Monthly Archives: November 2008

X-Prize CEO Peter Diamandis Announces the Formation of a SINGULARITY UNIVERSITY

So it is true! Peter Diamandis, Chair and CEO of the increasingly mighty X-Prize Foundation, and some high-level folks are working on something big called a “Singularity University.” Who else could be involved? It seems like Ray Kurzweil would be a prime candidate, especially considering their back-to-back presentations at today’s Summit.

Might this be a first step toward a Singularity X-Prize? 🙂 What do you think a “Singularity University” might consist of?


I’ve been let in on some juicy details by a guy who knows more about this.

I promised not to give away too much detail, but I know some big people are involved in this.

Glad to see people taking action… I hope this grows big.

Study finds value in ‘junk’ DNA

For about 15 years, scientists have known that certain “junk” DNA — repetitive DNA segments previously thought to have no function — could evolve into exons, which are the building blocks for protein-coding genes in higher organisms like animals and plants. Now, a University of Iowa study has found evidence that a significant number of exons created from junk DNA seem to play a role in gene regulation.

The findings, which increase understanding of how humans differ from other animals, including non-human primates, appear Oct. 17 in the open-access journal PLoS Genetics.

Nearly half of human DNA consists of repetitive DNA, including transposons, which can “transpose” or move around to different positions within the genome. A type of transposon called retrotransposons are transcribed into RNA and then reintegrated into the genomic DNA. The most common form of retrotransposons in the human genome are Alu elements, which have more than one million copies and occupy approximately 10 percent of the human genome.


Harnessing Light’s Full Spectrum: Scientists Claim Solar Power Breakthrough

Chemists at Ohio State University say they have produced a next-generation material that not only absorbs the full spectrum of sunlight, but also make makes the electrons generated more easy to capture.

The hybrid material — a combination of electrically conductive plastic and metals like molybdenum and titanium — is the first of its kind to capture the full solar spectrum, according to Malcolm Chisholm, one of the authors of the paper describing the research, which appears in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Solar panels in use today capture only a small fraction of the energy contained in sunlight.

The material is years from being made into a commercial product, but is another example of how innovations in the field of solar energy could make vastly more of the sun’s energy available for human use. Recent action by Congress to extend industry tax incentives should keep companies investing in new technology research and development. And according to the Department of Energy, “Under the ongoing global financial crisis, a lack of available credit is causing projects to be delayed or canceled, but the clean energy sector is continuing to attract substantial amounts of investment capital.”

If coupled with new battery technology, solar energy technology has the potential to revolutionize the way we generate electricity. Millions of homes could be outfitted with their own power sources, and they could store enough electricity — if efficient enough — to eliminate the need for power plants in the residential sector.

That’s been the promise of solar energy for a long time. Breakthroughs like this one announced by Ohio State brings the vision that much closer to reality.


Single Neuron Un-Paralyzes Monkeys in Test

Research are finding that rerouting nerve signals in primates may be surprisingly easy

DailyTech previously covered how monkeys had been wired with brain probes to a mechanical arm, which they learned to control. Now another experiment has taken such concepts, much farther, reversing paralysis in monkeys through neuron implantation.

Eberhard Fetz, a professor of physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington, led the research. The researchers began by paralyzing the nerves leading to the monkeys’ arms. They then placed a single wire on a neuron in the monkeys’ neural cortexes. From there they routed the signal to a single neuron implanted in the monkeys’ arm muscles. The computer detected a specific firing pattern in the brain neuron and would then signal the neuron in the arm.

The electric “re-routing” working surprisingly well and the monkeys regained control of their wrists. Their new capability was assessed by a simple video game. The game was controlled by the monkeys’ wrist motions. By moving their wrists, they could move a cursor onscreen and by moving it to a box on the side, they could earn a reward. With the incentive of the reward the monkeys soon learned to move their wrists, even though the motor cortex neuron was selected at random.

Chet Moritz, a senior research fellow at the University of Washington and coauthor of the researchers’ paper states, “We found, remarkably, that nearly every neuron that we tested in the brain could be used to control this type of stimulation. Even neurons which were unrelated to the movement of the wrist before the nerve block could be brought under control and co-opted.”


New solar tech is over the rainbow

Ohio State University chemists have created a new material that could revolutionise photovoltaic solar panels.

Today’s solar cell materials are sensitive to only a limited range of frequencies, so they can only capture a small fraction of the energy contained in sunligh.

The new hybrid material – an electrically conductive plastic combined with metals including molybdenum and titanium – is the first that is sensitive to all the colours in the rainbow, allowing it to absorb all the energy contained in visible light at once.

Not only is the hybrid material more sensitive than normal solar panels, it also generates much more charge (more free electrons) than the researchers were expecting.

“This long-lived excited state should allow us to better manipulate charge separation,” said Professor Malcom Chisholm, chair of the Ohio State’s Chemistry Department.

To design the as-yet-unnamed hybrid material, Chisholm explored different molecular configurations on a supercomputer before synthesizing molecules of the new material in a liquid solution.

However, he warns that it could be years before high-power hybrid solar panels find their way onto our roofs. Until then, we’re stuck with today’s traditional silicon panels – and hopefully the more efficient thin-film technologies coming soon.


New Solar Balloon Creates 400 Times More Energy Than The Average Solar Cell

There are many new forms of alternative energy but maybe none as interesting as the Cool Earth Solar “Balloon.” The concept behind this design is that they create an “inflatable plastic thin-film balloon (solar concentrator) that, upon inflation, focuses sunlight onto a photovoltaic cell held at its focal point.

The design produces 400 times the electricity that a solar cell would create without the company’s concentrator.” Cool Earth has already began construction on a power plant in Livermore, CA that will utilize this new technology. The plant is modest in size, creating only 1.4 Megawatts but if this plant works as well as they expect it to, they plan on launching a full sized plant next summer. One great thing about this device is that it’s made up of a very common and cheap material. “Plastic thin film is abundant and cheap,” said Cool Earth Solar CEO Rob Lamkin. “It only costs two dollars for the plastic material necessary for our solar concentrator.”


Video: Solar + Robots = AWESOME

Combining solar and robots could never be bad (Wall-E!), but at the Solar Power International convention it wasn’t about solar-powered robots as much as it was robotics that can help with the manufacturing and production of solar gear. There were at least four booths touting robotics for stacking solar panels, assembling products and inspecting systems.

We took this short 15-second video of the solar robotic solution from Adept. In the video the Adept Quattro quickly picks up and places the solar products into exact locations, which the company says maximizes productivity and minimizes breakage.


Faster than a speeding bullet – 1000 mph car unveiled

British engineers have unveiled plans for the world’s first 1,000mph car, a muscular streak of gunmetal and orange designed not to break the world land speed record but to shatter it.

Bloodhound SSC, named after the British cold war supersonic air defence missiles, will attempt to beat the existing record by more than 250mph.

The £12m car is to be announced today by Lord Drayson, the science minister. Working from an aircraft hangar in Bristol, the team’s engineers have been working on the project in secret for the past 18 months. Calculations suggest the car could reach 1,050mph, fast enough to outrun a bullet from a .357 Magnum revolver.

The car was proposed by Drayson, a racing car enthusiast, as a project to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers, who are in desperately short supply in UK. The Bloodhound team plans to have the car built within a year, with the record attempt expected in three years.

The project brings together mathematician and fighter pilot Andy Green, who set the current land speed record of 763mph with Thrust SSC in 1997, and Richard Noble, who directed that attempt. The car will be the first to meld a jet engine for a Eurofighter Typhoon with a rocket booster. Together they will produce 20,000kg (45,000lb) of thrust.


Packs of robots will hunt down uncooperative humans

The latest request from the Pentagon jars the senses. At least, it did mine. They are looking for contractors to provide a “Multi-Robot Pursuit System” that will let packs of robots “search for and detect a non-cooperative human”.

One thing that really bugs defence chiefs is having their troops diverted from other duties to control robots. So having a pack of them controlled by one person makes logistical sense. But I’m concerned about where this technology will end up.

Given that iRobot last year struck a deal with Taser International to mount stun weapons on its military robots, how long before we see packs of droids hunting down pesky demonstrators with paralysing weapons? Or could the packs even be lethally armed? I asked two experts on automated weapons what they thought – click the continue reading link to read what they said.

Both were concerned that packs of robots would be entrusted with tasks – and weapons – they were not up to handling without making wrong decisions.


Bio-Printing Technology To Produce Functional Human Organs

Medical science could change forever thanks to a “special” inkjet-printer as a Japanese professor says that his machine could generate human organs. Makoto Nakamura from the Toyama University, Japan claims that the technology is very simple and it works just like a conventional inkjet printer, but instead of jetting out ink droplets, the machine will jet out hundreds, maybe thousands of cells per second.

The professor from Toyama city is not sure that the inkjet printer-like machine can produce human organs, but it’s worth trying as the preliminary tests were encouraging.

“It would be like building a huge skyscraper on a micro level using different kinds of cells and other materials instead of steel beams, concrete and glass,” said Nakamura. “Ultimately I hope to make a heart.”

Nakamura is aware that developing a heart could take him about 20 years, but he is also very confident that this technology could lead to producing good hearts for people in need of heart transplants. The advantage of this inkjet-like technique is that the heart will be produced with cells coming from the patient therefore the body will not reject it.

The organ printing technique should be world’s finest printed 3D structure, as Nakamura likes to say. The technology is also compared to slicing a fruit as the organ will be cut horizontally and the researchers will observe the pattern of the cells.