A sensational breakthrough: the first bionic hand that can feel
The first bionic hand that allows an amputee to feel what they are touching will be transplanted later this year in a pioneering operation that could introduce a new generation of artificial limbs with sensory perception.
The patient is an unnamed man in his 20s living in Rome who lost the lower part of his arm following an accident, said Silvestro Micera of the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland.
The wiring of his new bionic hand will be connected to the patient’s nervous system with the hope that the man will be able to control the movements of the hand as well as receiving touch signals from the hand’s skin sensors.
Dr Micera said that the hand will be attached directly to the patient’s nervous system via electrodes clipped onto two of the arm’s main nerves, the median and the ulnar nerves.
This should allow the man to control the hand by his thoughts, as well as receiving sensory signals to his brain from the hand’s sensors. It will effectively provide a fast, bidirectional flow of information between the man’s nervous system and the prosthetic hand.
“This is real progress, real hope for amputees. It will be the first prosthetic that will provide real-time sensory feedback for grasping,” Dr Micera said.
“It is clear that the more sensory feeling an amputee has, the more likely you will get full acceptance of that limb,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.
“We could be on the cusp of providing new and more effective clinical solutions to amputees in the next year,” he said.
An earlier, portable model of the hand was temporarily attached to Pierpaolo Petruzziello in 2009, who lost half his arm in a car accident. He was able to move the bionic hand’s fingers, clench them into a fist and hold objects. He said that he could feel the sensation of needles pricked into the hand’s palm.
However, this earlier version of the hand had only two sensory zones whereas the latest prototype will send sensory signals back from all the fingertips, as well as the palm and the wrists to give a near life-like feeling in the limb, Dr Micera said.
“The idea would be that it could deliver two or more sensations. You could have a pinch and receive information from three fingers, or feel movement in the hand and wrist,” Dr Micera said.
“We have refined the interface [connecting the hand to the patient], so we hope to see much more detailed movement and control of the hand,” he told the meeting.
The plan is for the patient to wear the bionic hand for a month to see how he adapts to the artificial limb. If all goes well, a full working model will be ready for testing within two years, Dr Micera said.
One of the unresolved issues is whether patients will be able to tolerate having such a limb attached to them all the time, or whether they would need to remove it periodically to give them a rest.
Another problem is how to conceal the wiring under the patient’s skin to make them less obtrusive. The electrodes of the prototype hand to be fitted later this year will be inserted through the skin rather than underneath it but there are plans under development to place the wiring subcutaneously, Dr Micera said.
Terrifying Video Demonstrates Bug-Sized Lethal Drones Being Developed By US Air Force
Looks like we have the makings of a new arms race at hand. The winner will develop the tiniest lethal drone capable of blending into a crowded cityscape.
The Atlantic‘s Conor Friedersdorf points to a National Geographic piece on the future of drone technology, including one fascinating passage on how the U.S. Air Force is developing “micro-drones” the size of tiny creatures, capable of flying through major cities unnoticed.
The science writer, John Horgan, described what information he was able to access from the government:
The Air Force has nonetheless already constructed a “micro-aviary” at Wright-Patterson for flight-testing small drones. It’s a cavernous chamber—35 feet high and covering almost 4,000 square feet—with padded walls. Micro-aviary researchers, much of whose work is classified, decline to let me witness a flight test. But they do show me an animated video starring micro-UAVs that resemble winged, multi-legged bugs. The drones swarm through alleys, crawl across windowsills, and perch on power lines. One of them sneaks up on a scowling man holding a gun and shoots him in the head.
The Air Force describes these new “micro-air” weapons as “Unobtrusive, pervasive, lethal.”
I share Friedersdorf’s sentiment that this video is “horrifying” — namely because it signals that drone warfare is the next arms race.
According to Horgan, however, the U.S. government “takes seriously” the potential for widespread proliferation of “micro-drone” technology among terrorists and governments:
What, one might ask, will prevent terrorists and criminals from getting their hands on some kind of lethal drone? Although American officials rarely discuss the threat in public, they take it seriously.
[...] Exercises carried out by security agencies suggest that defending against small drones would be difficult. Under a program called Black Dart, a mini-drone two feet long tested defenses at a military range. A video from its onboard camera shows a puff of smoke in the distance, from which emerges a tiny dot that rapidly grows larger before whizzing harmlessly past: That was a surface-to-air missile missing its mark. In a second video an F-16 fighter plane races past the drone without spotting it.
The answer to the threat of drone attacks, some engineers say, is more drones.
In other words: another arms race to find the smallest possible drone that can not only attack the enemy but defend against similarly undetectable micro-drones. Rather than discourage this race to the bottom, we are actively leading the charge.
Moreover, the development of these fascinatingly small weapons provides yet another secretive weapon for the military to use without any sort of oversight.
Yes, in a world with micro-drones, casualties of American drone strikes will likely decrease, given that we’d be directly killing targets rather than obliterating them and everything around them with a missile from the sky. But the possibility for such precisely targeted surveillance and assassination, at the hands of a virtually-untraceable little “bug,” gives our government one more tool to easily evade supervision and accountability.
How would you feel about walking around covered in hagfish secretions all day? If one group of researchers gets their way, then we're looking at the fashion of the future.
The hagfish (which isn’t really a fish in the conventional sense) is a living fossil. It has undergone little to no evolution in the past 300 million years. It has an interesting and effective defence mechanism that can repel even sharks. When threatened, it releases large quantities of protein. This protein, when released into the water, forms threads that turn the immediate environment of the hagfish thick and gooey. The slime, which “smells like dirty sea water”, according to one of the researchers, deters predators from attacking the hagfish.
The researchers have found that the protein threads can be isolated from the slime (via the removal of water and mucous). The protein threads themselves are categorized as ‘intermediate filaments’. Each thread is 100 times smaller than a single human hair. These fine threads can be woven to create fabric that’s as strong as nylon or plastic. With more research, these fabrics could even be used to make clothes! Hagfish produce large amounts of slime in mere seconds. The mere efficiency of this process grants it an advantage over harvesting silk from silkworms. Furthermore, the material is much more sustainable than artificial fibers like nylon and polyester. In the words of the head researcher, Atsuko Negishi, “This work is just the beginning of our efforts to apply what we have learned from animals like hagfishes to the challenge of making high-performance materials from sustainable protein feedstocks.”
The next challenge would be to make the process feasible on an industrial scale. It’s unlikely that slime will be directly harvested from the hagfish in large amounts. Alternatively, the slime-making genes might be transplanted into bacteria, which can be cultured to provide the slime on a much larger and more feasible scale.
Engage! Warp Drive Could Become Reality with Quantum-Thruster Physics
DALLAS — Warp-drive technology, a form of "faster than light" travel popularized by TV's "Star Trek," could be bolstered by the physics of quantum thrusters — another science-fiction idea made plausible by modern science.
NASA scientists are performing experiments that could help make warp drive a possibility sometime in the future from a lab built for the Apollo program at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
A warp-drive-enabled spacecraft would look like a football with two large rings fully encircling it. The rings would utilize an exotic form of matter to cause space-time to contract in front of and expand behind them. Harold "Sonny" White, a NASA physicist, is experimenting with these concepts on a smaller scale using a light-measuring device in the lab. [Warp Drives and Transporters: How 'Star Trek' Tech Works (Infographic)]
"We're looking for a change in path length of the photon on the interferometer, because that would be potential evidence that we're generating the effect we're looking for," White told SPACE.com. "We've seen, in a couple different experiments with several different analytic techniques, a change in optical-path length. We're making one leg of the interferometer seem a little shorter because of this device being on, versus the device being off. That doesn't mean that it's what we're looking for."
While these results are intriguing, they are in no way definitive proof that warp drive could work, White said. The scaled-down experiments are just a first step toward understanding if these concepts can be taken out of the realm of theory and applied practically.
Quantum thrust through space-time
Quantum-thruster physics, another technology White is looking into at NASA, could be the key to creating the fuel needed for a warp drive.
These electric "q-thrusters" work as a submarine does underwater, except they're in the vacuum of space, White told the crowd here at Starship Congress on Aug. 17. The spacecraft is theoretically propelled through space by stirring up the cosmic soup, causing quantum-level perturbations. The resulting thrust is similar to that created by a submersible moving through water.
The technology produces negative vacuum energy, a key ingredient for an exotic-matter-powered warp-drive engine.
"The physics models that tell us how to construct a q-thruster are the same models we'll use to generate, design and build a negative vacuum generator," White said. "The quantum thrusters might be a propulsion manifestation of the physics, like the big ring around the spacecraft. If you looked in there, there might be 10,000 of these little cans that are the negative vacuum generators."
White wants to try to apply the quantum-thruster physics models the researchers have been working with in the lab to their work with warp drive.
"We have measured a force in several test devices which is a consequence of perturbing the state of the quantum vacuum," White said. The effect has been small but significant in his experimentation. Going forward, White hopes to do more robust testing to possibly magnify those claims.
Do the time warp
The warp-drive ship itself would never be going faster than the speed of light, but the warped space-time around it could help the spacecraft achieve an effective speed of 10 times the speed of light within the confines of White's concept.
When first proposed by Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre in 1994, the warp drive would have required huge, unreasonable amounts of energy, but White's work brought those numbers down. Previous studies extrapolated that the drive would need energy equal to the mass energy of Jupiter.
"In the early epoch of the universe, there was a very short period known as inflation," said Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar. "We believe that during that inflationary period, space-time itself expanded at many times the speed of light, so there are tantalizing questions when you look at nature as a teacher. Is this something that can be duplicated around the vicinity of a spacecraft?"
Now, White thinks the drive could be powered by a collection of exotic mass about the size of NASA's Voyager 1 probe if the rings housing the mass were shaped like a donut and oscillate over time.
Follow Miriam Kramer @mirikramer and Google+. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook and Google+. Original article on SPACE.com.
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The first flying cars are set to go on sale to the public as early as 2015. Terrafugia has announced its Transition design, which is part sedan, part private jet with two seats, four wheels and wings that fold up so it can be driven like a car, will be on sale in less than two years. The Massachusetts-based firm has also unveiled plans for a TF-X model that will be small enough to fit in a garage, and won’t need a runway to take off. Would you buy one?
The daydream of science-fiction fans and supervillains everywhere has inched one step closer to reality: Scientists have demonstrated a new technique for nuclear fusion, the process that fuels stars like the sun, that doesn't produce hazardous particles.
The new experiment coaxed a boron atom to fuse with a hydrogen nucleus, using a little help from incredibly powerful laser and proton beams. The fusion produced alpha particles, which are more easily converted to usable energy than the high-energy neutrons produced by prior fusion methods.
High-energy neutrons can also produce radiation if they fuse with other nuclei to form radioactive elements.
Researchers Bioengineer Bacteria That Poops Out Gasoline
Korean researchers have engineered a new strain of E. coli that can produce a suitable substitute for gasoline. And as they quite rightly point out, bacteria that poops out petroleum could be some valuable shit.
Digging up fossil resources carries tremendous environmental, monetary, and geopolitical costs, which means figuring out a way to feed the world's huge addiction to gasoline without unearthing crude could have a tremendous impact.
Bacteria, meanwhile, has already proven itself capable of amazing things. It's responsible for making your booze boozy, and in recent years it has been used to produce everything from gold to diesel fuel. When it comes to producing biofuels, we're probably most familiar with bacteria that produce ethanol, but as the Korean researchers point out in a new study published in Nature, petroleum has a 30-percent higher energy content than traditional biofuels.
Radical OOKP surgery implants tooth with lens into blind man's eye; restores sight
A BLIND British man has had his sight restored after pioneering surgery that involved implanting one of his teeth into his eye.
Ian Tibbetts, 43, who first damaged his eye in an industrial accident when scrap metal ripped his cornea in six places, had his sight restored by the radical operation, chronicled in the new BBC documentary The Day I Got My Sight Back.
The surgery allowed Mr Tibbetts to see his four-year-old twin sons, Callum and Ryan, for the first time, a moment he describes as "ecstasy".
The procedure, called osteo-odonto-keratoprothesis, or OOKP, was conducted by ophthalmic surgeon Christopher Liu at the Sussex Eye Hospital in Brighton, Sussex. Mr Tibbetts and his wife Alex agreed to the revolutionary surgery after all other options had failed, leaving Mr Tibbetts depressed and out of work.
The complex surgery is a two-part procedure. First, the tooth and part of the jaw are removed, and a lens is inserted into the tooth using a drill. The tooth and lens are then implanted under the eye socket. After a few months, once the tooth has grown tissues and developed a blood supply, comes the second step: part of the cornea is sliced open and removed and the tooth is stitched into the eye socket. Since the tooth is the patient’s own tissue, the body does not reject it.
"The tooth is like a picture frame which holds this tiny plastic lens," documentary maker Sally George told the BBC.
After the bandages came off, Mr Tibbetts' sight gradually returned, and he saw his sons' faces for the first time.
Scientists Used 3D Printed Microscopic Cages To Confine Bacteria In Tiny "Zoos"
Using a laser to activate cross-linking in a gelatin mold containing randomly scattered bacterial cells, researchers can “trap” the microbes in designated areas, dictating the 3-dimensional structure of the populations. The study, published today (October 7) in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could allow biologists to study the role of population architecture in cellular communication, while still allowing the flow of chemical messages.
“In microbial populations, there’s cooperation and there’s cheating and there’s competition, and so understanding how these very complicated things actually function is not something you can just do in a petri dish or a bulk broth,” said bioengineer Bryan Kaehr of Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM. “In order for us to ever really understand cell communication in a meaningful way, you really have to organize populations like this—at this scale, the scale of cells.”
The work comes from Kaehr’s graduate advisor, chemist and bioengineer Jason Shear at the University of Texas at Austin, who has been working in 3-D fabrication using biological materials for about 10 years. Shear and his colleagues had previously used the cross-linking technique—which uses a laser to activate a photosensitizer that promotes bond formation between the molecules of the mold—to build molecular “houses” of bovine serum albumin (BSA), into which they seeded bacteria that could swim into the various “rooms.” The researchers could then warm the houses to 37°C, causing the “doors” of the house to swell shut, keeping the bacteria in place.
“Although [the house is] physically restrictive, it’s chemically permissive,” said Shear. “These walls will transmit important biological signals, like quorum-sensing signals and antibiotics.”
But such a procedure is obviously limited to motile species of bacteria, and it left a lot to chance in terms of which bacteria ended up in which rooms of the house. Now, the researchers have tackled these problems by 3-D printing the molecular houses around the bacterial cells that are already embedded in a gelatin mold. The researchers simply cultured bacteria in liquid gelatin and then allowed the mixture to cool and solidify. “It’s basically Jell-O with things suspended in it,” said Shear. Then, based on where the bacteria settled during this process, the team designed a molecular house to segregate the bacteria as they wanted and subjected the gel to the cross-linking action of the 3-D-printing laser.
“This is the beauty of the technique—that it allows you to create any 3-D structure,” said engineer Aleksandr Ovsianikov of the Vienna University of Technology in Austria, who last month used a similar approach to grow human osteosarcoma cells in a 3-D mold, but was not involved in the present study. “So you have total freedom [of design].”
In a proof-of-concept experiment, the researchers examined the role of population structure in bacteria’s ability to resist an antibiotic. The team used the technology to nest a population of Staphylococcus aureus, a bacterium that is normally susceptible to β-lactam antibiotics, within a surrounding population of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which produces an enzyme that defends against β-lactam antibiotics. The two bacteria are often found together in the human body—in chronic wounds, for example, or the lungs of patients with cystic fibrosis—and the researchers wanted to ask: “Could one bacterium actually protect the other?” said microbiologist Marvin Whiteley, a UT-Austin collaborator of Shear’s and an author on the paper. “We were able to show that you definitely could in regard to antibiotic sensitivity,” he said. And notably, it took just a few P. aeruginosa per picoliter to protect the inner S. aureus population from ampicillin, a β-lactam antibiotic.
Whiteley was excited by the results, but even more so by the technique, which he said could bring some much-needed quantitative measurements to microbiology. “Analytic chemistry is a great thing, and microbiology needs to use it more.”
Kaehr added that the technology could have applications in other areas. “Their work here focuses on microbial communities and bacteria, but this is really a problem in just understanding multicellularity,” he said. “This is a technique [that] will hopefully reveal new biology that you otherwise couldn’t understand.”
Furthermore, Ovsianikov noted, the system can be adapted to do more than simply trap cells within a structured environment. The same laser setup can be used to immobilize molecules at precise locations within the environment, to provide adhesion sites, or to carve out channels in the gel, rather than build walls. “This is a tool which potentially allows you to cross-link your gel, dress up your gel with biomolecules, or create channels in the same way,” said Ovsianikov. “This is a tool which is much more than 3-D printing.”
How Infamous Hydroelectric Dam Changed Earth’s Rotation
“Powerful” doesn’t really do this amazing (and VERY controversial) structure justice. Since the $30 billion project was announced, Chinese officials have faced heavy scrutiny from both scientists and environmental activists like. Many believe that the dam will ultimately result in catastrophe. Some concerns include the dam trapping pollution, spawning earthquakes and landslides, uprooting citizens (more than 1.3 million people have already been forced to relocate), and destroying historical locations – along with the habitats of endangered animals. (The government finally conceded that the project was ill conceived – after years of dubbing the dam one of the most spectacular pieces of engineering in Chinese history – but the damage is already done.)