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Aerodyne Nimbus 195: A racing drone so tough you can drive your car over it

Aerodyne Nimbus 195 is about as rugged as we've ever seen for an FPV racer

 

 
Aerodyne Nimbus 195 is about as rugged as we’ve ever seen for an FPV racer(Credit: Aerodyne)

A drone you can drive your car over? Thanks to a spherical, carbon fiber monocoque exoskeleton, this FPV racing drone can take one hell of a beating – or a dunk in the snow or a puddle – and could save the average pilot a fair bit of tinkering time after a crash.

FPV drone flying is a ton of fun, but crashing is a big part of the sport, and while we’re generally pretty impressed with the way ready-to-fly kit racers like the Walkera F210 take a pounding, they do have a lot of exposed electronics that eventually get bashed and wrecked in our incapable hands.

That’s why the Aerodyne Nimbus 195 looks like such a great idea. Instead of being built on a multi-layered flat, straight carbon frame like most racers, the Nimbus has its innards built into and totally protected by a carbon monocoque exoskeleton, formed from the inside in a cavity mold and with thickness varying from 1 to 4 millimeters depending on the stresses each area needs to take.

 

Aerodyne Nimbus 195: cutaway showing electronic internals

 

This sphere-based shape is tough enough to go under the wheels of a car without cracking, and its stubby arms are just as tough, taking high speed brick wall impacts with ease – at least in the promo video. There’s also bound to be some aerodynamic benefits for hard chargers.

Keeping the gizzards inside the shell lets the Nimbus achieve an IP54 water ingress protection rating, which effectively means splash protection in case you stack it into the snow or a puddle.

 

Aerodyne Nimbus 195: happy to take a dunk in the snow since its internals are protected

 

Of course, this kind of frame construction is labour intensive and thus not cheap; a frame by itself is listed at an early bird rate of US$160 in Aerodyne’s Nimbus Indiegogo campaign, and a bind and fly package, giving you a fully functional racing drone with good quality components and no controller, will run you some $490. For the ready to fly package including controller you are looking at a $750 outlay, with deliveries slated for March 2017.

Still, if it’s as strong as it looks, it should solidly outlast a regular frame, not to mention saving you all those little bits of time and fiddling and money when components break. And if it keeps you in the air longer, who’s to say that’s not money well spent?

See the Nimbus take an absolute pounding in this video:

 

Source: Aerodyne RC

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Newly-discovered protein keeps your biological clock running

Scientists have discovered a new protein that regulates cellular agingScientists have discovered a new protein that regulates cellular aging(Credit: AnatomyInsider/Depositphotos)

 

 

We’re all familiar with the inescapable effects that the march of time has on our bodies, but the processes that drive aging are still offering up surprises. Scientists have long known that DNA segments called telomeres play a crucial part in our aging process, but new research has discovered a protein that acts as a kind of cellular timekeeper, regulating the length of telomeres to maintain healthy cell division and prevent the development of cancer.

Each time a cell divides, a tiny section of DNA is lost, and while this could be devastating to the cell, our bodies have a natural defense against the loss of any important genetic information. Telomeres are little caps made of repetitive sections of DNA at the end of each chromosome, and whenever a cell divides they take the hit. The problem is, telomeres have a set length, and as they degrade over time that buffer zone eventually stops protecting the important bits of information, leading to the well-known bodily wear-and-tear we associate with aging.

“Telomeres represent the clock of a cell,” says Eros Lazzerini Denchi, corresponding author of the study. “You are born with telomeres of a certain length, and every time a cell divides, it loses a little bit of the telomere. Once the telomere is too short, the cell cannot divide anymore.”

 

Telomeres are short, repeating sections of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, which help protect important...

 

Logically then, longer telomeres should lead to longer lives, right? Technically yes, and that’s an area that scientists have been experimenting with for years. Back in 2010, a Harvard study was able to slow and even reverse the aging process in mice by manipulating telomerase, an enzyme that helps replenish telomeres. Breakthroughs on the road to applying the process to human cells followed, with the discovery that telomerase can function like an “off” switch, and a new procedure to extend the life of lab-grown cells.

But it’s not as simple as just lengthening telomeres and enjoying a similarly-lengthened life. If cells are allowed to divide unchecked, that same freedom also applies to cancerous cells, increasing the risk of tumors developing.

“This cellular clock needs to be finely tuned to allow sufficient cell divisions to develop differentiated tissues and maintain renewable tissues in our body and, at the same time, to limit the proliferation of cancerous cells,” says Lazzerini Denchi.

 

 

Associate Professor Eros Lazzerini Denchi (left) and Gracrditduate Student Julia Su Zhou Li led the study...Associate Professor Eros Lazzerini Denchi (left) and Gracrditduate Student Julia Su Zhou Li led the study at The Scripps Research Institute (Credit: Madeline McCurry-Schmidt)

 

Until recently, scientists thought they knew of all proteins that bind to telomeres: namely telomerase and Shelterin, a protein complex that helps protect telomeres and regulate telomerase. But now scientists from the Scripps Research Institute have discovered a new protein, called TZAP.

TZAP’s role is to control a process called telomere trimming, which keeps the telomeres within that sweet spot of proliferation: long enough to be healthy, but below the risky upper limit. While the discovery may not have a direct application to increasing overall human lifespan yet, improving our understanding of these crucial processes can help pave the way for these kinds of advances in future.

“This study opens up a lot of new and exciting questions,” says Lazzerini Denchi.

The research was published in the journal, Science.

Source: The Scripps Research Institute

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
ReRAM can now store and process data in the same chip

Researchers in Singapore and Germany have developed a chip that can not only process data, like...

Researchers in Singapore and Germany have developed a chip that can not only process data, like the one above, but can also act as memory storage(Credit: Mark800/Depositphotos)

 

Those lucky enough to work from home will probably tell you that one of the best things about it is the time saved by not commuting to the office. Inside a computer, data goes through a similar process, commuting between its “home” in the system memory to “work” in the processor, but now researchers in Singapore and Germany have found a way to help that data effectively work from home. The team is developing memory chips that can process information right where it’s stored, potentially allowing for faster, smaller and more efficient computers and mobile devices.

The new circuit is based on Resistive switching RAM (ReRAM) memory chips, which are just starting to become commercially available. These chips store information by effectively remembering a variable value of electrical resistance, which can be changed by applying different currents, and being non-volatile, they can retain that memory even while turned off. Also known as a “memristors,” these chips are said to function like the neurons in a human brain, and are sought after due to the fact that they’re faster, smaller, can store more data and require less energy to run.

Memristors have been projected to be the future of both memory and processors, and the new circuit combines them both into one device. Developed by scientists at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, RWTH Aachen University, and the Forschungszentrum Juelich research center, the ReRAM chip could remove the need for separate processing and memory components, leading to smaller and thinner devices that use less power. And since there’s no wait time for data to run between the storage and processor, they will be faster too.

“ReRAM is a versatile non-volatile memory concept,” says Professor Rainer Waser, co-author of the study. “These devices are energy-efficient, fast, and they can be scaled to very small dimensions. Using them not only for data storage but also for computation could open a completely new route towards an effective use of energy in the information technology.”

The binary system, where information is represented with a series of ones and zeroes, is standard practice, but the team says translating data into this digital language takes time and can slow the process down.

“This is like having a long conversation with someone through a tiny translator, which is a time-consuming and effort-intensive process,” says Anupam Chattopadhyay, co-author of the study. “We are now able to increase the capacity of the translator, so it can process data more efficiently.”

To do so, the team is making use of ReRAM’s ability to store data in an analog format – that is, it can register on a more detailed gradient scale, rather than the simple on or off of binary. The prototype circuit uses what’s called the Ternary number system, which can store and process data using three states: zero, one or two. While it’s not truly analog yet, it’s a step in that direction.

The next step for the researchers is to develop a system that allows ReRAM to process and store data with higher amounts of states, as well as reaching out to companies to help develop commercial products that make use of the findings.

The research was published in the journal Scientific Reports.

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , ,
The Technological Future of Surgery

The future of surgery offers an amazing cooperation between humans and technology, which could elevate the level of precision and efficiency of surgeries so high we have never seen before.

 

Will we have Matrix-like small surgical robots? Will they pull in and out organs from patients’ bodies?

The scene is not impossible. It looks like we have come a long way from ancient Egypt, where doctors performed invasive surgeries as far back as 3,500 years ago. Only two years ago, Nasa teamed up with American medical company Virtual Incision to develop a robot that can be placed inside a patient’s body and then controlled remotely by a surgeon.

That’s the reason why I strongly believe surgeons have to reconsider their stance towards technology and the future of their profession.

 

Virtual Incision - Robot - Future of Surgery

 

Surgeons have to rethink their profession

Surgeons are at the top of the medical food chain. At least that’s the impression the general audience gets from popular medical drama series and their own experiences. No surprise there. Surgeons bear huge responsibilities: they might cause irreparable damages and medical miracles with one incision on the patient’s body. No wonder that with the rise of digital technologies, the Operating Rooms and surgeons are inundated with new devices aiming at making the least cuts possible.

We need to deal with these new surgical technologies in order to make everyone understood that they extend the capabilities of surgeons instead of replacing them.

Surgeons also tend to alienate themselves from patients. The human touch is not necessarily the quintessence of their work. However, as technological solutions find their way into their practice taking over part of their repetitive tasks, I would advise them to rethink their stance. Treating patients with empathy before and after surgery would ensure their services are irreplaceable also in the age of robotics and artificial intelligence.

As a first step, though, the society of surgeons has to familiarize with the current state of technology affecting the OR and their job. I talked about these future technologies with Dr. Rafael Grossmann, a Venezuelan surgeon who was part of the team performing the first live operation using medical VR and he was also the first doctor ever to use Google Glass live in surgery.

 

Future of Surgery

 

So, I collected the technologies that will have a huge impact on the future of surgery.

1) Virtual reality

For the first time in the history of medicine, in April 2016 Shafi Ahmed cancer surgeon performed an operation using a virtual reality camera at the Royal London hospital. It is a mind-blowingly huge step for surgery. Everyone could participate in the operation in real time through the Medical Realities website and the VR in OR app. No matter whether a promising medical student from Cape Town, an interested journalist from Seattle or a worried relative, everyone could follow through two 360 degree cameras how the surgeon removed a cancerous tissue from the bowel of the patient.

This opens new horizons for medical education as well as for the training of surgeons. VR could elevate the teaching and learning experience in medicine to a whole new level. Today, only a few students can peek over the shoulder of the surgeon during an operation. This way, it is challenging to learn the tricks of the trade. By using VR, surgeons can stream operations globally and allow medical students to actually be there in the OR using their VR goggles. The team of The Body VR is creating educational VR content as well as simulations aiding the process of traditional medical education for radiologists, surgeons, and physicians. I believe there will be more initiatives like that very soon!

 

 

2) Augmented reality

As there is a lot of confusion around VR and AR, let me make it clear: AR differs in two very important features from VR. The users of AR do not lose touch with reality, while AR puts information into eyesight as fast as possible. With these distinctive features, it has a huge potential in helping surgeons become more efficient at surgeries. Whether they are conducting a minimally invasive procedure or locating a tumor in liver, AR healthcare apps can help save lives and treat patients seamlessly.

As it could be expected, the AR market is buzzing. More and more players emerge in the field. Promising start-up, Atheer develops the Android-compatible wearable and complementary AiR cloud-based application to boost productivity, collaboration and output. The Medsights Tech company developed a software to test the feasibility of using augmented reality to create accurate 3-dimensional reconstructions of tumors. The complex image reconstructing technology basically empowers surgeons with X-ray views – without any radiation exposure, in real time. The True 3D medical visualization system of EchoPixel allows doctors to interact with patient-specific organs and tissue in an open 3D space. It enables doctors to immediately identify, evaluate, and dissect clinically significant structures.

 

Google Glass - Future of Surgery

 

Grossmann also told me that HoloAnatomy, which is using HoloLens to display real data-anatomical models, is a wonderful and rather intuitive use of AR having obvious advantages over traditional methods.

 

3) Surgical robotics

Surgical robots are the prodigies of surgery. According to market analysis, the industry is about to boom. By 2020, surgical robotics sales are expected to almost double to $6.4 billion.

The most commonly known surgical robot is the da Vinci Surgical System; and believe it or not, it was introduced already 15 years ago! It features a magnified 3D high-definition vision system and tiny wristed instruments that bend and rotate far greater than the human hand. With the da Vinci Surgical System, surgeons operate through just a few small incisions. The surgeon is 100% in control of the robotic system at all times; and he or she is able to carry out more precise operations than previously thought possible.

Recently, Google has announced that it started working with the pharma giant Johnson&Johnson in creating a new surgical robot system. I’m excited to see the outcome of the cooperation soon. They are not the only competitors, though. With their AXSIS robot, Cambridge Consultants aim to overcome the limitations of the da Vinci, such as its large size and inability to work with highly detailed and fragile tissues. Their robot rather relies on flexible components and tiny, worm-like arms. The developers believe it can be used later in ophthalmology, e.g. in cataract surgery.

 

Da-Vinci-Surgical-Robot - Future of Surgery

 

4) Minimally Invasive Surgery

Throughout the history of surgery, the ultimate goal of medical professionals was to peak into the workings of the human body and to improve it with as small incisions and excisions as possible. By the end of the 18th century, after Edison produced his lightbulb, a Glasgow physician built a tiny bulb into a tube to be able to look around inside the body.

But it wasn’t until the second half of the 20th century when fiber-optic threads brought brighter light into the caverns of the body. And later, tiny computer chip cameras started sending images back out. At last, doctors could not only clearly see inside a person’s body without making a long incision, but could use tiny tools to perform surgery inside. One of the techniques revolutionizing surgery was the introduction of laparoscopes.

The medical device start-up, Levita aims to refine such procedures with its Magnetic Surgical System. It is an innovative technological platform utilizing magnetic retraction designed to grasp and retract the gallbladder during a laparoscopic surgery.

The FlexDex company introduced a new control mechanism for minimally invasive tools. It transmits movement from the wrist of the surgeon to the joint of the instrument entirely mechanically and it costs significantly less than surgical robots.

 

 

5) 3D Printing and simulations in pre-operative planning and education

Complicated and risky surgeries lasting hours need a lot of careful planning. Existing technologies such as 3D printing or various simulation techniques help a lot in reforming medical practice and learning methods as well as modelling and planning successfully complex surgical procedures.

In March 2016 in China, a team of experienced doctors decided to build a full-sized model of the heart of a small baby born with a heart defect. Their aim was to pre-plan an extremely complicated surgery on the tiny heart. This was the first time someone used this method in China. The team of medical professionals successfully completed the surgery. The little boy survived with little to no lasting ill-effects.

In December 2016, in the United Arab Emirates doctors have used 3D printing technology for the first time to help safely remove a cancerous tumour from a 42-year-old woman’s kidney. With the help of the personalized, 3D printed aid the team was able to carefully plan the operation as well as to reduce the procedure by an entire hour!

The technology started to get a foothold also in medical education. To provide surgeons and students with an alternative to a living human being to work on, a pair of physicians at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have developed a way to use 3D printing to create artificial organs. They look, feel, and even bleed like the real thing. Truly amazing!

 

 

To widen the platform of available methods for effectively learning the tricks of the trade, Touch Surgery developed a simulation system. It is basically an app for practicing procedures ranging from heart surgery to carpal tunnel operations.

 

6) Live diagnostics

The intelligent surgical knife (iKnife) was developed by Zoltan Takats of Imperial College London. It works by using an old technology where an electrical current heats tissue to make incisions with minimal blood loss. With the iKnife, a mass spectrometer analyzes the vaporized smoke to detect the chemicals in the biological sample. This means it can identify whether the tissue is malignant real-time.

The technology is especially useful in detecting cancer in its early stages and thus shifting cancer treatment towards prevention.

 

Surgical iKnife - Future of Surgery

 

7) Artificial Intelligence will team up with surgical robotics

Catherine Mohr, vice president of strategy at Intuitive Surgical and expert in the field of surgical robotics believes surgery will take to the next level with the combination of surgical robotics and artificial intelligence. She is thrilled to see IBM Watson, Google Deepmind’s Alpha Go or machine learning algorithms to have a role in surgical procedures. She envisioned a tight partnership between humans and machines, with one making up for the weaknesses of the other.

In my view, AI such as the deep learning system, Enlitic, will soon be able to diagnose diseases and abnormalities. It will also give surgeons guidance over their – sometimes extremely – difficult surgical decisions.

Artificial Intelligence in Surgery - Future of Surgery

 

I agree with Dr. Mohr in as much as I truly believe the future of surgery, just as the future of medicine means a close cooperation between humans and medical technology. I also cannot stress enough times that robots and other products of the rapid technological development will not replace humans. The two will complement each other’s work in such a successful way that we had never seen nor dreamed about before. But only if we learn how. [The Medical Futurist]

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
Stem Cells Are Poised to Change Health and Medicine Forever


Image: Shutterstock.

 

We are at the cusp of a stem cell revolution.

 

Understanding and harnessing these unique cells may unlock breakthroughs in longevity and therapeutic solutions to all kinds of chronic diseases and regenerative opportunities.

Last month, I took a trip down to the Stem Cell Institute in Panama City with Dr. Bob Hariri (co-Founder of Human Longevity Inc.) to get stem cell injections in my knee and shoulder as an alternative to reconstructive surgery.

Aside from the injections, I had a chance to interview the directors of the institute, Dr. Jorge Paz Rodriguez and Dr. Neil Riordan, as well as Dr. Bob Hariri, to discuss the future of stem cell therapy.

In this post we will discuss:

  1. What are stem cells?
  2. Future of stem cell therapeutics
  3. Recent success stories with stem cells

What Are Stem Cells?

Stem cells are undifferentiated cells that can transform into specialized cells such as heart, neurons, liver, lung, skin and so on and can also divide to produce more stem cells.

In a child or young adult, these stem cells are in large supply, acting as a built-in repair system.

They are often summoned to the site of damage or inflammation to repair and restore normal function.

But as we age, our supply of stem cells begins to diminish as much as 100- to 10,000-fold in different tissues and organs.

In addition, stem cells undergo genetic mutations, which reduce their quality and effectiveness at renovating and repairing your body.

A useful analogy is to imagine your stem cells as a team of repairmen in your newly constructed mansion.

When the mansion is new and the repairmen are young, they can fix everything perfectly. But as the repairman age and reduce in number, your mansion eventually goes into disrepair and eventually crumbles.

But what if you could restore and rejuvenate your stem cell population?

One option is to extract and concentrate your own autologous adult stem cells from places like your adipose (or fat) tissue. But these stem cells are fewer in number and have undergone mutations from their original ‘software code.’

Many scientists and physicians now prefer an alternative source, obtaining stem cells from the placenta or umbilical cord, the leftovers of birth.

These stem cells, available in large supply and expressing the undamaged software of a newborn, can be injected into joints or administered intravenously to rejuvenate and revitalize.

One can think of these stem cells as chemical factories generating vital growth factors that can help to reduce inflammation, fight autoimmune disease, increase muscle mass, repair joints, and even revitalize skin and grow hair.

Future of Stem Cell Therapeutics

Over the last decade, the number of publications per year on stem cell-related research has increased 40x. The stem cell market is expected to reach $170 billion by 2020.

Rising R&D initiatives to develop therapeutic options for chronic diseases and growing demand for a regenerative treatment option are the most significant drivers of this budding industry.

Here are the top four areas in the space to watch:

1. Tissue engineering: Tissue engineering using the body’s own stem cells to repair, replace or augment diseased tissue is a rapidly evolving field. Patients with a variety of diseases may be treated with transplanted tissues and organs. However, we face a shortage of donor tissues and organs, which is worsening yearly because of the aging population. Scientists in the field of tissue engineering are applying the principles of cell transplantation, material science, and bioengineering to construct biological substitutes that will restore and maintain normal function in diseased and injured tissues. The stem cell field is also advancing rapidly, opening new options for cellular therapy and tissue engineering. Use of postnatal stem cells has the potential to significantly alter the perspective of tissue engineering.

2. Stem cell banking: “At your moment of birth, you are probably at the point of biological perfection,” says Dr. Bob Hariri. “Your system hasn’t been exposed to all of those injurious stimuli, like electromagnetic radiation, chemicals, etc., and your biological software is uncorrupted.” Stem cell banking allows us to capture stem cells with your original, uncorrupted DNA at birth, replicate them into a large number of future dosages and then freeze those doses. Hariri discovered that in addition to cord blood (the blood found in the umbilical cord of a newborn), the placenta of a newborn is an organ very rich in stem cells. Rather than discard the leftovers of birth, placentas, if saved, may hold the key to a longer and healthier life. Hariri created a business called LifebankUSA, which provides private cell banking (FYI, this is where we banked our children’s stem cells). Lifebank isolates, processes and cryopreserves cells (putting them into a deep freeze, about minus 180 degrees Celsius), keeping them in suspended animation at the most pristine state of their existence.

3. Clinical applications of MSCs: Mesenchymal stem cells, the major stem cells for cell therapy, have been used in the clinic for approximately 10 years. Currently, 344 registered clinical trials in different clinical trial phases are aimed at evaluating the potential of MSC-based cell therapy worldwide. From animal models to clinical trials, MSCs have afforded promise in the treatment of numerous diseases. The ability of MSCs to differentiate into osteoblasts, tenocytes and chondrocytes has attracted interest for their use in orthopedic settings. First, MSCs have been shown to be beneficial in treating bone disorders, such as osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) and hypophosphatasia. Other promising therapeutic avenues for MSCs include the treatment of autoimmune disease, cardiovascular disease, liver disease and cancer.

4. Parabiosis: A San Francisco-based startup called Ambrosia recently commenced one of the trials on parabiosis. Their protocol is simple: Healthy participants aged 35 and older get a transfusion of blood plasma from donors under 25, and researchers monitor their blood over the next two years for molecular indicators of health and aging. The study is patient-funded; participants, who range in age from late 30s through 80s, must pay $8,000 to take part, and live in or travel to Monterey for treatments and follow-up assessments. Ambrosia’s founder Jesse Karmazin became interested in launching a company around parabiosis after seeing impressive data from animals and studies conducted abroad in humans: In one trial after another, subjects experience a reversal of aging symptoms across every major organ system. “The effects seem to be almost permanent,” he says. “It’s almost like there’s a resetting of gene expression.” This company has recently received funding from Peter Thiel. Infusing your own cord blood stem cells as you age may have tremendous longevity benefits.

Recent Stem Cell Success Stories

Below are my top three stories demonstrating the incredible research and implications for stem cells over the past 12 months:

a) Stem Cells Able to Grow New Human Eyes: Biologists led by Kohji Nishida at Osaka University in Japan have discovered a new way to nurture and grow the tissues that make up the human eyeball. The scientists are able to grow retinas, corneas, the eye’s lens, and more using only a small sample of adult skin.

b) Stem Cell Injections Help Stroke Victims Walk Again: In a study out of Stanford, of 18 stroke victims who agreed to stem cells treatments, seven of them showed remarkable motor function improvements. This treatment could work for other neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

c) Stem Cells Help Paralyzed Victim Gain Use of Arms: Doctors from the USC Neurorestoration Center and Keck Medicine of USC injected stem cells into the damaged cervical spine of a recently paralyzed 21-year-old man. Three months later, he showed dramatic improvement in sensation and movement of both arms.

In Conclusion

As humans, we’ve just come to accept the notion that we are going to die.

However, the keys to our longevity and health may lie in our source code.

In the next two decades, stem cells are going to change medicine forever, extend life, and potentially save your life.

We truly live during the most exciting time ever in human history.

[SingularityHub]

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Algorithm Predicts What Happens Next in a Photo and Makes It Into a Video

Image Credit: MIT

 

Imagine if your favorite picture could automatically be converted into a short video and labeled. Sound like a fantasy? Maybe not for much longer.

Using a deep learning algorithm, MIT’s Carl Vondrick, Hamed Pirsiavash, and Antonio Torralba recently generated one second of predictive video based on a single still frame.

Called Scene Dynamics, the software has been taught with roughly two million unlabeled videos. After being fed a new image, the system runs two competing neural networks. The first generates the predictive video while the second discerns if the videos are real or fake. Beyond predicting an impressive number of frames based on assumed motion, the algorithm also classifies the specific action occurring. While clearly not perfect, the results are impressive already.

 

 

It’s notable the software learned from unlabeled videos. Deep learning programs are usually fed masses of meticulously labeled data (images, for example). This takes a lot of time and effort and limits learning to tailored experiences. The researchers hope their work will advance less laborious “unsupervised learning,” reducing the need for special data sets and allowing machines to learn from messier information.

Also, this isn’t the only project with the goal of predictive video.

Visual Dynamics is a similar project (also out of MIT) working to generate new frames of predictive video per source frame. The difference? Visual Dynamics predicts short snippets of what may theoretically happen next, while Scene Dynamics creates entirely new longer sequences of video that didn’t exist before. Also, Scene Dynamics can separate background from subjects and generate new content for each.

Predictive video from stills has a variety of immediate applications, most notably creating video “out of thin air.” And there might even be room for more creative endeavors down the road.

“I sort of fantasize about a machine creating a short movie or TV show,” lead author Carl Vondrick told Motherboard. “We’re generating just one second of video, but as we start scaling up maybe it can generate a few minutes of video where it actually tells a coherent story. We’re not near being able to do that, but I think we’re taking a first step.”

Beyond video creation, similar motion prediction capabilities might be integrated into computer vision systems, allowing robots to better guess how people and objects in front of them will move. Such powers might help them avoid damaging themselves or hurting others around them.

More speculatively, if software like this can predict motion, what else might it be trained to predict?

One possible use in the future could be predicting what blurry or distorted pixels in videos should look like if sharpened. Low-resolution, compressed, or artifact-laden video would then be automatically upgraded to high resolution.

According to the researchers, they also see use-cases for improved security tactics and self-driving technology. But the dark side of multimedia manipulation is clear too. We may eventually see it power propaganda or generate falsified evidence (assuming fakeness can’t be easily detected).

Thankfully, we still have quite a way to go before this concern is valid. But for better or worse, as media manipulation becomes more flexible and widespread, video as a medium will shift into something more fluid than static. Ultimately, how such technology is used will depend on the motivation of each user.

The code is already available on GitHub if anyone wants to start playing around today. And the original video data set is also available on the Scene Dynamics website. [SingularityHub]


 

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , ,
When the Worst Happens, These Amazing Robots Will Come to the Rescue

 

The attacks of September 11, 2001, will go down in American history for many reasons—the deaths of nearly 3,000 people chief among them.

A footnote in that particular history book is of interest to us here: 9/11 was the first time robots were used in a real search and rescue effort in the United States. That bit of unofficial history comes from Robin Murphy, director of the Center for Robot-Assisted Search and Rescue (CRASAR) at Texas A&M University, and a leading expert in the field.

In the 15 years since then, roboticists have designed all manner of machines to help mobilize rescue efforts or map disaster areas. There are small robots that can jump high and biobots—bug cyborgs—that can scurry through rubble. Some are humanoid-shaped, while others resemble small Mars rovers. A handful have been deployed into real-life scenarios, while many are still under development.

In the book Robotics for Future Presidents, Murphy emphasizes the role that robotics researchers play in disaster response: “Me and my colleagues are researchers in robotics, not disaster responders. Our job is to empower the responders with rescue robots that are easy to use and effective. Rescue robots don’t replace people or dogs. They go to places where people or dogs can’t go and assist responders in innovative ways.”

Debugging a disaster

One of the more recent innovations involves not strictly robots but cyborgs—and not of the two-legged variety.

Researchers at North Carolina State University have created insect cyborgs they can control remotely. Now they are betting the bugs will prove to be valuable cartographers with the assistance of an unmanned aerial vehicle or UAV.

Photo by Alper Bozkurt

“The idea would be to release a swarm of sensor-equipped biobots—such as remotely controlled cockroaches—into a collapsed building or other dangerous, unmapped area,” says Edgar Lobaton, an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at NC State, in a press release about two papers describing the work.

The technology developed by Lobaton and colleagues would allow the biobots to move freely within range of a beacon carried aboard a UAV. Radio signals from the biobots are fed into a program that translates the sensor data from their movements into a map of the environment in which the bugs were released.

Lobaton’s work focused on the development of algorithms for mapping using multiple biobots. He says by email that one of the biggest challenges is that typical strategies for determining position, such as GPS or visual sensors, are not well-suited for the biobot swarm.

“This is why we had to develop a new methodology that only depends on weak localization information between the agents,” he says, referring to the insect cyborgs. “In particular, we only use encounter information between them whenever they get within a specific range of each other. This led to the development of a new framework to manage this type of scenario.”

The article on the framework for developing local maps and stitching them together was published in Robotics and Autonomous Systems. A second article on the theory of mapping based on mobile sensors’ proximity to each other was published in IEEE Transactions on Signal and Information Processing over Networks.

Jumping over disaster

Duncan Haldane at the University California, Berkeley, developed the world’s highest-jumping untethered robot, modeled on the galago, a nocturnal primate in Africa known for its amazing vertical leap. A visit to a FEMA search and rescue training site inspired the robot, nicknamed SALTO (saltatorial locomotion on terrain obstacles), which is capable of a standing jump up to one meter.

“After seeing how challenging it would be to move rapidly across an urban disaster site, I wanted to figure out some new strategies for robots of any scale that would enable that motion,” says Haldane, whose work recently appeared in the inaugural issue of Science Robotics.


 

Biology was his guide: specialized jumpers have a “super-crouch posture, a leg configuration that allows them to stay down for longer, letting their muscles store energy in their stretchy tendons, which is later released to produce high-power jumps,” he says.

“We built a single degree for freedom leg mechanism that uses this idea—new to robotics—and showed that we can produce 2.94 times more jumping power than would have been possible without the leg mechanism,” he explains by email. “Building the leg was hard, and we actually developed new methods for designing linkages to do it.”

Walking toward disaster

Researchers from other parts of the world are developing other types of robots with search and rescue in mind.

For example, a team of Italian researchers is developing Walk-Man. It’s not a retro version of the now-obsolete portable music player, but a nearly two-meter-tall robot meant to be a full-fledged member of a SAR team.

Euronews reported that Walk-Man has joints and motions similar to a human body, with hands capable of powerful manipulations. It is reportedly fitted with a stereo vision system and a rotating 3D-laser scanner. Like Haldane, Italian scientists took some clues from nature.

“Many principles that exist in biology have given us inspiration on how [we could design] a robot,” research engineer Ioannis Sarakoglou tells Euronews, explaining that Walk-Man relies largely on gravity rather than energy to move.

Coming to the rescue

Walk-Man, biobots and Salto may represent the future of rescue robots, but the typical machines used in disaster response today are unmanned aerial, land and marine vehicles—modestly sized robots that provide vital information about places emergency responders can’t immediately reach or assess easily.

In a TEDWomen talk, Murphy says if you can reduce the response to a disaster by one day, you can reduce the overall recovery time by 1,000 days.

“Ground, aerial and marine systems are becoming commonplace for different types of disasters,” Murphy says.

 

Murphy’s teams and their robots have responded to nearly 50 disasters in a dozen countries since 9/11, including Hurricane Katrina and the Crandall Canyon Utah mine collapse. Hurricane Katrina was the first time an unmanned aerial vehicle was used in disaster response. Now UAVs are a key tool for responders needing to get a bird’s eye view of a disaster scene.

Through CRASAR at Texas A&M, Murphy also leads the volunteer search-and-rescue group Roboticists Without Borders. The organization, in part, matches professionals in the use of ground, aerial or marine robots with agencies around the world that are responding to disasters. Roboticists Without Borders covers expenses for up to 10 days for each incident.

The hope, Murphy says, is to accelerate the adoption and improve the use of robots in disasters through RWB. The goal would be to put Roboticists Without Borders out of business by 2025, she adds.

“Robots can make a disaster go away faster,” Murphy says. “Look for the robots, because robots are coming to the rescue.” [SingularityHub]

January 18, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , ,
Semiconducting nanonetwork could form the backbone of transparent, flexible electronics

Researchers may have found a “sweet spot” for organic electronics by fabricating a new 2D semiconducting polymer-blended nanonetwork material that simultaneously achieves excellent charge mobility, high flexibility, and nearly 100% optical transparency—a combination of properties that has so far been elusive for semiconducting materials. According to the researchers, the nanonetwork is the first truly colorless, bendable semiconducting material, as demonstrated by the fabrication of field-effect transistors with integrated LEDs.

The researchers, led by Kwanghee Lee, a professor at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, have published a paper on the new material in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

“So far, there has been no semiconducting material that simultaneously achieves excellent optical transparency, high charge-carrier mobility, and real flexibility,” coauthor Kilho Yu at the Gwangju Institute of Science and Technology told Phys.org. “Metal oxides, such as ZnO and IGZO, have excellent transparency and high mobility, but they are brittle and show poor mobility if not treated with high-temperature (>200 °C) processes, which are not desirable for fabrication on flexible substrates. General semiconducting polymers are flexible, but show poor mobility without complex processes and are not very transparent because of their high optical absorption coefficient.”

The new polymer blend consists of about 15% semiconducting polymer called DPP2T integrated into an inert polystyrene matrix. The two types of polymers do not mix uniformly, but instead the DPP2T forms a web-like nanonetwork through the inert matrix, creating highly ordered, continuously connected charge pathways for rapid charge transport.

So far, transparency has been particularly challenging to achieve in semiconducting polymers because of their inherently high light absorption in the visible range. DPP2T belongs to a newer class of semiconducting polymers in which the light absorption peak is red-shifted to the near-infrared range, so it absorbs much less light in the visible range and has greater optical transparency.

However, DPP2T by itself still has a greenish tint. Only by blending the DPP2T with the polystyrene matrix could the researchers fabricate a material that is almost perfectly transparent throughout the visible range.

In the final analysis, the researchers showed that the individual materials in the polymer blend cannot achieve all three of the desired properties on their own, but only when blended together.

To demonstrate, the researchers fabricated prototypes of colorless, bendable field-effect transistors integrated on top of colorless, bendable light-emitting diodes. The devices could withstand 1,000 bending cycles with no severe performance degradation.

 

 Field-effect transistors integrated with LEDs, showing transparency and flexibility. Credit: Yu et al. ©2016 PNAS 

 

“The nanonetwork semiconductor can be made very easily and is solution-processable, and it needs no heat treatment or any other complex processes,” Yu said. “It simultaneously achieves excellent characteristics for future transparent, deformable electronic applications. The applicability of the nanonetwork semiconductor was proven by the fabrication drive of prototype FET/OLED integrated devices. In the paper, we also have shown a new paradigm for achieving facile charge transport in semiconducting polymers, which emphasizes the importance of clean charge pathways along the polymer backbone, rather than the degree of crystallinity of the polymer.”

The researchers expect that the results will pave the way for the development of a wide variety of applications, such as next-generation “see-through” bendable electronics and skin-attachable medical devices.

“We are currently investigating the intriguing charge transport mechanism of the nanonetwork semiconductor using various experimental tools and modeling,” Yu said. “In addition, we are applying this nanonetwork semiconductor toward various electronic applications, in order to make it a platform technology for deformable and transparent electronics.”

More information: Kilho Yu et al. “Optically transparent semiconducting polymer nanonetwork for flexible and transparent electronics.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1606947113 

[Phys/org]

January 15, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , ,
A Woman in Nevada Died from an Unstoppable Superbug

 

Her death is a reminder that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are getting worse, even as they garner little attention.

 

A strain of bacteria resistant to 26 different antibiotics killed a woman in Nevada, a stark warning that humanity continues to lose ground in the fight against antibiotic resistance.

The woman, who was in her 70s and appears to have acquired the infection in India after she broke her leg, died in September, but a report on her case was just published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.India is known to have more antibiotic-resistant bacteria in the environment than the U.S., in part because poor sanitation and water quality leads people to take hundreds of millions of courses of antibiotics each year for diarrhea. This gives the bugs ample opportunity to develop defenses against the drugs.

But the threat is global. A report issued last year by the U.K. government argued that if measures aren’t taken to stem the rising tide of antibiotic resistance, 10 million people a year could be dying from superbugs by 2050—more than currently die from cancer.

Many doctors say the crisis is already under way. The director of the CDC, Tom Frieden, has called the broad class of superbugs known as CRE (for carbapenem-resistant enterobacteriaceae) “nightmare bacteria.” The bacteria that killed the woman in Nevada was a kind of CRE known as Klebsiella pneumoniae.

STAT spoke with James Johnson, a doctor at the University of Minnesota who studies infectious disease. He offered an even more dire appraisal of the situation. “People have asked me many times, How scared should we be? … How close are we to the edge of the cliff? And I tell them: We’re already falling off the cliff,” he said.

One of the main reasons for this is that developing new antibiotics is not a good way for drug companies to make money. The U.K. government’s report addressed that issue, suggesting that it would be well worth it to spend public funds on paying firms to come up with new compounds to fight superbugs—but the plan has yet to be implemented.

January 15, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , ,
Welcome to the new internet | Muneeb Ali | TEDxNewYork

 

We use the internet everyday, traveling from one website to the next, but most of us don’t know what happens to our data as we sign in and out of different sites. Blockstack Inc cofounder Muneeb Ali introduces his new web browser, which eliminates the middlemen and puts the power of the web back into our own hands.

Muneeb Ali is a computer scientist building a fairer internet with new ways for users to own their own data. He is the cofounder of the open-source software start-up Blockstack Inc.

January 15, 2017 / by / in , , , , , , , , , ,
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