thought.
Ofcourse, everybody has his own take on the future. There are plenty of people in disagreement with Ray Kurzweil. I'm just not one of them, so anybody who is interested in the other points of view... just click to the source article.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Tuesday, June 13, 2006
A water desalination system using carbon nanotube-based membranes could significantly reduce the cost of purifying water from the ocean. The technology could potentially provide a solution to water shortages both in the United States, where populations are expected to soar in areas with few freshwater sources, and worldwide, where a lack of clean water is a major cause of disease.
The new membranes, developed by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), could reduce the cost of desalination by 75 percent, compared to reverse osmosis methods used today, the researchers say. The membranes, which sort molecules by size and with electrostatic forces, could also separate various gases, perhaps leading to economical ways to capture carbon dioxide emitted from power plants, to prevent it from entering the atmosphere.
The carbon nanotubes used by the researchers are sheets of carbon atoms rolled so tightly that only seven water molecules can fit across their diameter. Their small size makes them good candidates for separating molecules. And, despite their diminutive dimensions, these nanopores allow water to flow at the same rate as pores considerably larger, reducing the amount of pressure needed to force water through, and potentially saving energy and costs compared to reverse osmosis using conventional membranes.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Tuesday, June 13, 2006
Monday, June 12, 2006
Studying with diligent friends is fine, says Heidi Lessing, a University of Delaware sophomore.
But after a couple of hours, it's time for a break, a little gossip: "I want to talk about somebody walking by in the library."
One of those friends, however, is working too hard for dish -- way too hard.
Instead of joining in the gossip, "She says, 'Be quiet,' " Lessing says, astonishment still registering in her voice.
Her friend's attention is laserlike, totally focused on her texts, even after an evening of study. "We were so bored," Lessing says. But the friend was still "really into it. It's annoying."
The reason for the difference: Her pal is fueled with "smart pills" that increase her concentration, focus, wakefulness and short-term memory.
As university students all over the country emerge from final exam hell this month, the number of healthy people using bootleg pharmaceuticals of this sort seems to be soaring.
Rare counting ability induced by temporarily switching off brain region:
A minority of people with autism have one or more extraordinary intellectual talents, such as the rapid ability to calculate the day of the week for a given date, or to count large numbers of discrete objects almost instantaneously - they're often called 'autistic savants' or 'idiot savants'. Now Allan Snyder and colleagues have shown that by placing a pulsing magnet over a specific area of the brain, these kind of abilities can, to some extent, be induced in people who aren’t autistic.
For example, before the TMS, one participant had 20 goes at estimating the number of blobs onscreen, and each time she was more than 5 away from the true figure. Yet immediately after receiving the TMS, she made 6 out of 20 guesses that were within 5 blobs of the true figure. Before TMS, another participant scored 3 estimates out of 20 that were within 5 of the true figure, compared with 10 out of 20 immediately after the TMS.
The researchers think that by temporarily inhibiting activity in the left anterior temporal cortex, the TMS allowed the brain’s number estimator to act on raw sensory data, without it having already been automatically grouped together into patterns or shapes. In other words, they believe it caused the 'normal' brain to function more like an autistic 'savant' brain. “We argue that it removes our unconscious tendency to group discrete elements into meaningful patterns, like grouping stars into constellations, which would normally interfere with accurate estimation”, the researchers said. “By inhibiting networks involved in concepts, we may facilitate conscious access to literal details, leading to savant-like skills”.
I wouldn't mind having my own intelligence amplified a little...
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Monday, June 12, 2006
An international team of university and industry scientists has discovered a way to improve nanoparticles used to make advanced circuits. These findings could help improve the reliable large-scale manufacture of high quality chips, experts told UPI's Nano World.
When it comes to making advanced circuitry, the silicon wafers they are based on must be as free of defects and flat as possible. Nanoparticles made of ceria, or cerium dioxide, are some of the abrasives used to smoothen out these wafers.
As the size of the circuitry features shrink to pack more computing power into microchips, the industry has to defects down to ensure mass manufacture of chips remains viable. This remains especially true as inventors develop electronic structures only nanometers or billionths of a meter in size, the scale of molecules. The problem is that ceria nanoparticles synthesized by existing techniques are irregularly faceted crystals, the sharp edges of which are prone to scratching the silicon wafers, explained researcher Zhong Lin Wang, a materials scientist in nanotechnology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
For superior performance, nanoparticles that are perfect spheres are ideal because they would act like ball bearings, polishing the silicon surface without scratching it. After three years of research, Wang and his colleagues in the United States, Britain and China have now developed a way of creating spherical ceria nanoparticles at large scales.
We are headed towards fullblown nanocomputation. In other words: the CPU's of the future will be completely 'nanotechnology'.
This allows for extremely fast CPU's that are easy to cool and hardly need any power to run.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Monday, June 12, 2006
Saturday, June 10, 2006
Sitting stone still under a skull cap fitted with a couple dozen electrodes, American scientist Peter Brunner stares at a laptop computer. Without so much as moving a nostril hair, he suddenly begins to compose a message -- letter by letter -- on a giant screen overhead.
"B-O-N-J-O-U-R" he writes with the power of his mind, much to the amazement of the largely French audience of scientists and curious onlookers gathered at the four-day European Research and Innovation Exhibition in Paris, which opened Thursday.
Brunner and two colleagues from the state-financed Wadsworth Center in Albany, New York were demonstrating a "brain computer interface (BCI)," an astounding technology which digitalizes brain signals emitted as electrical impulses -- picked up by the electrodes -- to convey intent.
Scientists have been experimenting with ways to translate thought directly into action for nearly two decades, but BCI has only recently begun to move out of the laboratory and into the daily lives of those trapped inside bodies that no longer respond to their will.
Possible applications extend beyond the written word into physical movement -- it is only a matter of time, Sellers says, before the same technology is used to operate motorized wheel chairs. "We can do already. But it is a complex problem, and for now it would be unsafe," she says.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Saturday, June 10, 2006
With robots now poised to emerge from their industrial cages and to move into homes and workplaces, roboticists are concerned about the safety implications beyond the factory floor. To address these concerns, leading robot experts have come together to try to find ways to prevent robots from harming people. Inspired by the Pugwash Conferences—an international group of scientists, academics and activists founded in 1957 to campaign for the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons—the new group of robo-ethicists met earlier this year in Genoa, Italy, and announced their initial findings in March at the European Robotics Symposium in Palermo, Sicily.
“Security, safety and sex are the big concerns,” says Henrik Christensen, chairman of the European Robotics Network at the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and one of the organisers of the new robo-ethics group. Should robots that are strong enough or heavy enough to crush people be allowed into homes? Is “system malfunction” a justifiable defence for a robotic fighter plane that contravenes the Geneva Convention and mistakenly fires on innocent civilians? And should robotic sex dolls resembling children be legally allowed?
These questions may seem esoteric but in the next few years they will become increasingly relevant, says Dr Christensen. According to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe's World Robotics Survey, in 2002 the number of domestic and service robots more than tripled, nearly outstripping their industrial counterparts. By the end of 2003 there were more than 600,000 robot vacuum cleaners and lawn mowers—a figure predicted to rise to more than 4m by the end of next year. Japanese industrial firms are racing to build humanoid robots to act as domestic helpers for the elderly, and South Korea has set a goal that 100% of households should have domestic robots by 2020. In light of all this, it is crucial that we start to think about safety and ethical guidelines now, says Dr Christensen.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Saturday, June 10, 2006
Friday, June 09, 2006
A state-run defense development institution is to unveil upgraded unmanned military vehicles today as part of the country's military robot project, officials said.
The new XAV models, developed by the Agency for Defense Development, are equipped with a more advanced speed system than those initially released last year, Choi Chang-gon, a head of system development bureau at ADD, told reporters.
They are remote controlled and can conduct self-controlled driving, Choi said.
After a series of test runs, the XAV vehicles will be further upgraded between 2013 and 2020 ahead of being deployed for defense operations, he said.
The unmanned robotics weapon system features two models according to function: surveillance and combat.
A REVOLUTIONARY drug that could help overcome HIV's growing resistance to existing antiviral drugs is about to be tested in combination with standard antivirals. Called PA-457, it is the first of a new class of anti-HIV compounds called maturation inhibitors. The drug is still in its early stages, and will not be generally available for at least three years.
Up to 80 per cent of HIV-positive people on treatment show resistance to one or more of their drugs, according to Graham Allaway of Panacos Pharmaceuticals in Gaithersburg, Maryland, which is developing PA-457. Panacos hopes to begin trials this month to test how well the drug works in patients whose existing drug regimes are failing.
PA-457 aims to overcome this resistance by attacking HIV on a new front. Many existing drugs work by blocking reverse transcriptase, an enzyme that enables HIV to replicate within a cell. Others disable protease, which helps to assemble the virus into particles that infect other cells.
Recent experiments in collaboration with Michael Sakalian and his colleagues at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City have shown that PA-457 works in a different way. It attacks HIV by disrupting formation of a conical shield, called the capsid protein, which stores and protects the RNA heart of the HIV particles as they bud out from infected cells.
Previous lab experiments on infected human cells have shown that the drug defeats strains of HIV which are resistant to other anti-HIV drugs. A small human trial of the drug, reported last August, showed that when given on its own it rapidly clears most HIV from the blood, driving down the levels tenfold in a matter of hours.
HIV isn't the only disease against in which science is making great progress. Also see GUMC Research Leads to First Cancer Vaccine.
Several display companies are concocting, and in some cases already selling, monitors and other components that provide a simulated 3D viewing experience. Many of these new products don't require glasses.
Stand in front of a Philips 3D monitor, and animated characters throw rose petals or dice at you; the first time you see it, you startle and jolt upward slightly. A film trailer shown on the monitors seems to have more depth than a standard 2D movie.
The Dutch electronics giant has tested the technology in the labs with consumers and noted that a person's galvanic skin response--a change in the skin's ability to conduct electricity, caused by an emotional stimulus, such as fright--rises with 3D viewing.
"It is clearly a more immersive experience," Jos Swillens, vice president and general manager of the 3D division at Philips, said during an interview at the Society for Information Display conference here. "There is nothing hampering this from becoming a mainstream product."
Thursday, June 08, 2006
Among them was Earth’s most abundant element, hydrogen. Although its future looks bright—the only by-product of a hydrogen fuel cell is water, and experts believe they can one day be used to create electricity to fuel cars—the cost and energy required to create hydrogen has taken it out of the running as a near-term energy alternative to oil.
That may be about to change. Researchers at GE’s Global Research lab in Niskayuna, NY, have developed a system that produces hydrogen at a fraction of the cost and could be available commercially in just a few years.
The basic process, electrolysis, is nothing new: Combine water with an electrolyte, and run current through the solution, forcing the water molecules to split into hydrogen and oxygen gases. But electrolysis-formed hydrogen has long been hampered by the high capital cost of the metals used in the process, around “thousands of dollars per kilowatt,” says Richard Bourgeois, GE’s electrolysis project leader. GE’s breakthrough comes from a proprietary material called Noryl, a highly chemical- and temperature-resistant plastic developed by the GE labs, that lowers the cost of hydrogen production to hundreds of dollars per kilowatt, according to Bourgeois.
The article also links back to a previous look on various kinds of alternative fuels. It's a big read, but the info is very useful.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Thursday, June 08, 2006
Wednesday, June 07, 2006
A team of scientists and surgeons at a Melbourne hospital has developed a method of growing new organs within a patient's body.
Previously, scientists had only been able to create two-dimensional constructions such as skin.
But researchers at the Bernard O'Brien Institute of Microsurgery at Melbourne's St Vincent's Hospital say have created three-dimensional cells.
The cells have been grown in a plastic chamber under the patients' skin.
"We have developed a special chamber and this is essentially an empty box into which we implant a blood vessel using microsurgery techniques," lead researcher Professor Wayne Morrison said.
"We let them grow according to the specific environment that we can create.
"Now currently we have been able to make breast tissue, fat, muscle, pancreas tissue that secretes insulin and we have also created thymus tissue, which may have an application in immunology."
Professor Morrison predicts the discovery will ultimately lead to the creation of human organs, including parts of the heart, using patients' own stem cells.
He says such a scenario would reduce the problem of immune rejection, which is often associated with organ transplants.
"This is really just an example of the potential of tissue engineering. This is growing tissues in the body," Professor Morrison said.
"It involves combining the expertise of biologists and chemical engineers, particularly where we mix cells and scaffolds together and implant them in the body where they grow and mature and develop into specific tissues."
The research team says it is expected to be about 10 years before the new method is used.
Federal Treasurer Peter Costello was behind the original $300,000 grant that ultimately led to the discovery.
At the scientists' press conference, Mr Costello took the liberty of explaining why he had taken an interest in the research.
"So why is a Federal Treasurer interested in this work? First, my interest in the heart proves I have a heart."
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Hydrogen fuel cell cars could be on the road much earlier than the decade or more so far predicted. Honda has confirmed it plans a production model “in three to four years”.
The car will be based on the FCX Concept, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last year.
The car uses hydrogen to generate electricity that powers a motor. Britain’s first hydrogen filling station opened last year in Hornchurch, Essex, and there is already a fleet of hydrogen buses carrying passengers in London.
Honda engineers are working on a smaller, more efficient fuel cell to increase power and cabin space.
It has also developed a home “energy station” that generates hydrogen from natural gas to allow owners to refuel on their own driveway.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Wednesday, June 07, 2006
Tuesday, June 06, 2006
We react naturally to the signals our brains send out to our bodies. Science has long been able to listen into the signals the brain sends, but is just now learning to turn those signals into meaningful action. The result is restoring movement and speech to the disabled.
One such effort is Cyberkinetic's BrainGate Neural Interface System, now undergoing clinical trials. The tiny chip was developed by Brown University's John Donoghue, who serves as Cyberkinetic's Chief Scientific Officer.
"Our research was to investigate the electrical signals in the brain," says Donoghue, "and how they are transformed as these thoughts get changed over into actual control of your arm or your hand."
"One of the big breakthroughs in neuroscience is that we can tap into signals [from the brain], and we get many complex electrical impulses from those neurons," says Brown. "We can read out those signals, and by some not-to-complex mathematical techniques, we can put them back together in a way that we can interpret what the brain is trying to do."
"In this trial," he explains, "we've implanted a tiny chip in the brain and that tiny chip picks up signals about moving the arm." The signal is then converted into simple commands that can be used to control computers, turn lights on and off, control a television set. Or, as Donoghue explains, "control robotic devices like an artificial hand... or a robotic arm."
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Tuesday, June 06, 2006
Monday, June 05, 2006
Imagine an Alzheimer's patient receiving a vaccine made of specialized blood cells and then showing a much- improved memory. Also, imagine that vaccine having no side effects and needing to be given only occasionally.
Researchers at the Johnnie B. Byrd, Sr. Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute in Tampa, Florida, have not only imagined these things, they have actually developed such a vaccine that they show reverses memory loss in Alzheimer's mice.
In a study published this week in the journal, Neurobiology of Disease, researchers report that tests of the new vaccine on mice shows promise of reversing memory loss and seriously slowing the effects of Alzheimer's on patients. The groundbreaking research was done by investigators from the Byrd Alzheimer's Institute, the University of South Florida, and University of California Riverside.
In the study, researchers took ordinary white blood cells (immune cells) from normal mice and exposed those white blood cells to an abnormal protein called "beta-amyloid." Beta-amyloid accumulates in Alzheimer's brains and appears to be the root cause of this devastating disease.
A single injection of white blood cells "sensitized" to beta-amyloid was given to Alzheimer's mice with impaired memories and Alzheimer's-like brain pathologies. When the Alzheimer's mice were tested several months later, their memory performance was surprisingly improved, even up to the level of normal mice. Moreover, this single vaccine treatment increased connections between brain cells and reduced brain levels of beta-amyloid in the Alzheimer's mice.
It's so cool when diseases like Alzheimers start yielding to modern science. Science is so totally going to cure a lot of diseases in the coming biotech revolution.
We will all be much healthier and happier in the coming years.
Lying in his hospital room, on a mattress designed to protect his fragile skin, 13-year-old Achim Nurse poked his bandaged fingers at an orange button on what looked like a souped-up video game console.
Half a second later, in a social studies class discussing the Erie Canal, a 5-foot-tall steel-blue robot raised its hand.
"You have a question, Achim?" said the teacher.
Achim is using a pair of robots - one, called "Mr. Spike," at his bedside, and its mate, "Mrs. Candy," in the classroom - to keep up with his schoolwork and his friends for the months he will be bedridden at Blythedale Children's Hospital in Valhalla, just north of New York City.
The robot in the classroom, which displays a live picture of Achim, provides what its inventors call "telepresence": It gives the boy an actual presence in the classroom, recognized by teachers and classmates. It can move from class to class on its four-wheel base and even stop at the lockers for a between-periods chat.
"The robot literally is embraced by students in the classroom as though that is the medically fragile student," said Andrew Summa, national director of the robot project, which is in use at six other hospitals around the country. Achim's teacher, Bob Langerfield, said his other students had become used to the robot - and were treating it as if it were Achim - after just a few days.
The program, called PEBBLES (for Providing Education By Bringing Learning Environments to Students), has great potential for expansion, supporters say. It could keep suspended students connected to their classrooms, for example, or even help young prisoners. Summa says it also has promise as a tool in treating autism because it gives the patient control of the social environment.
A tractor trailer rig rumbles into the Tall Corn Ethanol plant. Corn pours from openings in its belly to bins underground, where conveyor belts and buckets haul it to gleaming steel silos rising 13 stories above the Iowa plains.
The 40-acre distillery turns corn into alcohol in quantities that would make a moonshiner drool. Instead of white lightnin', the brew is converted to ethanol, a fuel that makes money for farmers and is seen as a possible solution to today's high oil and gas prices.
Like the other modern-day stills dotting the Midwestern landscape, the Coon Rapids plant reached capacity soon after opening - within 12 days, to be precise.
Ethanol production in the United States is growing so quickly that for the first time, farmers expect to sell as much corn this year to ethanol plants as they do overseas.
"It's the most stunning development in agricultural markets today - I can't think of anything else quite like this," says Keith Collins, the U.S. Agriculture Department's chief economist.
The amount of corn used for ethanol, estimated at 2.15 billion bushels this year, would amount to about 20 percent of the nation's entire crop, according to department projections.
Even as ethanol devours corn and pushes prices higher, the president and Congress are calling for even greater ethanol use. Wall Street cannot seem to get enough of ethanol-related investments. Automakers are speeding ethanol-capable vehicles onto the road.
"When the price of anything gets high enough, then all kinds of substitutes come out of the closet," Collins said. "That's what's going on now. As long as the price of oil stays high, where ethanol is profitable, this industry is going to keep growing."
In the past, many people have claimed that it will take several decades to get an infrastructure for alternative fuels in working order. This seems to be one of the arguments that proponents of the peak oil doomsday scenario are very fond of.
I don't believe it. It's all happening way faster. As you can see by reading this article, the transition is happening right now!
Saturday, June 03, 2006
The biggest shift over the next ten years will be one of attitude, as our mindset of "going online" is replaced by one of "being online". This change has already started, as telephones and televisions become more integrated with the Net, and connectivity will grow to include everything from your morning alarm clock to the book you read before falling asleep at night. The "Internet" will no longer be a destination, but the essential glue that holds our world together.
Along with a change of mindset will be a generational shift. By the year 2016, no one under the age of forty will remember a world without personal computers. The average twenty year old will find it hard to imagine a time when there wasn't any email to check or Web sites to visit. When we reach this point, even the novelty of the term "Internet" will have long since faded to join such golden buzz-words of yesteryear as "space age" and "atomic".
In addition to constant Net connectivity, computing power itself will grow by leaps and bounds -- and this technology will also find its way into everyday objects. Your mobile telephone will be able to record broadcast-quality video, and a cheap child's doll will have the full interactivity of a video game.
As the bulky footprint of personal computers becomes smaller, the desktop computer as we know it will disappear. Thanks to decreased computing costs, the average American home will become littered with computers -- like the television sets of today, you'll find them in cars, kitchens and even bathrooms.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Saturday, June 03, 2006
Friday, June 02, 2006
Not so long ago, chemical engineers discovered how to use titanium dioxide to keep buildings free of discoloring pollution. Landmarks such as the virgin-white Dives in Misericordia Church in Rome and the Marunouchi Building in Tokyo were among the first to be coated with the semiconductor, which breaks down organic molecules—including those in grime and pollution—when exposed to light and water and then releases them into the air. Soon after, TiO2-based self-cleaning products, like SunClean windows from PPG Industries, hit the home market.
But to bring the technology inside the home, where it could eliminate the need for hours of tedious housework every week, researchers must overcome a major limitation: The technology currently responds only to ultraviolet light from the sun. Enter materials engineer Michael Cortie and his colleagues at the Institute for Nanoscale Technology in Sydney, Australia, who are working to perfect a coating that can respond to the visible spectrum—that is, the lightbulb hanging from your bathroom ceiling. So long, toilet brush.
Launch the slideshow to see how titanium oxide reacts with light to zap dirt at the molecular level.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Friday, June 02, 2006
Thursday, June 01, 2006
Fuel cell backers have been promoting their technology as the "next big thing" for years now, but despite constant reassurance that commercial implementations are just around the corner, fuel cells remain hard to find in practice. Positive statements from laptop manufacturers like NEC, IBM, and Toshiba routinely suggest that fuel cell tech will be available within 12 months, but such predictions have generally been (to put it politely) optimistic. The dream of a ten hour laptop has been a dream deferred.
Take heart, road warriors, because the situation seems to be changing. Interest in fuel cells is growing, increasingly advanced prototypes are being showcased, and the airline industry looks ready to make way for fuel cells in passenger cabins. Don't start stocking up on the methanol just yet, though; despite the promise they have always shown, portable fuel cells still have some drawbacks that will need to be over come before widespread adoption is possible.
Ten hours of power? Good. Weight equivalent to a liter of water? Not so good. The selling point of fuel cells is portable power, after all, and current models are still bulky and heavy. In addition to its heft, the current model has some noise problems as well, which the BBC describes as "small but constant whirring noises and the persistent sounds of tiny clicks made by the pump and valves." If MacBook Pro owners could get upset about a faint whine from their machines, they probably won't be thrilled about a device that whirrs and clicks, too.
This is a typical example of a new technology that's showing downsides in its first generation. But this is how it always goes with new technology ofcourse. The fuel cells of a few years from now will not suffer from so many downsides, so we can all look forward to a better and cheaper way of powering our devices.
Also see How do you make a fuel cell? Print it.
Posted by Jan-Willem Bats on Thursday, June 01, 2006