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Rats vs. computers vs. rat cyborgs in maze navigation

Is there a human metaphor here somewhere?
March 7, 2016

Electrode implant in a laboratory rat used to deliver electrical stimulation to the brain (credit: Vdegroot at Dutch Wikipedia/Creative Commons)

What would happen if we combined synthetic and biological systems, creating an intelligent cyborg rat? How would it perform?

Researchers in China decided to find out by comparing the problem-solving abilities of rats, computers, and rat-computer “cyborgs,” as they reported in an open-access PLOS ONE paper.

Rats: Six rats were trained for a week to run a series of unique mazes. After training, the researchers tested… read more

Deep learning helps robots perfect skills

March 7, 2016

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BRETT (Berkeley Robot for the Elimination of Tedious Tasks) has learned to improve its performance in household chores through deep learning and reinforcement learning to provide moment-to-moment visual and sensory feedback to the software that controls the robot’s movements.

For the past 15 years, Berkeley robotics researcher Pieter Abbeel has been looking for ways to make robots learn. In 2010 he and his students programmed BRETT to… read more

Stretchable, flexible ‘meta-skin’ cloaks objects from radar at a range of frequencies

"Invisibility cloak" may be further developed to operate in visible or infrared light ranges
March 7, 2016

Wraparound meta-skin (credit: Siming Yang et al./Scientific Reports)

Iowa State University engineers have developed a new flexible, stretchable, and  tunable “meta-skin” (metamaterial) “invisibility cloak” that uses rows of small liquid-metal devices to cloak an object from radar over a wide range of frequencies — and possibly at visible or infrared light ranges in the future.

The  skin has rows of split ring resonators embedded inside layers of silicone sheets. The… read more

Human-skin discovery suggests new anti-aging treatments

March 4, 2016

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For the first time, researchers have reported decreases in levels of a key molecule in aging human skin, which could lead to developing new anti-aging treatments and screening new compounds.

Scientists have known for some time that major structures in the cell called mitochondria (which generate and control most of the cell’s supply of energy) are somehow involved in aging, but the exact role of the mitochondria… read more

Converting atmospheric carbon dioxide into carbon nanotubes for use in batteries

March 4, 2016

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The electric vehicle of the future will be carbon negative (reducing the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide) not just carbon neutral (not adding CO2 to the atmosphere), say researchers at Vanderbilt University and George Washington University (GWU).

The trick: replace graphite electrodes in lithium-ion batteries (used in electric vehicles) with carbon nanotubes and carbon nanofibers recovered from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The new technology… read more

How to trigger self-powered mechanical movement

Could be used for detecting substances, moving particles to build small structures, and delivering medications
March 3, 2016


A new way to use the chemical reactions of certain enzymes to trigger self-powered mechanical movement has been developed by a team of researchers at Penn State University and the University of Pittsburgh.

These enzyme micropumps could be used for detecting substances, moving particles to build small structures, and delivering medications.

“One potential use is the release of insulin to a diabetes patient from a reservoir at a… read more

Stretchable electronics that can quadruple in length

Ideal for prosthetics or robot skin
March 3, 2016

Intrinsically stretchable biphasic gold–gallium thin films. Picture of a biphasic gold–gallium film patterned by photolithography with critical dimension of 100 μm on a 40 μm thick poly(dimethylsiloxane) (PDMS) elastomer membrane. Scale bar: 5 mm; Inset scale bar: 500 μm. (credit: Arthur Hirsch et al./Advanced Materials)

EPFL researchers have developed films with conductive tracks just several hundreds of nanometers thick that can be bent and stretched up to four times their original length. They could be used in artificial skin, connected clothing, and on-body sensors.

Instead of bring printed on a board, the tracks are almost as flexible as rubber and can be stretched up to four times their original length and in… read more

Monkeys learn to drive wheelchairs with their thoughts

Goal is to enable severely paralyzed patients to one day become mobile
March 3, 2016

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Duke Health neuroscientists have developed a brain-machine interface (BMI) that allows monkeys to steer a robotic wheelchair with their thoughts.

The BMI uses signals from hundreds of neurons recorded simultaneously in two regions of the monkeys’ brains that are involved in movement and sensation. As the animals think about moving toward their goal — in this case, a bowl containing fresh grapes — computers translate their brain… read more

First ‘natural machine’ augmented reality product Meta 2 launches to developers

Iron Man meets Princess Leia
March 2, 2016

Meta 2 (credit: Meta)

Last month, Meta CEO Meron Gribetz wowed TED with a sneak peak at the company’s new Meta 2 augmented-reality product. Today, Meta announced that the Meta 2 Development Kit is now available for pre-orders.

Meta 2′s Iron-Man-like immersive functionality appears similar to Hololens and Magic Leap, but with a wider 90-degree field of view, 2560 x 1440 high-DPI display, and natural hand-controlled operation.

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Better memory through electricity

Transcranial Direct Current Stimulation found to boost memory and mental performance of laboratory mice; may lead to treating post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s
March 1, 2016

Transient increase in intracellular Ca2+ during tDCS initiates molecular cascades leading to persistent changes in chromatin structure of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF). These include the phosphorylation of CREB, its binding to BDNF promoter I and recruitment of CREB/CREB-binding protein (CBP). CBP, in turn, promotes H3 acetylation at lysine 9 (H3K9ac) acetylation of BDNF (specifically at promoter I). As a result, stimuli such as long-term potentiation (LTP) induction protocol in slices or learning and memory in vivo are more effective in promoting transcription of BDNF previously primed by anodal tDCS. (credit: Maria Vittoria Podda et al./Scientific Reports)

Researchers at Catholic University Medical School in Rome have boosted the memory and mental performance of laboratory mice by transcranial Direct Current Stimulation (tDCS) and identified the molecular trigger for the improvement.

A noninvasive technique for brain stimulation, tDCS is applied using two small electrodes placed on the scalp, delivering short bursts of low-intensity electrical currents.

After exposing the mice to single 20-minute tDCS sessions, the… read more

‘Fingerprinting’ and neural nets could help protect power grid, other industrial systems

Scenario: Terrorists have just hacked into the U.S. electrical grid and sent false data or malicious commands to destroy a remote electrical substation, turning off power to a city...
March 1, 2016

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Georgia Tech researchers have developed a device fingerprinting technique that could improve the security of the electrical grid and other industrial systems.

“The stakes are extremely high; the systems are very different from home or office computer networks,” said Raheem Beyah, an associate professor in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

The networked systems controlling the U.S.… read more

Should you trust a robot in emergencies?

Subjects show blind obedience to a broken-down robot in a experiment with a mock fire
March 1, 2016

Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Research Engineer Paul Robinette adjusts the arms of the “Rescue Robot,” which was built to study issues of trust between humans and robots. (credit: Rob Felt, Georgia Tech)

In a finding reminiscent of the bizarre Stanford prison experiment, subjects in an experiment blindly followed a robot in a mock building-fire emergency — even when it led them into a dark room full of furniture and they were told the robot had broken down.

The research was designed to determine whether or not building occupants would trust a robot designed to help them evacuate a high-rise… read more

How predicting Shakespeare’s writing could improve our understanding of natural language

March 1, 2016


A Google natural language understanding research group led by Ray Kurzweil is building software systems that can understand natural language at a human level. The goal is to understand and interpret meanings of spoken or written language.

One key to achieving that understanding is establishing context, suggest researchers Chris Tar; Marc Pickett, PhD.; and Brian Strope, PhD., on the Google Research Blog.

For example, take the… read more

Futurists worldwide celebrate ‘Future Day’ March 1st

To be hosted online by the Millennium Project
February 29, 2016

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Today, March 1, five international futurist organizations will conduct a 24-hour global online conversation about the world’s potential futures, challenges, and opportunities. The objective is to support humanity in thinking about a more positive future.

Already started in New Zealand, the conversation is moving across the world with people entering and leaving the conversation whenever they want. The five organizations (The Millennium Project; the Association of Professional Futurists; “Science,… read more

Engineered swarmbots rely on peers for survival

Could be used as a safeguard to stop genetically modified organisms from escaping into the wild
February 29, 2016

Design and modeling of safeguard control in microbial swarmbots. Design concept. Bacteria are engineered to exhibit collective survival. Bacteria confined in the microbial swarmbot can maintain a high local density and survive. Cells escaping the swarmbot will have a reduced density due to a larger extra-capsule environment. If their density drops below their survival threshold, they will die, leading to safeguard control. (credit: Shuqiang Huang et al./Molecular Systems Biology)

Duke University researchers have engineered microbes as “swarmbots” designed to only survive in a crowd.

The system could be used as a safeguard to stop genetically modified organisms (created with tools such as CRISPR) from escaping into the surrounding environment.

Collective survival

“Other labs have addressed this issue by making cells rely on unnatural amino acids for survival or by introducing a ‘kill switch’ that… read more

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