Most people see slime mold and think “gross”. But researchers have discovered a new use for the substance- urban planning. Via The Guardian.
When asked, slime mould would reroute the M6. For years now, researchers in the field of urban transport have looked at biomimicry as a tool for establishing the most efficient routes around congested cities, typically by road or rail.
The use of naturally occurring living organisms to solve spatial design problems has, in this area, variously been explored by mimicking the foraging process of ants or the growth of crystal structures. But it is a particular form of slime mould, Physarum polycephalum (the “many-headed slime”), that has shown particular promise, having been applied to cities around the world and now offering the potential for mimicking regularly occurring events, such as rush hours.
P polycephalum is a plasmodial, single-celled organism which grows outward from a single point, searching for food sources. Once these have been located, the many branches it has sent out die back, leaving only the most efficient route between food source nodes.
By arranging pieces of oatmeal on a Petri dish to represent railway stations, researchers at the University of Hokkaido in Japan successfully grew a slime mould model of the Tokyo rail system in 2010. Since then, slime has mapped the optimum transport networks of numerous cities, as well as the Silk Road and a full global trade route.
In a comparison of 14 countries’ motorway networks, a global team of researchers led by Professor Andrew Adamatzky – director of the unconventional computing centre at the University of the West of England – used oat flakes and slime to establish that cities in Belgium, Canada and China had existing transport networks most similar to the slime model, and thus were most efficient, while networks in the US and Africa were indicated to be the least efficient.
20/20 vision isn’t good enough apparently! Popular Mechanics has the story on an app that could take your vision to a whole new level.
When a major league baseball pitcher throws a 95-mph fastball, only about 400 milliseconds—the duration of a blink—pass before the ball rockets over the plate. And a batter gets less than half that time to decide whether to swing, and where. Baseball players, then, could reap huge benefits from being able to probe a baseball farther from their eyes. And that inspired Aaron Seitz, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Riverside, who has created a new, publicly available app that conditions users to see farther on or off the baseball diamond.
In a study published this week in the journal Current Biology, Seitz worked with 19 players on the University of California, Riverside, baseball team, and showed that his app UltimEyes lengthened the distance at which the players could see clearly by an average of 31 percent. After using the app for 30 25-minute intervals, players saw an improvement that pushed many of them beyond normal 20/20 vision, including seven who attained freakishly good 20/7.5 vision—meaning that at a distance of 20 feet, they were clearly seeing what someone with normal vision could see at no farther than 7.5 feet away…
Despite its name, UltimEyes has little to do with improving the physical eye or eye muscles. Rather, the app works by exploiting recent insights into when and how the adult brain can be fundamentally rewired—a concept known as neuroplasticity.
UltimEyes exercises the visual cortex, the part of our brain that controls vision. Brain researchers have discovered that the visual cortex breaks down the incoming information from our eyes into fuzzy patterns called Gabor stimuli. The theory behind UltimEyes is that by directly confronting the eyes with Gabor stimuli, you can train your brain to process them more efficiently—which, over time, improves your brain’s ability to create clear vision at farther distances.
Sergeant James Sides lost his right arm in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. Now, he’s the first patient to receive an muscle connected implant to control a prosthetic limb. From Popular Science:
The implanted myoelectric sensors (IMES) in Sides’ right arm can read his muscles and bypass his mind, translating would-be movement into real movement. The IMES System, as its developers are calling it, could be the first implanted multi-channel controller for prosthetics. Sides is the first patient in an investigational device trial approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
“I have another hand now,” he says.
It uses the residual muscles in an amputee’s arm — which would normally control and command muscle movement down the hand — and picks up their signals with a half-dozen electrodes. The tiny platinum/iridium electrodes, about 0.66 inches long and a tenth of an inch wide, are embedded directly into the patient’s muscle. They are powered by magnetic induction, so there would be no need to swap batteries or plug them in — a crucial development in making them user-friendly, according to Dr. Paul Pasquina, principal investigator on the IMES system and former chief of orthopedics and rehabilitation at Walter Reed.
It translates muscle signals into hand action in less than 100 milliseconds. To Sides, it’s instantaneous: “I still close what I think is my hand,” he says. “I open my hand, and rotate it up and down; I close my fingers and the hand closes. It’s exactly as if I still had a hand. It’s pretty gnarly.”
Scientists at the University of Malta have created music software that allows its users to play tracks, fast forward, and adjust volume simply by looking at the screen! Wearing electrode-studded caps, users are fed controlled stimuli: in this case, flickering boxes on a screen. As the frequency of flickering changes, so too does each brain’s electrical response pattern. The subsequent electrical patterns their brains elicit are recorded and assigned a task like play, pause, or fast forward and the software is programmed to take those actions when their respective patterns are detected.
As amazing as this might appear as a stunt, brain-reading as a whole is still not without it’s share of limitations. However, the implications and potential future applications of this are still exciting to consider. From Singularity Hub:
The brain-reading apparatus is cumbersome (if you think Google Glass unsightly, imagine Sergey Brin in an EEG cap), and the readings are still fairly low resolution. Greater control would require more detailed readings.
The larger concept, however, is viable. And for folks who’ve lost the ability to physically control their environment—quadriplegics or sufferers of ALS (Steven Hawking, for example) and locked-in syndrome—such methods might offer a non-invasive way to regain some sense of control, freedom, and easier communication with the world.
The mass production of artificial snow for events like the Winter Olympics at Sochi might have a plus side other than enabling winter sports enthusiasts, from Jeff Marlow at wired.
Even though 1,300 medals will be awarded by the time all is said and done at the 22nd edition of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, one remarkable performance will go unrewarded: the snowmaking. Insufficient snow is a problem that has plagued recent winter sports competitions, and there’s no end in sight during this contemporary age of climate change. But as the Anthropocene taketh, it may also giveth, as improved production of artificial snow makes up for nature’s stunted snowfall.
In a recent edition of its “Reactions” series video clips, the American Chemical Society explains the science behind snowmaking. By introducing a “nucleating agent” – a small solid-state grain of variable composition – into a stream of water mist, water molecules are templated onto a structural seed that promotes ice crystal growth. Jets of fine water particles go up, and snow comes down.
Of course, large quantities of water are required to start this process, and ski areas have begun stockpiling the raw material in retention ponds in anticipation of slow winters. One of the heart-stopping jumps on the downhill ski course in Sochi is called The Lake Jump, so named because a nearby pond dominates your field of view as you launch into the air. The lake in question is an artificial reservoir installed for the express purpose of snowmaking. At Mammoth Ski Resort in California, snow levels are down severely this year, and the persistent drought is limiting artificial production from nearby lakes as well.
Scientists have developed artificial muscles that are 100 x stronger than human muscles using fishing line. Via Discover Magazine.
Scientists at the University of Texas at Dallas have designed super strong artificial muscles by simply twisting and coiling ordinary fishing line. The coiled muscles can lift more than 100 times the weight of a human muscle of the same size, and generate as much mechanical power per kilogram as a jet engine — perhaps offering an inexpensive new material to move prosthetics and robotic exoskeletons.
Creating the muscles is simple: Researchers use a tool similar to a hand drill to twist different sizes of fishing line to the point of coiling. The twist allows the thread to function like torsional muscle that can lift heavy loads. Depending on the direction of the coil, the artificial muscles will expand and contract with temperature changes, which can be produced by electricity, water, light or chemical reactions of fuels.
For example, a homochiral muscle will contract when heated and expand when cooled. Coiled in the opposite direction, a heterochiral muscle will expand when heated and contract when cooled. The coiled muscles can spin a heavy rotor more than 10,000 revolutions per minute when uncoiling. Researchers tested various widths of polymer coils using several techniques to activate expansion and contraction of the coils. They report these findings in Science.
“The work capacity of these muscles is remarkable,” Baughman said. “The power generation capability can be about five times that of a combustion engine in your car.”
In the quest for artificial muscles Baughman has worked with many materials, including carbon nanotube yarns, but he says high-strength polymers are promising for their strength, affordability and availability.
In a rather unsettling sounding experiment, scientists have managed to create a brain implant which allows one monkey to control the body of another monkey using thought alone. Working under the study author Ziv Williams, a neuroscientist and neurosurgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital of Harvard Medical School in Boston, the researchers developed a brain to spinal cord prosthesis that connected the two monkeys in an “Avatar” inspired setup. From LiveScience:
The monkey that served as the master had electrodes wired into his brain, while the monkey that served as the avatar had electrodes wired into his spine. The avatar’s hand was placed onto a joystick that controlled a cursor displayed on the master’s screen.
The avatar monkey was sedated so that he had no control over his own body. Computers decoded the brain activity of the master monkey and relayed those signals to the spinal cord and muscles of the avatar monkey. This allowed the master to control the cursor by moving the hand of the avatar. The master received a reward of juice if he successfully moved the cursor onto a target.
While this may sound chilling, the scientists have emphasized that their goals are to help develop treatment for patients with spinal cord injuries and paralysis. Currently, brain to machine interfaces exist that have allowed patients to control computer screens or mechanical limbs, but the hope is that patients will one day be able to regain control of their own limbs.
“the hope is to create a functional bypass for the damaged spinal cord or brainstem so that patients can control their own bodies,” Williams told Live Science.
“We envision putting a microchip into the brain to record the activity behind the intent for movement and putting another microchip in the spinal cord below the site of injury to stimulate limb movements, and then connecting the microchips,” Williams said.
New Android App, Power Sleep utilizes a user’s phone’s down time to solve difficult protein sequences from the Similarity Matrix of Proteins (SIMAP) database to contribute to scientific research aimed at furthering medical advancements in areas like genetics, biochemistry, and cancer research.
Power Sleep — which was backed by Samsung, and made by its former in-house marketing agency Cheil — doubles as an alarm clock designed to replace whatever alarm people were using before. Once set, the app begins grabbing packets of data to crunch, which are about 1MB in size, then sending them back when the process is complete.
This seat for plants measures the moisture level of the plant’s soil. When the level drops too low, a teensy turns on a peristaltic pump, which in turn supplies more water for the plant, via wikiseat.
The legs of the seat are from an apple tree that grows in the yard of the house where I live. This serves as the structure for the seat, and the magic happens in the electronics. There is an a Teensy board (derived from the Ardunio) that seres as the brain for this seat. A moisture sensor lets the brain know the current moisture content in the soil. Water conducts electricity, and this can be measured by the moisture sensor.
Over time, as the moisture evaporates from the soil, or is taken on by the plant, the soil becomes less conductive, and this can be measured. When the soil reaches a certain conductivity level (or level of dryness) the Teensy board turns on a peristaltic pump (from Adafruit Industries), which squeezes water through a tube. This pump can suck water from a lower level, forcing it upwards against gravity, and into the plant’s pot.
As with any electronics project, there is some really complicated stuff going on here. But at the same time, we live in an age where we truly are standing on the shoulders of giants, and much of the wisdom in the world is freely accessible online or at your local hackerspace. Most everything that Adafruit has comes with detailed instructions. Think of it as a larger, more advanced LEGO kit.
Peristaltic Liquid Pump with Silicone Tubing: Move fluid safely from here to there with this very nice little pump. Unlike most liquid pumps, this is a peristaltic type – the pump squishes the silicone tubing that contains the liquid instead of impelling it directly. The upshot? The pump never touches the fluid which makes this an excellent choice for any food/drink/sterile based pumping such as for making drink-bots or gardening robots! Read More!
Moss FM is the world’s first totally plant powered radio. Developed by Swiss engineer Fabienne Felder in collaboration with Cambridge University scientists Dr. Paolo Bombelli and Ross Dennis, Moss FM works using an aesthetically pleasing lineup of moss plants as a “Photo Microbial Fuel Cell.” The fuel cell acts as a sort of biological solar panel and harvests electrons produced from the photosynthesis of the moss and converts them into electricity, even when no light is available.
In order to grow, plants photosynthesise – they use solar energy to convert water and carbon dioxide into sugars. The photosynthetic process, in simple terms, consists of two stages. In the first, light-dependent stage, plants split water – oxygen is released and electrons and protons are produced. In the second, light-independent stage, plants then ingest carbon dioxide to convert those electrons and protons into sugars.
Now, here’s why mosses operate as potentially better photo-active components in Photo-MFCs than other plants: Mosses are as efficient in the first stage of photosynthesis as other plants. But they grow slowly, which means they are less efficient at converting the produced electrons and protons into sugars in the second stage – leaving us with bigger potential to collect and transform electrons into electrical current.
The researchers acknowledge that this type of technology is still in its infancy and the total amount of harvested energy is limited, but hope to develop it further to increase its efficiency for larger scale use. As Felder notes, the impact of this sustainable energy source has some significant potential.
If 25% of Londoners (ca. 2.7 million people) charged their mobile phone on average for 2 hours every other day with moss, we would save enough electricity to power a small town: 42.5 million kWh, amounting to a saving of £6.81 Million and 39632 Tons of CO2* a year. These are interesting values, given the huge amounts of electricity that are wasted during generation and transmission, for example. And even more interesting, if we consider that at the moment we capture only about 0.1% of the electrons the mosses potentially produce.
Startup OMsignal has developed articles of clothing capable of sensing varying levels of body activity, including possible cues to emotional state, and communicating them to mobile devices for self tracking as well as for checking in with loved ones. From Postscapes:
The shirt and bra being released for sale by the company are machine washable and have their sensors woven in them just below the chest to best collect ribcage extension/contraction breathing data and heart rate details. Housed in a hidden pocket a small unit encloses the accelerometer, GPS unit, and memory card storage in case connectivity to your mobile device is lost.
The company is working on an application allowing you to track your historical readings and privately share your data with your loved ones. Example scenarios for its use include sending your partner a comforting text message if you notice their stress levels are rising, or using it to remotely monitor an aging parent for signs of approaching health issues.
The clothing’s GPS capability can provide details on how your body is reacting to a certain environment. You might, for example, learn your stress levels are much higher while working from a coffee shop than from the office, or learn to avoid certain travel routes on your commute home if possible.
Researchers have introduced a new nanogenerator capable of collecting energy from biological contractile movements, such as a beating heart, for use in powering medical implants like pacemakers. From Nanotechweb:
Implanted biomedical devices, such as heart-rate monitors, pacemakers, defibrillators and neural stimulators, rely on some form of battery power to work. And although these batteries have become smaller and much more efficient in recent years, they still only last a few years and need to be regularly replaced – something that requires the patient to undergo surgery. Not exactly an ideal situation.
The best solution to this problem would be to do away with batteries altogether. A team led by John Rogers has now gone some way in addressing this issue with its new device based on lead zirconate titanate (PZT) nanoribbons. PZT has a high piezoelectric voltage and dielectric constant – ideal properties for converting mechanical energy into electrical energy. The material is also highly bendable and mechanically strong.
The device works by harnessing the natural contractile and relaxation motions of the heart, lung and diaphragm, and converting these into electricity. And the good news is that the generator produces more than enough electricity to power implants such as pacemakers, for example. As well as being deployed inside the body, the same technology might even be used to make wearable health monitors if placed directly on the skin, says Rogers.
SynDaver™ Labs manufactures the world’s most sophisticated synthetic human tissues, body parts, and cadavers. Our patented technologies employ replaceable muscles, tendons, veins, arteries, and organs, all made from materials that mimic the physico-chemical properties of live tissue. These award-winning products are used to replace live animals in medical device design validation studies, surgical simulation, advanced clinical task training, and military product development. Synthetic human tissues, Medical mannequins, Surgical simulation, Medical device development models
From a science fiction dream to an FDA approved reality, PillCams are now a real life technology! Via Paleofuture.
The Jetsons was one of the most important cartoons of all time, having helped shape the way that we talk about the future here in the 21st century. The show predicted many of the technologies we have today. And this week, Americans can check another crazy Jetsonian prediction off the list.
After nine long years, the FDA just recently approved the swallowable PillCam. Developed in Israel, the PillCam is used as a way to examine a patient’s colon without a colonoscopy. The patient swallows the small device and it slowly makes its way through the digestive tract in about 8 hours. The information is beamed to a receiver device carried on the patient’s waist, and a doctor can then review the results later.
The December 30, 1962 episode of The Jetsons featured a device that was strikingly similar—even if it was admittedly an over-the-top joke.
The “peek-a-boo capsule” is swallowed by George (or more accurately shot into his mouth) and starts its journey through his body. The doctor can then see what’s happening (through the cartoon logic of being able to see this capsule device by way of an invisible second camera) and communicate with the device to make a diagnosis. This being The Jetsons, everything goes wrong, and the doctor tells George he doesn’t have much time left to live.
You can watch the entire 1962 episode below, complete with cheesy Cold War jokes. Let’s hope that when the real PillCam goes into effect, it’s a little more reliable.