Monthly Archives: May 2008

Dutch Robot Walks Like A Human

Researcher Daan Hobbelen of TU Delft has developed a new, highly-advanced walking robot: Flame. This type of research, for which Hobbelen will receive his PhD on Friday 30 May, is important as it provides insight into how people walk. This can in turn help people with walking difficulties through improved diagnoses, training and rehabilitation equipment.

If you try to teach a robot to walk, you will discover just how complex an activity it is. Walking robots have been around since the seventies. The applied strategies can roughly be divided into two types.

The first derives from the world of industrial robots, in which everything is fixed in routines, as is the case with factory robots. This approach can, where sufficient time and money are invested, produce excellent results, but there are major restrictions with regard to cost, energy consumption and flexibility.

TU Delft is a pioneer of the other method used for constructing walking robots, based on the way humans walk. This is really very similar to falling forward in a controlled fashion. Adopting this method replaces the cautious, rigid way in which robots walk with the more fluid, energy-efficient movement used by humans.

PhD student Daan Hobbelen has demonstrated for the first time that a robot can be both energy-efficient and highly stable. His breakthrough came in inventing a suitable method for measuring the stability of the way people walk for the first time. This is remarkable, as ‘falling forward’ is traditionally viewed as an unstable movement.

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New Technology Making Brain Tumor Surgery Less Risky

Brain specialists at The Neuroscience Institute at University Hospital and the University of Cincinnati have taken a significant step forward in their quest to treat difficult tumors while preserving areas of the brain that are responsible for speech and movement. The Cincinnati specialists are among the first in the country to use new technology that integrates functional MRI (fMRI) data into high-tech surgical navigation systems.The fMRI data, which pinpoint language, cognition, and mobility centers of the brain, allow neurosurgeons to remove tumors to the greatest extent possible without harming areas that are critical to the patient’s quality of life.

Functional MRI creates a series of images that capture blood oxygen levels in parts of the brain that are responsible for movement, perception, and cognition. Functional MRI, which reveals the brain in action, differs from standard MRI, which provides a static image.

“This is a quantum leap in what we’re able to do,” said Dr. James Leach, a brain-imaging specialist (neuroradiologist) with UC Radiology and The Neuroscience Institute. “It has significantly affected how neurosurgeons plan to do neurosurgery and how much tumor they can remove while still avoiding critical areas of brain function.”

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New NanoMaterial Directly Converts Radiation into Electricity

New NanoMaterial Directly Converts Radiation into Electricity

Researchers have developed a nanomaterial that turns radiation directly into electricity, which could be used to produce a new era of spacecrafts and even Earth-based vehicles powered by high-powered nuclear batteries. These new batteries may allow passenger vehicles to travel for thousands of miles with little or no maintance at a fraction of the cost of gasoline and would even be much superior to Plug-in-Hybrids.

Liviu Popa-Simil, from the Alabama A&M University, developed the material along with his team.

Beginning in the 1960s, the US and Soviet Union used thermoelectric materials that convert heat into electricity to power spacecraft using nuclear fission or decaying radioactive material.

Though dispensing with the steam and turbines makes those systems smaller and less complicated, thermoelectric materials have very low efficiency.

Now, US researchers have developed highly efficient materials that can convert the radiation, not heat, from nuclear materials and reactions into electricity.

Researchers Create Self-Healing Computer Systems for Spacecraft

Researchers Create Self-Healing Computer Systems for Spacecraft

We’ve all heard about the space missions that are DOA when NASA engineers lose touch with the spacecraft or lander. In other cases, some critical system fails and the mission is compromised.

Both are maddening scenarios because the spacecraft probably could be easily fixed if engineers could just get their hands on the hardware for a few minutes.

Ali Akoglu and his students at The University of Arizona are working on hybrid hardware/software systems that one day might use machine intelligence to allow the spacecraft to heal themselves.

Akoglu, an assistant professor in electrical and computer engineering, is using Field Programmable Gate Arrays, or FPGA, to build these self-healing systems. FPGAs combine software and hardware to produce flexible systems that can be reconfigured at the chip level.

Because some of the hardware functions are carried out at the chip level, the software can be set up to mimic hardware. In this way, the FPGA “firmware” can be reconfigured to emulate different kinds of hardware.

Terahertz computing may not be dead after all

Terahertz computing may not be dead after all

The Gigahertz race was probably one of the most ill-fated ideas in the microprocessor industry in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Intel was almost brought down to its knees by the enormous power consumption and heat dissipation of 3+ GHz speeds in circuits of the time, eventually hitting a wall at 4 GHz. The Gigahertz race has now become a multi-core race, but scientists have ideas to ramp up the clock speed at a faster pace again: Terahertz computers may be within reach – if data is carried over optical instead of electrical circuits.

Researchers at the University of Utah have not given up on the idea of dazzling clock speeds in processors, reminding us of landmark comments made by Intel’s Pat Gelsinger back in 2001: Back then, the executive said that 30 to 40 GHz may be reached by 2010, requiring nuclear power plant-like energy systems within PCs. Ajay Nahata, a University of Utah professor of electrical and computer engine, believes that clock speeds, which are stalling in the range of 3 to 4 GHz today, could grow at a faster pace again within the next years, if systems design will take advantage of optical technologies. Within ten years, Nahata said, superfast far-infrared computers could become commercially available.

Open source 3D printer copies itself

Open source 3D printer copies itself

Based in the Waitakeres, in West Auckland, software developer and artist Vik Olliver is part of a team developing an open-source, self-copying 3D printer. The RepRap (Replicating Rapid-prototyper) printer can replicate and update itself. It can print its own parts, including updates, says Olliver, who is one of the core members of the RepRap team. The 3D printer works by building components up in layers of plastic, mainly polylactic acid (PLA), which is a bio-degradable polymer made from lactic acid. The technology already exists, but commercial machines are very expensive. They also can’t copy themselves, and they can’t be manipulated by users, says Olliver.

RepRap has a different idea. The team, which is spread over New Zealand, the UK and the US, develops and gives away the designs for its much cheaper machine, which also has self-copying capabilities. It wants to make the machine available to anybody — including small communities in the developing world, as well as people in the developed world, says Olliver.

Accordingly, the RepRap machine is distributed, at no cost, under the GNU (General Public Licence).

New Prosthetic Hand So Nimble an Amputee Can Type

New Prosthetic Hand So Nimble an Amputee Can Type

A new prosthetic hand uses individually movable fingers to hold a credit card, use a keyboard and lift a heavy bag.

Researchers bill it as the world’s first commercially available prosthetic hand that can move each finger separately. The i-LIMB, made by the Scottish company Touch Bionics, is being tested at the Orthopedic University Hospital in Heidelberg, Germany.

The hydraulic hand went on sale in Britain last year for about $17,500 and is being used by a small number of people. The company began operations in the United States earlier this year and plans to make the device more widely available.

Unlike similar models that allowed gripping with just the thumb and one or two fingers, the i-LIMB allows a user to grab something with all five. It also feels softer and more natural than the typically hard prosthetics of old, its maker says.

Flexible hydraulic drives are located directly in the movable finger joints, and the prosthetic hand gives feedback to the user’s stump, enabling the amputee to sense the strength of the grip.

The List: The World’s Largest Solar Energy Projects

The List: The World’s Largest Solar Energy Projects

Record-breaking oil prices, soaring greenhouse-gas emissions, and the rise of carbon trading all add up to one thing: a new dawn for solar power. From New Mexico to Australia, governments and businesses are collaborating to create new megaplants that will bring clean electricity to tens of thousands.

Together, these plants will produce nearly 2000 megawatts!!!

Bionic eye ‘blindness cure hope’

Bionic eye ‘blindness cure hope’

A ‘bionic eye’ may hold the key to returning sight to people left blind by a hereditary disease, experts believe.

A team at London’s Moorfields Eye Hospital have carried out the treatment on the UK’s first patients as part of a clinical study into the therapy.

The artificial eye, connected to a camera on a pair of glasses, has been developed by US firm Second Sight.

It said the technique may be able to restore a basic level of vision, but experts warned it was still early days.

The trial aims to help people who have been made blind through retinitis pigmentosa, a group of inherited eye diseases that affects the retina.

‘In Vitro Synthetic Biology’ Hydrogen Process Could Lead To Sugar-Fueled Cars

‘In Vitro Synthetic Biology’ Hydrogen Process Could Lead To Sugar-Fueled Cars

Chemists are describing development of a “revolutionary” process for converting plant sugars into hydrogen, which could be used to cheaply and efficiently power vehicles equipped with hydrogen fuel cells without producing any pollutants.

The process involves combining plant sugars, water, and a cocktail of powerful enzymes to produce hydrogen and carbon dioxide under mild reaction conditions. They say it is the world’s most efficient method for producing hydrogen.

The new system helps solve the three major technical barriers to the so-called “hydrogen economy,” researchers said. Those roadblocks involve how to produce low-cost sustainable hydrogen, how to store hydrogen, and how to distribute it efficiently, the researchers say.

“This is revolutionary work,” says lead researcher Y.-H. Percival Zhang, Ph.D., a biochemical engineer at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. “This has opened up a whole new direction in hydrogen research. With technology improvement, sugar-powered vehicles could come true eventually.”