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A ‘supersmart’ artificial skin has been revealed that could give patients back a sense of touch. Researchers in South Korea say their skin is extremely similar to human skin. It is stretchy, like real skin, and even has a built-in heater so it feels like living tissue. It can sense pressure, temperature, and humidity, and researchers tested the artificial skin on a prosthetic hand, and found the wearer could even sense if a diaper was wet or dry.

‘The prosthetic hand and laminated electronic skin could encounter many complex operations such as hand shaking, keyboard tapping, ball grasping, holding a cup of hot or cold drink, touching dry or wet surfaces and human to human contact,’ they write in the paper, which was published today in Nature Communications. The bulk of the new skin is composed of a flexible, transparent silicone material called polydimethylsiloxane — or PDMS.

Embedded within it are silicon nanoribbons that generate electricity when they’re squished or stretched, providing a source of tactile feedback. They can also sense whether an object is hot or cold. The humidity sensors are made up of capacitors, and were tested using a diaper. Researchers had the prosthetic hand prod various diapers, and it turned out it was able to distinguish between wet and dry diapers. The team also decided that to give the feel of real skin, the skin needed to be warm.  ‘For prosthetic devices and artificial skin to feel natural, their temperature profile must be controlled to match that of the human body,’ the authors write.

To test whether or not the skin maintains a steady 98 degrees Fahrenheit, the researchers put the hand on a plastic baby doll and measured the amount of heat the hand transferred to the doll. By adjusting the shape of the silicon nanoribbon patterns, the researchers can adjust how stretchy the skin is. For regions where the skin doesn’t need to stretch, such as the fingertips, the nanoribbons are packed in a tight linear pattern to maximize sensitivity. For areas like the wrist, which need more flexibility, the nanoribbons form a more loopy pattern, allowing for more room to expand by up to 16 percent. ‘This is an important demonstration of the applications of stretchable electronics,’ said Bao.

‘Currently we have demonstrated our system in small animals. But the next step is to continue the development for the advanced version, such as a complicated array of sensors that emulate real mechano- and thermo- sensory functions of the human,’ Kim Dae-Hyeong,  co-author of the study , told CBS.

HOW IT WORKS

The bulk of the new skin is composed of a flexible, transparent silicone material called polydimethylsiloxane - or PDMS. Embedded within it are silicon nanoribbons that generate electricity when they’re squished or stretched, providing a source of tactile feedback. They can also sense whether an object is hot or cold. Humidity sensors are made up of capacitors. Thermal actuators control how much heat the artificial skin emits.

sources: engadget, abc.net, cnet, CBS

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This prototype of artificial tree that uses turbines hidden inside plastic leaves to create power

Until now, only windmill was an option for generating electricity. A team of French engineers have change that. They have developed an artificial tree that is able to generate electricity from wind power. ‘The idea came to me in a square where I saw the leaves tremble when there was not a breath of air,’ said Jérôme Michaud-Larivière, the founder of the Parisian start-up which will market the Wind Tree in 2015. He added the energy ‘had to come from somewhere and be translatable into watts’. It uses tiny blades housed in the ‘leaves’ that turn in the wind - regardless of its direction - and has the added advantage of being completely silent.

This prototype of artificial tree that uses turbines hidden inside plastic leaves to create power

After three years of research, the team of engineers developed a 26ft prototype, which is now installed in the Pleumeur-Bodou commune in Brittany in northwestern France. He hopes they can eventually be used in people’s own homes and in urban centers. The tree, which will sell for £23,500, can reportedly generate electricity on twice the number of days as a conventional wind turbine because it can generate power on winds of just 4.5mph. Mr Michaud-Lariviere said the tree - which has not yet been tested by an independent laboratory - is profitable after winds of 7.8mph on average over one year. He hopes the tree can be used to exploit small ‘deposits’ of air currents flowing into town along the buildings and streets to feed, for example, LED street lamps, or a charging station for electrical cars.

This prototype of artificial tree that uses turbines hidden inside plastic leaves to create power

He admits there are more consistent winds 160ft in the air but they require ‘monstrous machines’, far from where energy is consumed, he added. He hopes the tree can be combined with other means of power generation such as photovoltaic, and geothermal, combined with energy-efficient buildings. In the future Mr Michaud-Larivière hopes to develop a ‘perfect tree that has leaves with natural fibers, roots that could generate geothermal energy and ‘bark’ covered with photosensitive cells. However, Robert Bellini an engineering expert at the Environment and Energy Management Agency (ADEME), says the potential of small wind turbines in the city remains ‘quite low’.

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Toshiba

Japanese technology giant Toshiba has unveiled a huge factory farm where it is growing various types of lettuce leaves without sunlight or soil for sale in its new healthcare business. Located in disused 21,000-square foot electronics factory in Yokosuka, Toshiba claims to have created a perfect ‘germ free’ environment where it will grow three million bags of lettuce a year. Completely cut off from conditions outside the temperature and humidity controlled isolation tank, lettuce inspectors wear full body suits while making notes on the quality and growth of the leaves on their tablet computers in order to prevent the air around the plants becoming contaminated. Each plant is blasted with artificial lighting to trick it into believing it is exposed to sunlight, while vitamins and nutrients are injected directly into its roots, meaning the lettuce does not need soil. The goal of Toshiba’s new high-tech farm is to produce the world’s highest quality lettuce. The final product will be free of any form of bacteria, fungi or insect life before being placed into sealed bags, which should ensure the product has a longer shelf life than other lettuces.

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The gardening technique aims to have a bacteria ration of no more than 1/1000th – considerably lower than that found in normal gardening soil. Toshiba aims to harvest three million bags of leaf lettuce, baby leaf greens, spinach, mizuna and herbs every year – with each bag likely to cost consumers £1.  The ultimate in organic vegetables, the lettuces require no pesticides but are expected to have a similar shelf to plants that have been heavily treated with chemicals.  The lettuce factory is no marketing gimmick by Toshiba, however. Instead it represents the company’s latest attempt to diversify its technology-led business. There are already plans for the technology giant to build similar factories around the world over the coming years – and it will also be selling the high tech equipment that allows factories to produce similar products of exceptionally high quality.

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Toshiba was founded in 1938 as Tokyo Shibaura Electric through the merger of Shibaura Seisaku-sho, founded in 1875, and Tokyo Denki, founded in 1890. The company name was officially changed to Toshiba Corporation in 1978.

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Cockroaches are known to be able to survive a nuclear explosion – and once day they could be saving trapped victims in a variety of disasters. Researchers have fitted the hardy creatures with electrical backpacks complete with tiny microphones to detect the faintest of sounds. The idea is that cyborg cockroaches, or ‘biobots’, could enter crumpled buildings hit by earthquakes, for example, and help emergency workers find survivors.

‘In a collapsed building, sound is the best way to find survivors,’ said Alper Bozkurt, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at North Carolina State University. ‘The goal is to use the biobots with high-resolution microphones to differentiate between sounds that matter - like people calling for help - from sounds that don’t matter - like a leaking pipe. ‘Once we’ve identified sounds that matter, we can use the biobots equipped with microphone arrays to zero-in on where those sounds are coming from.’

The ‘backpacks’ control the robo-roach’s movements because they are wired to the insect’s cerci - sensory organs that cockroaches usually use to feel if their abdomens brush against something. By electrically stimulating the cerci, cockroaches can be prompted to move in a certain direction. In fact, they have been programmed to seek out sound. One type of ‘backpack’ is equipped with an array of three directional microphones to detect the direction of the sound and steer the biobot in the right direction towards it. Another type is fitted with a single microphone to capture sound from any direction, which can be wirelessly transmitted - perhaps in the future to emergency workers. They ‘worked well’ in lab tests and the experts have developed technology that can be used as an ‘invisible fence’ to keep the biobots in a certain area such as a disaster area, the researchers announced at the IEEE Sensors 2014 conference in Valencia, Spain. A previous study led by Dr Edgar Lobaton, who is also at the university, showed that biobots can be used to map a disaster area. Dr Lobaton and Professor Bozkurt plan on merging their research to both map disaster areas and pinpoint survivors.

BIOBOTS CAN BE FENCED IN

Professor Bozkurt’s team has recently demonstrated technology that creates an invisible fence for keeping biobots in a defined area. This is significant because it could be used to keep them at a disaster site and to keep the biobots within range of each other so that they can be used as a reliable mobile wireless network. The technology could also be used to steer biobots to light sources, so that tiny solar panels on biobot backpacks can be recharged.

CONSUMER KITS ARE AVAILABLE TO CREATE CYBORG INSECTS

The idea of turning cockroaches into cyborg slaves is not new, Gizmodo reported. Kits are available for under $100 (£63) that enable people to control their own insect by stimulating its antennae with electrical signals. This lets people ‘drive’ an insect for a few minutes. While the creators of the ‘Roboroach kit’ claim the cockroach forgets the experience after 20 minutes, some people think it is cruel.

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In an effort to ensure global food security, 10,000 new varieties of crops from around the world are being added to the ‘doomsday’ seed vault in the Arctic. The Svalbard Global Seed Vault, on an island off Norway’s northern coast, already stores 825,000 samples of seeds, which represent 13,000 years of agricultural history. The vault provides a back-up to the network of seed banks around the world, which store seeds but can be threatened by war, accidents and natural disasters. Protecting the diversity of the world’s crops is ‘fundamental’ for ensuring food security in the face of climate change, warned the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), which manages the vault.

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A series of deliveries of seeds to Svalbard this month will help in that fight, the GCDT said. Four shipments from major genebanks based in Bulgaria, Colombia, India and Taiwan are delivering varieties from more than 100 countries. The shipments include types of wheat, barley, corn, sorghum, peal millet, chickpea, groundnut, Asian and African aubergine. Seeds of a number of indigenous African vegetables, including okra, amaranth, spider plant and jute mallow are also being deposited. Preserving different food plant varieties will help breed and develop crops that can withstand a changing climate, for example, by being more drought resistant or able to cope with higher temperatures, the trust said.

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Marie Haga, executive director of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, said: ‘The Svalbard Global Seed Vault symbolises how we can create a long-term, sustainable and positive solution to feed the world forever. ‘The issue of hunger is global, and increasingly urgent. If we continue as we are, food production will be reduced and food prices will rise. Even more people will go hungry. ‘Crop diversity is essential if we are to provide more food, more nutritious food and affordable food for the poor. ‘Maintaining crop diversity, and the genetic wealth it provides to current and future generations, is beneficial not just to crop breeders, but to the farmers that feed all of us on this planet.’ The GCDT is calling on governments, businesses, foundations and wealthy individuals to contribute to a £500 million ($800 million) endowment fund which will pay to conserve crop varieties in perpetuity.

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Stephen Hawking’s voice is one of the most instantly recognisable in the world. But millions of people with severe speech impairments who rely on computerised voices, lose their vocal identity as there are only a few voice options available. But a now one organisation is encouraging people to donate their voices so that it can create voices as ‘unique as fingerprints’ to suit individuals who are losing their own. While VocaliD is still in its early stages and experts are perfecting the recording process, they hope to use a web program or phone app so that people can record their voice remotely in a quiet place, as the better the recording, the more realistic the voice created. To build the custom voices, experts at VocaliD – whose founders are based in Delaware and Boston – extract whatever sounds a speech-impaired person can produce and apply them to a synthetic voice that is partially created from a surrogate voice donor. Donor voices are selected to match a ‘target talker’ in age, size and sex so that their new synthetic voice contains as much of their original vocal identity as possible – but with the speech clarity of the surrogate voice donor. ‘It’s a simple idea that could make a powerful impact on the lives of those who rely on synthetic voices to express themselves, the organisation said.

article-2591549-1CA5675700000578-909_634x466VocaliD estimates that there are tens of millions of people across the world who rely on computerised voices to communicate and two-and-a-half million in the U.S. alone. The few options available often lack personality and sound like a computer. Every person has a unique ‘vocal source’, which is a buzzing created by the larynx or voice box, that reflects their anatomy. The source is pushed through the rest of the vocal tract – the chambers in the head and neck – which change shapes to produce consonants and vowels.

 While some people cannot manipulate their vocal filter because they have a neuromotor speech impairment, many people have some sort of control of their vocal source. It is people with conditions such as Parkinson’s and cerebral palsy that VocaliD could help by building a customised synthetic voice based on a person’s vocal source and a donor’s speech. Experts use several thousand sentences recorded by a donor to make a new voice, in a similar way to how engineers created Siri and other voice recognition technologies. The recording process takes between two and three hours and donors read or repeat short sentences that together cover all the combinations of sounds that occur in the English language. Using the recording, experts then use software that blends the surrogate’s voice with the sounds of the ‘target talker’ or patient, which creates speech ‘units’ like vowel sounds and consonants. Once all these units have been made, the synthetic voice is created and allows patients to say any sentence – even those not pre-recorded by the surrogate. There is a chance that by being a donor, someone could have exactly the same voice as you, but the organisation said it is ‘unlikely’ as the new voice is a blend so will probably only have elements of  the donor’s voice.
published by Dailymail   other sources: smithsonianmag and newscientist

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Wanna be smarter? Try the new electric hat. From students cramming for exams to adults wishing they had the answer to a difficult question, most people would love a quick way of becoming smarter. And now scientists have created a real ‘thinking cap’ that helps people solve problems more quickly and could one day help us learn new and difficult material more easily. U.S. psychologists have managed to manipulate our ability to learn using a mild electrical current to the brain, which can make people learn from their mistakes more effectively – or equally make them more prone to mishaps and confusion. Previous research has shown that the medial-frontal cortex - which is the part of the brain responsible for spotting mistakes - emits a spike of negative voltage within milliseconds of us recognising that we have done something incorrectly. But it didn’t explain why. Psychologists Robert Reinhart and Professor Geoffrey Woodman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, explored the function of the brainwaves.

Mr Reinhart, a PhD candidate, said: ‘We wanted to reach into your brain and causally control your inner critic.’ They came up with a headband with two electrodes attached to the check and crown of a person’s head, to which they applied 20 minutes of transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) to each willing participant in the experiment. In tDCS, a mild direct current travels from the anodal electrode, through the skin, muscle, bones and brain and out through the corresponding cathodal electrode to complete the circuit, according to the study, which is published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

‘It’s one of the safest ways to noninvasively stimulate the brain,’ Mr Reinhart said, before explaining that the subjects only reported a few seconds of tingling or itching at the beginning of each stimulation session.

Each participant took part in three sessions: one where the current was travelling from the electrode on the crown of the head to the one on the cheek, one where it was travelling in the opposite direction and another where there was no stimulation to the brain, but the subjects felt a ‘sham’ tingling sensation. Participants were unable to tell the difference between the three conditions. After 20 minutes of stimulation, subjects were given a learning task that involved working out by trial and error which buttons on a game controller corresponded to specific colours displayed on a monitor. For added difficulty, participants had just one second to respond correctly, providing many chances to make errors and therefore opportunities for the medial-frontal cortex to fire. The researchers measured the electrical brain activity of each participant, which allowed them to watch as the brain changed at the very moment participants were making mistakes and most importantly, allowed them to determine how these brain activities changed under the influence of electrical stimulation. When anodal current (travelling from the electrode on the crown of the head to the cheek) was applied to the ‘thinking hat’ the spike was almost twice as large on average. Consequently, people made fewer errors and learned from their mistakes more quickly than they did without any electrical stimulation. When cathodal current (travelling in the opposite direction from the electrode on the cheek to the crown) was applied, the researchers observed the opposite result. The spike was significantly smaller and the subjects made more errors and took longer to learn the task, effectively becoming more stupid.

‘So when we up-regulate that process, we can make you more cautious, less error-prone, more adaptable to new or changing situations, which is pretty extraordinary,’ Mr Reinhart said. The effect was not noticeable to the subjects because their error rates only varied about four percent either way and their behaviour adjusted by a matter of only 20 milliseconds, but they were plain to see on the EEG, or electroencephalogram that records the brain’s electrical activity.

‘This success rate is far better than that observed in studies of pharmaceuticals or other types of psychological therapy,’ said Professor Woodman. The researchers found that the effects of a 20 minute stimulation lasted about five hours and made participants marginally better or worse in other tasks. As well as improving learning, the findings of the experiment could one day be used to treat conditions like schizophrenia and ADHD, which are associated with performance-monitoring deficits.

Published by Dailymail

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Scientists have discovered a gene which increases the risk of a child having low IQ. The finding means a genetic test soon after birth could identify babies with the problem - and even paves the way for a treatment to tackle the issue. Children under seven with a common gene variant are four times as likely to develop an exceptionally low IQ if they also have reduced levels of thyroid hormone, scientists found. Some 4 per cent of all babies are born each year with the gene plus low thyroid levels. Giving children thyroid hormone tablets may allow their brains, and IQ, to develop normally, which could help 30,000 children a year. The new research focused on the deiodonase-2 enzyme, which is involved in processing thyroid hormones within cells. A mutation in the gene coding for the enzyme had already been associated with other health problems including diabetes and high blood pressure. In the new study, scientists from the universities of Cardiff and Bristol looked at genetic data on 3,123 children under the age of seven who also had their IQ tested.

article-2587271-0C146419000005DC-218_634x460Those with low levels of the thyroid hormone, and also possessed the deiodonase-2 variant, were four times more likely to have an IQ under 85 – an exceptionally low score. Children with lower thyroid hormone levels alone were not at greater risk of low IQ. Dr Peter Taylor of Cardiff University said: ‘If other studies confirm our finding then there may be benefit in carrying out a genetic test for this gene variant in addition to the standard neonatal thyroid screening, which would identify children most at risk of developing low IQ. ‘Children with satisfactory thyroid hormone levels together with the genetic variant have normal IQ levels, which raises the possibility that children at risk could be treated with standard thyroid hormone tablets to compensate for impaired thyroid hormone processing.’ The findings were presented at the Society for Endocrinology’s British Endocrine Societies conference in Liverpool.

Colour blind artist becomes world’s first ‘eyeborg’ by having antenna implanted inside his skull

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A colour blind artist claims he can now ‘hear’ colours after having an ‘eyeborg’ antenna implanted into his skull. Neil Harbisson, 31, has been wearing an external electronic eye for 10 years which picks up colour frequencies through a camera and transforms them into sound vibrations. Mr Harbisson, of Camden, London, was born with achromatopsia, a rare condition which means he can only see in black and white. But he has now convinced surgeons to implant the chip inside his skull so that he can perceive more intricate colours. A wifi connector inside the chip allows him to hear images sent from a mobile phone - without even looking at them.

The cyborg antenna - or ‘eyeborg’ - is composed of a camera on one end and an audio input on the other end. The audio input - which is now implanted inside the back of his skull - allows him to receive the visual spectrum captured by his camera via bone vibrations. Every colour has a different vibration, meaning different paintings, images or even faces have a different note or sound. This audio input was once worn on the outside of his head, but now it has been implanted inside his skull - much like a cochlear implant - he has a greater depth of colour perception. The new wi-fi and bluetooth connectors in the chip also means he will be the first person in the world to experience an image without actually seeing it for himself.

Mr Harbisson had the implant inserted during a series of operations in Barcelona between December and this month, and will be demonstrating it for the first time tomorrow. He said: ‘This announcement is not the launch of a new product and it is not the presentation of new technology - it is the presentation of a new body part that will allow us to extend our senses in unimaginable ways.’

Project spokesperson Mariana Viada said: ‘The other antenna was attached, but this one is inside. ‘There is now more distinction between the colours - it is much wider and more definite. ‘But the most important new thing is that he can now connect with other devices. ‘He can now not only perceive the colours that are in front of him but also colours that other people are looking at on their phones.

‘Potentially, this means, that he could also communicate skull to skull with other people who have the implant, but at the moment he is the only one. ‘How this will exactly work and the details will be revealed by Neil during his presentation.’ He first got the idea for the eyeborg when he heard a talk about cybernetics given by Adam Montandon at Dartington College of Arts in 2003.

The pair created the device and Mr Harbisson memorised the frequencies which related to each colour and decided to permanently attach the eyeborg to his head. He has since been trying to find medics who would implant the device into his skull and last year convinced a doctor and an anaplastologist from Catalonia to perform the operations. Speaking at a conference in 2012, he said: ‘For me the sky is always grey, flowers are always grey and television is black and white.

‘But since the age of 21 instead of seeing colour I can hear colour. ‘So I’ve been hearing colour all the time for eight years so I find it completely normal to hear it all the time. ‘At the start is had to memorise the names you have for each colour and the notes but after some time all this information became a perception and I didn’t have to think about the notes and after some time this became a feeling.

‘I started to have favourite colours and I started to dream in colour. ‘When I stared to dream in colour is when I felt that the software and my brain had united because in my dream it was my brain creating electronic sounds it was not the software and that’s when I started to feel like a cyborg. ‘It had become an extension of my senses.’

published by Dailymail

Stunning 3D ‘glass brain’ shows neurons firing off in real-time

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Have you ever wondered what all those thoughts look like as they race around in your brain? Now you can find out using a new system that peers into the storm of activity in real-time. The technology, dubbed ‘Glass Brain’, was developed by neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and Philip Rosedale, the creator of Second Life. It combines virtual reality, brain scanning and brain recording allowing the user to journey through their mind. The technology was recently unveiled at Austin’s South by Southwest festival where the public were given the chance to look into the mind of Mr Rosedale’s wife Yvette.

Mrs Rosedale was wearing a cap covered with electroencephalogram (EEG) electrodes that measure differences in electric potential to record brain activity.  Prior to this, scientists had mapped Mrs Rosedale’s brain structure using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The Glass Brain can’t be used to show exactly what the user is thinking, but can paint a broad picture of brain activity. A video of the brain recording was captured by the Neuroscape Lab at the University of California in San Francisco. The different colours represent the different frequencies of electrical energy in the brain, as well as the paths by which that energy moves around. The white areas are anatomical fibres. The technology could be used to help people with brain injuries make a faster recovery. ‘We’ve never been able to step inside the structures [of the brain] and see it in this way,’ Dr Gazzaley told Live Science. ‘It’s biofeedback on the next level.’ Mr Philip Rosedale told LiveScience he foresees a day when two people could interact virtually in a way that reveals their inner state.

published by Dailymail