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Future farming to be based on robots and big data

March 9, 2015

QUT's AgBot II (credit: QUT)

The farm of the future will involve multiple lightweight, small, autonomous, energy-efficient machines (AgBots) operating collectively to weed, fertilize and control pest and diseases, while collecting vasts amount of data to enable better management decision making,” according to Queensland University of Technology (QUT) robotics Professor Tristan Perez.

“We are starting to see automation in agriculture for single processes such as animal and crop drone… read more

First detailed microscopy evidence of nanobacteria at the lower size limit of life

March 9, 2015

This cryo-electron tomography image reveals the internal structure of an ultra-small bacteria cell like never before. The cell has a very dense interior compartment and a complex cell wall. The darker spots at each end of the cell are most likely ribosomes. The image was obtained from a 3-D reconstruction. The scale bar is 100 nanometers. (Credit: Berkeley Lab)

Scientists have captured the first detailed microscopy images of ultra-small bacteria believed to be about as small as life can get.

The existence of ultra-small bacteria (aka “nanobacteria” or “nannobacteria”) has been debated for two decades, but there hasn’t been a comprehensive electron microscopy and DNA-based description of the microbes until now.

They are about 200 nanometers (.2 micrometers) in width with a volume of only… read more

Hidden toxins found in ‘green,’ ‘all-natural,’ and ‘organic’ products

Fewer than three percent of volatile ingredients identified
March 8, 2015

(credit: iStock)

A University of Melbourne researcher has found that common consumer products, including those marketed as “green,” “all-natural,” “non-toxic,” and “organic,” emit a range of compounds that could harm human health and air quality. But most of these ingredients are not disclosed to the public.

Prof. Anne Steinemann* investigated and compared volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted from 37 different products, such as air fresheners, cleaning products, laundry supplies, and personal… read more

New nanodevice defeats drug resistance and releases cancer drugs

March 6, 2015

Gold nanoparticles embedded in a hydrogel and coated with a DNA hairpin labeled with a near-infrared (NIR) dye and a dark-quencher that can be injected or implanted at a tumor site to disrupt any gene involved in cancer (credit: João Conde, Nuria Oliva, and Natalie Artzi/PNAS)

A new nanodevice developed by MIT researchers can help overcome cancer cell drug resistance (after chemotherapy) by first blocking the gene that confers drug resistance, then launching a new chemotherapy attack against the disarmed tumors.

The device, which consists of gold nanoparticles embedded in a hydrogel that can be injected or implanted at a tumor site, could also be used more broadly to disrupt any gene involved in cancer.… read more

This energy-generating cloth could replace batteries in wearable devices

March 6, 2015

WTNG2

Scientists at Sungkyunkwan University in Korea and University of Wollongong in Australia report in the journal ACS Nano the first durable, flexible cloth that can harness human motion to generate energy, allowing for self-powered smart clothes.

The new technology avoids the need for batteries — a current limitation in wearable electronics.

The new textile can also charge batteries or supercapacitors without an external power… read more

Is your smartphone making you stupid?

March 6, 2015

(credit: Universal Studios)

A study by University of Waterloo researchers suggests that smartphone users who are intuitive thinkers — more prone to relying on gut feelings and instincts when making decisions — frequently use search engines rather than their own brainpower.

“They may look up information that they actually know or could easily learn, but are unwilling to make the effort to actually think about it,” said Gordon Pennycook, co-lead author of… read more

A quantum device that detects and corrects its own errors

UC Santa Barbara researchers form partnership with Google
March 5, 2015

A photograph of the nine qubit device. Qubits interact with their nearest neighbors to detect and correct errors. (credit: Julian Kelly)

In what they are calling a major milestone, researchers in the John Martinis Lab at UC Santa Barbara have developed quantum circuitry that self-checks for errors and suppresses them — preserving the qubits’ state(s) and imbuing the system with reliability that is foundational for building powerful large-scale superconducting quantum computers.

“One of the biggest challenges in quantum computing is that qubits are inherently faulty,” said Julian Kelly,… read more

Kids and robots learn to write together

March 5, 2015

Kids and robots2

EPFL researchers have developed a new teaching tool called CoWriter based on the pedagogical principle of “learning by teaching.”

When children experience difficulties in writing, they can easily lose confidence, begin to shut down, or even gradually lose interest in the learning process. Eventually, their entire education can be affected. When students put themselves in the place of a teacher and pass on what they know to their peers,… read more

What happens when we all drive electric vehicles?

March 5, 2015

(credit: Hasselt University)

The European Union predicts that electric vehicles (EV) could be in mass production by 2020. But what might be their impacts, such as new demands on electrical distribution grids and on how and where we travel?

The EU DATA SIM project, a  consortium of nine partners from seven countries with EUR 2,3 million investment from the EU, was created for that purpose.

It has… read more

Flexible sensors turn skin into a touch-sensitive interface for mobile devices

March 4, 2015

iSkin2

Computer scientists at Saarland University and Carnegie Mellon University are studying the potential use of the human body as a touch sensitive surface for controlling mobile devices. They have developed flexible silicone rubber stickers with pressure-sensitive sensors that fit snugly to the skin.

By operating these touch input stickers, users can use their own body to control mobile devices. Because of the flexible material used, the sensors can be… read more

Researchers enable solar cells to use more sunlight

March 4, 2015

Scientists of the University of Luxembourg and of the Japanese electronics company TDK have extended sensitivity of a conductive oxide film used in solar cells in the near-infrared region to use more energy of the sun and thus create higher current.

Similar attempts have been made before, but this is the first time that these films were prepared by a one-step process and, at the same time, stable in… read more

Unzipped nanotubes as an alternative to costly platinum for fuel cells

March 4, 2015

An illustration shows a three-dimensional aerogel created by researchers at Rice University who combined graphene nanoribbons with boron and nitrogen. The aerogels show promise as a possible alternative to expensive platinum in fuel cells (credit: Ajayan Group/Rice University)

Rice University researchers have formed graphene nanoribbons into a three-dimensional aerogel enhanced with boron and nitrogen as catalysts for fuel cells as a replacement for platinum.

In tests involving half of the catalytic reaction that takes place in fuel cells, a team led by materials scientist Pulickel Ajayan and chemist James Tou discovered that versions with about 10 percent boron and nitrogen were efficient in catalyzing an… read more

Black phosphorus improves optical communication for chip interconnects

March 3, 2015

This illustration shows the high performance photodetector which uses few layer black phosphorus (red atoms) to sense light in the waveguide (green material). Graphene (gray atoms) is also used to tune the performance. (credit: College of Science and Engineering)

University of Minnesota researchers have found that an ultrathin black phosphorus film — only 20 layers of atoms — allows for high-speed data communication on nanoscale optical circuits. Black phosphorus is a crystaline form of the element phosphorus.

The devices showed vast improvement in efficiency over comparable devices using graphene.

The work by University of Minnesota Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering Professors Mo Li and Steven Koester… read more

Worker robots that can learn from humans

March 3, 2015

Illustration of human-aware motion planning. The left panel depicts a<br />
shared workspace in which a human and robot are placing and sealing screws,<br />
respectively. The right panel depicts both the standard, shortest-path motion (dashed<br />
arrow) and a human-aware motion (solid arrow) that the robot could take given the<br />
expected human workspace occupancy, represented by the cylinder. (credit: Lasota, P. A., and J. A. Shah/Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society)

Roboticist and aerospace engineer Julie Shah and her team at MIT are developing next-generation assembly line robots that are smarter and more adaptable than robots available on today’s assembly lines.

The team is designing the robots with artificial intelligence that enables them to learn from experience, so the robots will be more responsive to human behavior. The more robots can sense the humans around them and make adjustments,… read more

Imaging the 3D structure of a single virus

Using the intense beam of the world’s most powerful x-ray free-electron laser (XFEL)
March 2, 2015

Three-dimensional reconstruction of the giant mimivirus particle with an X-ray<br />
free-electron laser (credit: Tomas Ekeberg et al./Physical Review Letters)

By measuring a series of diffraction pattern from a virus injected into an XFEL beam, researchers at Stanford’s Linac Coherent Light Source (LCLS) have determined the first three-dimensional structure of a virus, using a mimivirus.

X-ray crystallography has solved the vast majority of the structures of proteins and other biomolecules. The success of the method relies on growing large crystals of the molecules, which isn’t possible… read more

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