Monthly Archives: April 2006

Regenerating Hearing Cells

Researchers learn more about ways to regenerate the ear’s hearing cells.

Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers have made important progress in their ongoing effort to regenerate the inner ear’s hair cells, which convert sound vibrations to nerve impulses. In an upcoming issue of Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences they report successfully creating a mouse model that allows them to build on earlier findings about the effect of deactivating a protein that controls the growth and division of hair cells.

Named for the hair-like projections on their surfaces, hair cells form a ribbon of vibration sensors along the length of the cochlea – the organ of the inner ear that senses sound – where they convert sonic vibrations to electrical signals that are carried to the brain. The cells are very sensitive to damage from excessive noise, infections and toxins. Once damaged, hair cells do not naturally regenerate in mammals, and their death accounts for most types of acquired hearing loss.

We’ve shown that vestibular hair cell regeneration may be achieved and may be less of an obstacle than auditory cell regeneration,” Chen says. “Now we need to find ways to create a similar system in the auditory cells, and this new model will help us better understand the mechanisms behind functional hair cell regeneration. …”

Summary: we’re drawing closer to a cure for deafness.

This in addition to all other diseases an organic being might contract, thanks to the upcoming biotechnology revolution, ofcourse.

Artificial Insect Eyes Developed

‘Bug-eyed’ lens takes a broader view.

An artificial insect “eye” could give surveillance cameras and surgical instruments the ability to see almost everything around them.

The ultra-wide angle compound lens, which is about the size of an insect’s eye, was developed by US researchers at the University of California, Berkeley. The ‘back end’ of the camera is yet to be produced.

The eyes of insects such as bees and dragonflies are made up of tens of thousands of tiny components called ommatidia. These all point in different directions to give the insect a very wide field of vision.

Inspired by this, Luke Lee and colleagues developed an artificial compound eye consisting of a moulded polymer resin dome filled with thousands of light-guiding channels, called waveguides, each topped with its own miniature lens.

The artificial eye could be used to create surveillance cameras, cellphone cameras, and surgical endoscopes with a much wider field of vision, the researchers say. The whole eye is 2.5 millimetres in diameter. Each artificial ommatidia consists of a lens attached to a polymer waveguide that directs light towards the centre of the eye.

Ethanol Engine To Rival Hybrid Efficiency

Better than Hybrids:

Consumers hoping to cut gasoline spending, with average gas prices nearing $3 a gallon, could opt for hybrids. But even with gas prices high, the added cost of hybrid cars can cancel money saved at the pump, suggesting the need for lower-cost alternatives.

A new type of ethanol-boosted, turbocharged gasoline engine could be the answer. The engine would be almost as efficient as gas-electric hybrids, but cost much less, according to its MIT inventors — Leslie Bromberg and Daniel Cohn, plasma science and fusion center researchers, and John Heywood, professor of mechanical engineering.

The new engine would improve efficiency in two ways. The first is to decrease the size of the engine, which reduces friction, thus saving fuel at light engine loads, such as during city driving. When more power is needed, a turbocharger kicks in. It uses exhaust flow to compress air, making it possible to combust more air and fuel in a smaller space.

The second approach is to engineer the engine to have a higher compression ratio — the ratio of the volume of air and fuel before and after it is compressed in an engine. A higher compression ratio “makes the engine more efficient, because you expand the burned gases more and extract more energy out of them,” Heywood says.

With Bill Gates investing a fortune in ethanol, you’d almost think ethanol was going to play an important part in our technological future.

Building A Bionic Arm

University of Utah to help build bionic arm:

University of Utah researchers will receive up to $10.3 million to help develop a new prosthetic arm that would work, feel and look like a real arm. The Utah work is a key part of a U.S. Department of Defense contract worth up to $55 million to develop the new device for soldiers and potentially others whose arms were amputated.

“Imagine an artificial arm that moves naturally in response to your thoughts, that allows you to feel both the outside world and your own movements, and that is as strong and graceful as an intact, biological limb,” says bioengineer Greg Clark, the University of Utah’s principal investigator on the project. “That’s what our researchers, teaming with others around the world, are setting out to achieve. … People’s arms and hands are not only tools, but also an important means by which they explore the world and interact with others. We hope to restore that capability.”

The research is part of the Revolutionizing Prosthetics 2009 project sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. DARPA said in a news release that it wants to “revolutionize prosthetic devices for amputee soldiers. Over the next four years, researchers will create a mechanical arm that has the properties of a biological limb.”

Robot Soldiers On Future Battlefields

Cyber-soldiers may save lives

Since the Iraq war began in March 2003, the Pentagon has counted 2,376 fatalities among U.S. troops, with nearly one-third, or 767 deaths, caused by booby traps known as IEDs, or improvised explosive devices.

Now, recent advances in robotics offer a way to use machines to assume some of the deadliest jobs on the battlefield.

The military’s demand for such technology has been practically insatiable. Everett said that in 2004, U.S. military forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were operating a total of 163 robots known as UGVs, or unmanned ground vehicles. By the end of this year, that number is expected to reach 4,000, according to Pentagon estimates.

Recent advances in autonomous technology have been so rapid that Everett predicts U.S. soldiers eventually will work with robots in the same way a hunter works with a bird dog.

“Troops of the future are going to be equipped with a lot of electronics imbedded in their uniforms and their weapons,” he said. Ideally, such technology will allow a robot to follow a soldier’s commands, such as, “Go through the door in front of you.”

To do that, however, a robot needs to be smart enough to know what a door is and how to find it, Everett says. A robot that can navigate on its own, or perhaps follow a soldier on patrol, represents a breakthrough in technology.

In recent months, Everett’s team has come close to accomplishing that with an all-terrain robotic vehicle, or ATRV, about the size of a lawn mower. In one field demonstration, the ATRV entered a World War II-era bunker in Point Loma, explored the interior without human guidance and generated a rough map that depicts the interior rooms and hallways.

Are You Ready For The Future?

Are You Ready For The Future?

Now imagine what life might be like in future. Go ahead. Close your eyes.

You’ll be healthier than ever and you’ll potentially live much longer, thanks to individualized medicine made possible by genetic testing and a growing understanding of human biology.

Diabetics will undergo stem cell therapy to replace the islet cells in their pancreas. Or perhaps they’ll just get a whole new pancreas, grown from their own stem cells.

People will recover from traumatic accidents, through either biological or technical means. Artificial limbs will provide tactile sensory feedback directly to the nervous system, and will be made, partially or completely, from organic materials.

Nanotechnology will provide tiny machines that will revolutionize industry and manufacturing, and will also be deep inside our bodies, repairing damage we may never realize exist.

We’ll be living in a world filled with machines, which will be far smarter than ever before. Perhaps they’ll be smarter than we are. Robots and smart machines will be everywhere, doing all manner of work, from basic manual labor to designing the next generation of technology. Some of those machines will be moving around, looking very much like the beings that created them. Some of them will be living in your home, perhaps helping to take care of your children, or your elderly parents.

Alternative energy sources will help power an energy hungry world. Genetic designers may be creating artificial life forms that could solve energy needs and cleaning up environmental pollution.

In all fairness and balance, the source article also goes into some possible concerns for the future.

The Future Of The Internet

The Future Of The Internet.

If Mr. Cerf and about two dozen other pundits Red Herring interviewed about the future of the Internet are right, in 10 years’ time the barriers between our bodies and the Internet will blur as will those between the real world and virtual reality.

Automakers, for instance, might conceivably post their parts catalogs in the virtual world of Second Life, a pixilated 3D online blend of MySpace, eBay, and renaissance fair crossed with a Star Trek convention. Second Life participants—who own the rights to whatever intellectual property they create online—will make money both by using the catalog to design their own cars in cyberspace and by selling their online designs back to the manufacturers, says Danish economist and tech entrepreneur Nikolaj Nyholm.

Today’s devices will disappear. Electronics will instead be embedded in our environment, woven into our clothing, and written directly to our retinas from eyeglasses and contact lenses, predicts inventor, entrepreneur, author, and futurist Ray Kurzweil. “Devices will no longer be spokes on the Internet—they will be the nodes themselves,” he says.

Everything from the family fridge to the office coffee pot—as well as heating, cooling, and security systems—will be managed through the Internet, possibly using souped-up mobile phones doubling as universal remote controls, says Google’s Mr. Cerf. By 2016, he predicts the online population of 1 billion will treble, and a huge portion will be mobile. And by then, the Internet will become so pervasive that connecting to it will no longer be a conscious act.

Bandwidth access of 100 megabits per second or more will become the norm. “It is probably a safe bet that everyone will be able to have a full-motion, high-definition real-time link to anyone,” says Bram Cohen, creator of the popular peer-to-peer program BitTorrent. Once that happens, “the concept of who is online and who is offline will melt away,” says Bradley Horowitz, Yahoo’s director of media and desktop search.

So just how big will Internet business be? “My whole thesis is that information technologies are growing exponentially. Things that we can measure like price performance, capacity, and bandwidth are doubling every year so that’s actually a factor of a thousand in 10 years,” says Mr. Kurzweil. “So if the Internet is already very influential—if there is already a trillion dollars of e-commerce, already a very democratizing technology, then multiplying its size and scope by a factor of a thousand will be a very significant change.”

The article goes on to provide yet more keen insights in the what the web will look like, how it will transform our lives once again, developments to look out for and issues that may arise (such as Big Brother).

Also see:

A Rapture For The Rest Of Us

TCSDaily has an article on the Singularity, and various person’s opinions on it.

From the article:

I’ve written before about the so-called “Singularity.” In a famous essay, Vernor Vinge described the concept this way:

When greater-than-human intelligence drives progress, that progress will be much more rapid. In fact, there seems no reason why progress itself would not involve the creation of still more intelligent entities — on a still-shorter time scale. The best analogy that I see is with the evolutionary past: Animals can adapt to problems and make inventions, but often no faster than natural selection can do its work — the world acts as its own simulator in the case of natural selection. We humans have the ability to internalize the world and conduct “what if’s” in our heads; we can solve many problems thousands of times faster than natural selection. Now, by creating the means to execute those simulations at much higher speeds, we are entering a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals.

From the human point of view this change will be a throwing away of all the previous rules, perhaps in the blink of an eye, an exponential runaway beyond any hope of control. Developments that before were thought might only happen in “a million years” (if ever) will likely happen in the next century. (In [5], Greg Bear paints a picture of the major changes happening in a matter of hours.)

I think it’s fair to call this event a singularity (“the Singularity” for the purposes of this paper). It is a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules. As we move closer to this point, it will loom vaster and vaster over human affairs till the notion becomes a commonplace.

Still don’t understand what the Singularity is? Read my Singularity FAQ.

As a heavy progressive person, I don’t care much for conservative people calling the Singularity a ‘techno religion’, so I won’t be copypasting any of that here.

What I will be copypasting here, is this extremely funny yet oh so insightful quote:

In fact, rather than serving as a dismissal of the Singularity, it seems to me that the Singularity-as-religion argument cuts the other way. How do we know that people want the kinds of things that advanced technology is supposed to offer? Because they’ve been trying to get them through non-technological means for all of recorded history. And as history demonstrates, they’ve been willing to try awfully hard, and in a wide variety of ingenious ways: Jihadists are strapping on suicide bombs today, in the hope of attaining the kind of environment that virtual reality will deliver in 20 years.

Having trouble imagening how we might be having sex with 72 virgins in virtual reality, just 20 years from now?

Then read The Future Of Virtual Environments.

Technological Human Enhancement Coming Close

In the 70s he was a TV fantasy. Now the bionic man is real – and he even plays sax.

The 1970s gave us the six-million-dollar man. Thirty years and quite a bit of inflation later we have the six-billion-dollar human: not a physical cyborg as such, instead an umbrella term for the latest developments in the growing field of technology for human enhancement.

Daniel Palanker, a physicist at Stanford University in California, had the idea to bypass the dead rods and cones and to stimulate the cells of the inner retina with electrical signals directly. Previous research had shown this method allowed perception of light, and Dr Palanker built a way to exploit it.

His bionic eye system is made up of a 3mm chip implanted into the retina and a pair of virtual-reality-style goggles containing a video camera. The goggles convert the video pictures into an infrared image. “The image is projected on to the retina and the retinal implant has photosensitive pixels that convert infrared light into pulses of electrical current, stimulating the cells in the retina,” said Dr Palanker.

So far, he has only fitted rats and rabbits with the bionic eye. Human trials will begin in a couple of years and, when they do, Dr Palanker reckons the system will give people 20/80 vision – normal is 20/20, you need 20/40 for a driving licence and 20/400 is the legal definition of blindness – allowing people to read large fonts and recognise faces.

No cyborg could be complete without superhuman strength and Homayoon Kazerooni of the University of California, Berkeley, can help. “The technology we developed is a robotic device a person would wear and this way, the device would carry a major load and the person would not feel any load,” he said.

The Berkeley Lower Extremity Exoskeleton (Bleex) fits along the legs and has a frame at the wearer’s back to fit a backpack. “The maximum load is 200lb [90kg] and the person will not feel anything at all. We thought the combination of human interaction, human decision-making process with machine power is a better solution for a lot of robotic tasks.”

Prosthetics are another hot area of research. Modern artificial hands, for example, give wearers a better quality of life but they have little of the functionality of the real hands they replace. “The current technology means that people can open and close an appendage, a hook, that has a cosmetic cover but nothing more. Everybody in the field knows we have to improve upon this,” said William Craelius of Rutgers University in New Jersey.

His artificial hand system, Dextra, is leagues ahead. By recording the movement of muscles in the remaining part of the arm as a person thinks about moving their hand, Dextra can control up to three fingers. Different patterns of muscle movement correspond to different movements and, after a few minutes of calibration, the robotic hand is ready for action. “It enables the ability to type slowly or to play a piano piece. One person wanted to play the saxophone and, with three fingers, you can actually get quite musical with it,” said Dr Craelius.