Monthly Archives: May 2019

Soldiers To Control Machines With Their Minds

The Department of Defense’s research and development wing, DARPA, is working on technology to read and write to the human brain. The focus isn’t on mind control but rather machine control, allowing the human brain to directly send instructions to machines. The goal of the process is to streamline thought control of machines to the point where humans could control them with a simple helmet or head-mounted device, making operating such systems easier.

The brain makes physical events happen by turning thoughts into action, sending instructions through the nervous system to organs, limbs, and other parts of the body. It effortlessly sends out a constant stream of commands to do everything from drive a car to make breakfast. To operate today’s machines, humans being need a middleman of sorts, a physical control system manipulated by hands, fingers, and feet.

What if human beings could cut out the middleman, operating a machine simply by thinking at it? So DARPA is funding the (Next Generation Nonsurgical Neurotechnology  (N3) initiative. N3’s goal is to create a control system for machines—including weapons—that can directly interact with the human brain. According to IEEE Spectrum, DARPA is experimenting with “magnetic fields, electric fields, acoustic fields (ultrasound) and light” as a means of controlling machines.

The implications of such a technology are huge. Instead of designing complicated controls and control systems for every machine or weapon devised, engineers could instead just create a thought-operated control system. Wearable technology becomes easier to operate as it doesn’t require a separate control system. This could also apply to notifications and data: as IEEE Spectrum points out, network administrators could feel intrusions into computer networks. DAPRA is, of course, an arm of the Pentagon, and a neurotechnological interface would almost certainly find its way into weapons.

DARPA has awarded development contracts to six groups for amounts of up to $19.48 million each. Each group has one year to prove their ability to read and write to brain tissue with an 18-month animal testing period to follow.

Source: https://www.popularmechanics.com/

Timber Cities And Algorithmically Designed Structures

Design Computation Lab is a new research laboratory at The Bartlett School of Architecture, University College London  (UCLdeveloping design methods for the utilization of computational technologies in architectural design, fabrication and assembly. Design Computation Lab has cross-faculty partnerships in the The Institute for Digital Innovation in the Built Environment, UCL and The School of Construction + Project Management, UCL.

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In a recent installation, Real Virtuality, Gilles Retsin Architecture and the Design Computation Lab proved that timber could indeed become the material of the 21st century by using augmented reality to fabricate algorithmically designed structures with LEGO-like timber blocks.

Construction relies heavily on cement, the production of which is responsible for approximately 8 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. Architect Gilles Retsin suggests that we should look into timber for an alternative.
Sustainable cities can’t rely on concrete. Let’s try algorithmically designed timber buildings.

Source: https://designcomputationlab.org/
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https://mashable.com/

World’s First Transatlantic Crossing Without A Crew

Final preparations are underway for a 12-meter-long ship to set sail from Canada and attempt the world’s first transatlantic crossing without a crew. The USV Maxlimer, an unmanned surface vessel, is bound for the south coast of England and will conduct deep sea surveys on the way, guided by a skipper in a control station in Britain.    The voyage is expected to take about 35 days.

The ship was built by Sea-Kit International, which develops vessels for the maritime and research industries, for the Shell Ocean Discovery XPRIZE, a competition to autonomously survey the sea bed.    It can launch and recover autonomous underwater vehicles but has the potential to operate in different roles with different cargo.    “(It is) almost like a utility pick-up vehicle of the sea, it’s robust, it’s adaptable, it’s got a huge range,” said SEA-KIT International Managing Director Ben Simpson.

The vessel is operated by a hand-held remote control when in harbor and when at sea it can stream live data to the controller via multiple satellite links.

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What is now available through technology is very, very similar to what you have on the bridge of a ship and in many ways, I would argue, even more comprehensive,” said James Fanshawe, a director of SEA-KIT.    “The controller here in this station can actually see all the way round on the horizon near real-time and in many ships it’s quite difficult to actually even see what’s behind you from the bridge of that ship,” explained Fanshawe.

The company said it sees a future for unmanned vessels as they can remove humans from harm’s way.    The team said ships that do not need to accommodate people also have significant economic and environmental benefits.    “You don’t need a bridge, you don’t need a galley, you don’t need water supplies, you don’t need air conditioning and suddenly the size of that vessel becomes a fraction of the size of vessels currently being used offshore,” Simpson said.    The combination of size and hybrid diesel-electric propulsion cuts fuel use by around 95 percent, the company said.

Source: http://www.reuters.com

Plant Viruses Used to Ward Off Pests

Imagine a technology that could target pesticides to treat specific spots deep within the soil, making them more effective at controlling infestations while limiting their toxicity to the environment.

Researchers at the University of California San Diego and Case Western Reserve University have taken a step toward that goal. They discovered that a biological nanoparticle—a plant virus—is capable of delivering pesticide molecules deeper below the ground, to places that are normally beyond their reach.

The work could help farmers better manage difficult pests, like parasitic nematodes that wreak havoc on plant roots deep in the soil, with less pesticide. The work is published May 20 in the journal Nature Nanotechnology.

It sounds counterintuitive that we can use a plant virus to treat plant health,” said Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and senior author of the study. “This is an emerging field of research in nanotechnology showing that we can use plant viruses as pesticide delivery systems. It’s similar to how we’re using nanoparticles in medicine to target drugs towards sites of disease and reduce their side effects in patients.

Pesticides are very sticky molecules when applied in the field, Steinmetz explained. They bind strongly to organic matter in the soil, making it difficult to get enough to penetrate deep down into the root level where pests like nematodes reside and cause damage. To compensate, farmers end up applying large amounts of pesticides, which cause harmful residues to build up in the soil and leach into groundwater.

Steinmetz and her team are working to address this problem. In a new study, they discovered that a particular plant virus, Tobacco mild green mosaic virus, can transport small amounts of pesticide deep through the soil with ease.

Source: https://ucsdnews.ucsd.edu/

How To Make Cells Immune To HIV

Some viruses, no matter how hard we try, remain resistant to vaccines. Now, researchers are using a different method, gene editing, as a way to make cells immune to mankind’s most difficult viruses. Led by Dr. Justin Taylor, a team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center has targeted four infections for which there’s no protective vaccine: HIV, influenza, the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

The researchers used CRISPR/Cas9 technology to modify B cells, a class of white blood cells that produce antibodies to protect us from diseases. By coding the cells with genes that create specific antibodies, the team was able to make them immune without the use of a vaccine.

The researchers tested the method in both human cells in a test tube and in living mice. On average, about 30 percent of the cells produced the desired antibody. Taylor said that the mice remained protected for 83 days following the procedure, an important benchmark given that patients who receive stem cell transplants can have weakened immune systems for three to six months. To be clear, Taylor doesn’t have anything against traditional vaccination. “Vaccines are great,” he said. “I wish we had more of them.”

Instead, Taylor thinks the gene editing method could work one day for diseases where we don’t have a vaccine. It may help patients who are immuno-compromised, meaning their bodies can no longer fight infections, as well as older patients whose bodies aren’t as receptive to vaccines. Gene-edited immunity might also be used to protect people faster than can be done with traditional vaccines, which could be useful during unexpected outbreaks.

Taylor’s team included Fred Hutch researchers and co-authors Howell Moffett, Carson Harms, Kristin Fitzpatrick, Marti Tooley and Jim Boonyaratanakornkit. The results will be published in the journal Science Immunology.

Source: https://www.fredhutch.org/
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https://www.geekwire.com/

How To Offer Commercially Attractive Carbon-Capturing

Chemical engineers from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne  (EPFL ) in Switzerland have designed an easy method to achieve commercially attractive carbon-capturing with metal-organic frameworksMetal-organic frameworks (MOFs) are versatile compounds hosting nano-sized pores in their crystal structure. Because of their nanopores, MOFs are now used in a wide range of applications, including separating petrochemicalsmimicking DNA, and removing heavy metals, fluoride anions, hydrogen, and even gold from waterGas separation in particular is of great interest to a number of industries, such as biogas production, enriching air in metal working, purifying natural gas, and recovering hydrogen from ammonia plants and oil refineries.

The flexible ‘lattice’ structure of metal-organic frameworks soaks up gas molecules that are even larger than its pore window making it difficult to carry out efficient membrane-based separation,” says Kumar Varoon Agrawal, who holds the GAZNAT Chair for Advanced Separations at EPFL Valais Wallis.

Now, scientists from Agrawal’s lab have greatly improved the gas separation by making the MOF lattice structure rigid. They did this by using a novel “post-synthetic rapid heat treatment” method, which basically involved baking a popular MOF called ZIF-8 (zeolitic imidazolate framework 8) at 360°C for a few seconds. The method drastically improved ZIF-8’s gas-separation performance – specifically in ‘carbon capture’, a process that captures carbon dioxide emissions produced from the use of fossil fuels, preventing it from entering the atmosphere. “For the first time, we have achieved commercially attractive dioxide sieving performance a MOF membrane,” says Agrawal.

Source: https://actu.epfl.ch/

The Rise Of The Electric Driverless Truck

Today, DB Schenker and Einride launched the installation for the first commercial use of a T-pod, at a DB Schenker facility in Jönköping, central Sweden. The T-pod will travel continuously to and from a warehouse, paving the way for a sustainable transition of road freight transportation. The T-Pod Self-Driving Truck can carry up to 15 standard pallets or 20 tons of goods in just a 23-foot body thanks to the removal of the cab. On the highway, the all-electric truck drives itself, while a driver can take control remotely for urban driving. It has a range of 124 miles, and the company says it will be testing a prototype later this year while also building out a network of charging stations.

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Heavy road transport is responsible for a substantial part of global CO2 emissions. By substituting electricity for diesel, we reduce CO2 emissions by 90 percent. We are happy and grateful that DB Schenker has chosen to be part of this revolution, disrupting a huge global market” says Robert Falck, CEO, and founder of Einride.

“We at Schenker are working at full speed on sustainable and innovative logistics. Autonomous driving will become increasingly important for this. Together with Einride, we want to bring the first autonomous, fully electric truck onto public roads in the near future and thus set new standards for tomorrow’s logistics” explains Jochen Thewes, CEO of DB Schenker.

Source: https://www.einride.tech/

How To Boost Batteries Conductivity And Improve Safety

Building a better lithium-ion battery involves addressing a myriad of factors simultaneously, from keeping the battery’s cathode electrically and ionically conductive to making sure that the battery stays safe after many cycles.

In a new discovery, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory have developed a new cathode coating by using an oxidative chemical vapor deposition technique that can help solve these and several other potential issues with lithium-ion batteries all in one stroke.

The coating we’ve discovered really hits five or six birds with one stone.” Khalil Amine, Argonne distinguished fellow and battery scientist. In the research, Amine and his fellow researchers took particles of Argonne’s pioneering nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode material and encapsulated them with a sulfur-containing polymer called PEDOT. This polymer provides the cathode a layer of protection from the battery’s electrolyte as the battery charges and discharges.

Unlike conventional coatings, which only protect the exterior surface of the micron-sized cathode particles and leave the interior vulnerable to cracking, the PEDOT coating had the ability to penetrate to the cathode particle’s interior, adding an additional layer of shielding. In addition, although PEDOT prevents the chemical interaction between the battery and the electrolyte, it does allow for the necessary transport of lithium ions and electrons that the battery requires in order to function.

This coating is essentially friendly to all of the processes and chemistry that makes the battery work and unfriendly to all of the potential reactions that would cause the battery to degrade or malfunction,” said Argonne chemist Guiliang Xu, the first author of the research.

Source: https://www.anl.gov/

Pixels A Million Times Smaller

The smallest pixels yet created – a million times smaller than those in smartphones, made by trapping particles of light under tiny rocks of gold – could be used for new types of large-scale flexible displays, big enough to cover entire buildings. The colour pixels, developed by a team of scientists led by the University of Cambridge, are compatible with roll-to-roll fabrication on flexible plastic films, dramatically reducing their production cost.
It has been a long-held dream to mimic the colour-changing skin of octopus or squid, allowing people or objects to disappear into the natural background, but making large-area flexible display screens is still prohibitively expensive because they are constructed from highly precise multiple layers. At the centre of the pixels developed by the Cambridge scientists is a tiny particle of gold a few billionths of a metre across. The grain sits on top of a reflective surface, trapping light in the gap in between. Surrounding each grain is a thin sticky coating which changes chemically when electrically switched, causing the pixel to change colour across the spectrum.

The team of scientists, from different disciplines including physics, chemistry and manufacturing, made the pixels by coating vats of golden grains with an active polymer called polyaniline and then spraying them onto flexible mirror-coated plastic, to dramatically drive down production cost. The pixels are the smallest yet created, a million times smaller than typical smartphone pixels. They can be seen in bright sunlight and because they do not need constant power to keep their set colour, have an energy performance that makes large areas feasible and sustainable. “We started by washing them over aluminized food packets, but then found aerosol spraying is faster,” said co-lead author Hyeon-Ho Jeong from Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory.

These are not the normal tools of nanotechnology, but this sort of radical approach is needed to make sustainable technologies feasible,” said Professor Jeremy J Baumberg of the NanoPhotonics Centre at Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory, who led the research. “The strange physics of light on the nanoscale allows it to be switched, even if less than a tenth of the film is coated with our active pixels. That’s because the apparent size of each pixel for light is many times larger than their physical area when using these resonant gold architectures.”

The pixels could enable a host of new application possibilities such as building-sized display screens, architecture which can switch off solar heat load, active camouflage clothing and coatings, as well as tiny indicators for coming internet-of-things devices.

The results are reported in the journal Science Advances.

Source: https://www.cam.ac.uk/

Blocking Protein Curbs Memory Loss

Impeding VCAM1, a protein that tethers circulating immune cells to blood vessel walls, enabled old mice to perform as well on memory and learning tests as young mice, a Stanford study found. Mice aren’t people, but like us they become forgetful in old age. In a study  published online May 13 in Nature Medicine, old mice suffered far fewer senior moments during a battery of memory tests when Stanford University School of Medicine investigators disabled a single molecule dotting the mice’s cerebral blood vessels. For example, they breezed through a maze with an ease characteristic of young adult mice.

The molecule appears on the surfaces of a small percentage of endothelial cells, the main building blocks of blood vessels throughout the body. Blocking this molecule’s capacity to do its main job — it selectively latches onto immune cells circulating in the bloodstream — not only improved old mice’s cognitive performance but countered two physiological hallmarks of the aging brain: It restored to a more youthful level the ability of the old mice’s brains to create new nerve cells, and it subdued the inflammatory mood of the brain’s resident immune cells, called microglia.

Scientists have shown that old mice’s blood is bad for young mice’s brains. There’s a strong suspicion in the scientific community that something in older people’s blood similarly induces declines in brain physiology and cognitive skills. Just what that something is remains to be revealed. But, the new study suggests, there might be a practical way to block its path where the rubber meets the road: at the blood-brain barrier, which tightly regulates the passage of most cells and substances through the walls of blood vessels that pervade the human brain.

 

We may have found an important mechanism through which the blood communicates deleterious signals to the brain,” said the study’s senior author, Tony Wyss-Coray, PhD, professor of neurology and neurological sciences, co-director of the Stanford Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and a senior research career scientist at the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System. The lead author of the study is Hanadie Yousef, PhD, a former postdoctoral scholar in the Wyss-Coray lab. The intervention’s success points to possible treatments that could someday slow, stop or perhaps even reverse that decline. Targeting a protein on blood-vessel walls may be easier than trying to get into the brain itself. “We can now try to treat brain degeneration using drugs that typically aren’t very good at getting through the blood-brain barrier — but, in this case, would no longer need to,” Yousef said.

Source: http://med.stanford.edu/