Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category


Paraplegic Adam Fritz works out with Kristen Johnson, a spinal cord injury recovery specialist, at the Project Walk facility in Claremont, California on September 24. A brain-to-computer technology that can translate thoughts into leg movements has enabled Fritz, paralyzed from the waist down by a spinal cord injury, to become the first such patient to walk without the use of robotics.

It’s a technology that sounds lifted from the latest Marvel movie—a brain-computer interface functional electrical stimulation (BCI-FES) system that enables paralyzed users to walk again. But thanks to neurologists, biomedical engineers and other scientists at the University of California, Irvine, it’s very much a reality, though admittedly with only one successful test subject so far.

The team, led by Zoran Nenadic and An H. Do, built a device that translates brain waves into electrical signals than can bypass the damaged region of a paraplegic’s spine and go directly to the muscles, stimulating them to move. To test it, they recruited 28-year-old Adam Fritz, who had lost the use of his legs five years earlier in a motorcycle accident.

Fritz first had to learn how exactly he’d been telling his legs to move for all those years before his accident. The research team fitted him with an electroencephalogram (EEG) cap that read his brain waves as he visualized moving an avatar in a virtual reality environment. After hours training on the video game, he eventually figured out how to signal “walk.”

The next step was to transfer that newfound skill to his legs. The scientists wired up the EEG device so that it would send electrical signals to the muscles in Fritz’s leg. And then, along with physical therapy to strengthen his legs, he would practice walking—his legs suspended a few inches off the ground—using only his brain (and, of course, the device). On his 20th visit, Fritz was finally able to walk using a harness that supported his body weight and prevented him from falling. After a little more practice, he walked using just the BCI-FES system. After 30 trials run over a period of 19 weeks, he could successfully walk through a 12-foot-long course.

As encouraging as the trial sounds, there are experts who suggest the design has limitations. “It appears that the brain EEG signal only contributed a walk or stop command,” says Dr. Chet Moritz, an associate professor of rehab medicine, physiology and biophysics at the University of Washington. “This binary signal could easily be provided by the user using a sip-puff straw, eye-blink device or many other more reliable means of communicating a simple ‘switch.’”

Moritz believes it’s unlikely that an EEG alone would be reliable enough to extract any more specific input from the brain while the test subject is walking. In other words, it might not be able to do much more beyond beginning and ending a simple motion like moving your legs forward—not so helpful in stepping over curbs or turning a corner in a hallway.

The UC Irvine team hopes to improve the capability of its technology. A simplified version of the system has the potential to work as a means of noninvasive rehabilitation for a wide range of paralytic conditions, from less severe spinal cord injuries to stroke and multiple sclerosis.

“Once we’ve confirmed the usability of this noninvasive system, we can look into invasive means, such as brain implants,” said Nenadic in a statement announcing the project’s success. “We hope that an implant could achieve an even greater level of prosthesis control because brain waves are recorded with higher quality. In addition, such an implant could deliver sensation back to the brain, enabling the user to feel their legs.

http://www.newsweek.com/paralyzed-man-walks-again-using-only-his-mind-379531

The frame on the $500 Yerka bicycle forms a steadfast lock around any tree, pole, or bike rack. To steal it, thieves would need to saw through the frame itself, rendering the bike worthless.

google

Google’s new image-recognition program misfired badly this week by identifying two black people as gorillas, delivering a mortifying reminder that even the most intelligent machines still have lot to learn about human sensitivity.

The blunder surfaced in a smartphone screen shot posted online Sunday by a New York man on his Twitter account, @jackyalcine. The images showed the recently released Google Photos app had sorted a picture of two black people into a category labeled as “gorillas.”

The accountholder used a profanity while expressing his dismay about the app likening his friend to an ape, a comparison widely regarded as a racial slur when applied to a black person.

“We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened,” Google spokeswoman Katie Watson said. “We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing.”

A tweet to @jackyalcine requesting an interview hadn’t received a response several hours after it was sent Thursday.

Despite Google’s apology, the gaffe threatens to cast the Internet company in an unflattering light at a time when it and its Silicon Valley peers have already been fending off accusations of discriminatory hiring practices. Those perceptions have been fed by the composition of most technology companies’ workforces, which mostly consist of whites and Asians with a paltry few blacks and Hispanics sprinkled in.

The mix-up also surfaced amid rising U.S. racial tensions that have been fueled by recent police killings of blacks and last month’s murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

Google’s error underscores the pitfalls of relying on machines to handle tedious tasks that people have typically handled in the past. In this case, the Google Photo app released in late May uses recognition software to analyze images in pictures to sort them into a variety of categories, including places, names, activities and animals.

When the app came out, Google executives warned it probably wouldn’t get everything right — a point that has now been hammered home. Besides mistaking humans for gorillas, the app also has been mocked for labeling some people as seals and some dogs as horses.

“There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling,” Watson conceded.

Some commentators in social media, though, wondered if the flaws in Google’s automatic-recognition software may have stemmed on its reliance on white and Asian engineers who might not be sensitive to labels that would offend black people. About 94 percent of Google’s technology workers are white or Asian and just 1 percent is black, according to the company’s latest diversity disclosures.

Google isn’t the only company still trying to work out the bugs in its image-recognition technology.

Shortly after Yahoo’s Flickr introduced an automated service for tagging photos in May, it fielded complaints about identifying black people as “apes” and “animals.” Flickr also mistakenly identified a Nazi concentration camp as a “jungle gym.”

Google reacted swiftly to the mess created by its machines, long before the media began writing about it.

Less than two hours after @jackyalcine posted his outrage over the gorilla label, one of Google’s top engineers had posted a response seeking access to his account to determine what went wrong. Yonatan Zunger, chief architect of Google’s social products, later tweeted: “Sheesh. High on my list of bugs you never want to see happen. Shudder.”

http://bigstory.ap.org/urn:publicid:ap.org:b31f3b75b35a4797bb5db3a987a62eb2

Technology could lead to the transformation of clothes, cars, buildings and even billboards.

Chameleons are one of the few animals in the world capable of changing their color at will. Scientists have only recently figured out how these shifty creatures perform their kaleidoscopic act, and now they have developed a synthetic material that can mimic the color-changing ability of chameleon skin, reports Gizmodo.

Though it may seem magical, the chameleon’s trick is quite simple. It turns out that chameleons have a layer of nanocrystals in their skin cells that can reflect light at different wavelengths depending on their spacing. So when the skin is relaxed, it takes on one color. But when it stretches, the color changes. Chameleons merely need to flex their skin in subtle ways to alter their appearance.

Learning to mimic this animal’s ability could lead to more than just new forms of advanced camouflage. Imagine if you could change the color of your wardrobe instantly, or if your car could get a new “paint job” at any time. Buildings lined with synthetic chameleon skin could alter their appearance in moments without architectural changes, or billboards could flash new messages at the drop of a hat.

All of these technologies could now be just around the corner thanks to the development of “flexible photonic metastructures for tunable coloration” that essentially work like artificial chameleon skin.

Basically, the material involves tiny rows of ridges that are etched onto a silicon film a thousand times thinner than a human hair. Each of these ridges reflects a specific wavelength of light, so it’s possible to finely tune the wavelength of light that is reflected by simply manipulating the spacing between the ridges.

The technology does not yet have a direct commercial application — it’s still in the beginning stages — but it may not be long before chameleon-like surfaces cover everything around us. More can be read about the technology in the journal Optica, where the new research was published.

Read more: http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/stories/new-synthetic-chameleon-skin-could-lead-to-instant-wardrobe#ixzz3VoTTwf8P

In 1946, a new advertising campaign appeared in magazines with a picture of a doctor in a lab coat holding a cigarette and the slogan, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” No, this wasn’t a spoof. Back then, doctors were not aware that smoking could cause cancer, heart disease and lung disease.

In a similar vein, some researchers and consumers are now asking whether wearable computers will be considered harmful in several decades’ time.

We have long suspected that cellphones, which give off low levels of radiation, could lead to brain tumors, cancer, disturbed blood rhythms and other health problems if held too close to the body for extended periods.

Yet here we are in 2015, with companies like Apple and Samsung encouraging us to buy gadgets that we should attach to our bodies all day long.

While there is no definitive research on the health effects of wearable computers (the Apple Watch isn’t even on store shelves yet), we can hypothesize a bit from existing research on cellphone radiation.

The most definitive and arguably unbiased results in this area come from the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a panel within the World Health Organization that consisted of 31 scientists from 14 countries.

After dissecting dozens of peer-reviewed studies on cellphone safety, the panel concluded in 2011 that cellphones were “possibly carcinogenic” and that the devices could be as harmful as certain dry-cleaning chemicals and pesticides. (Note that the group hedged its findings with the word “possibly.”)

The W.H.O. panel concluded that the farther away a device is from one’s head, the less harmful — so texting or surfing the Web will not be as dangerous as making calls, with a cellphone inches from the brain. (This is why there were serious concerns about Google Glass when it was first announced and why we’ve been told to use hands-free devices when talking on cellphones.)

A longitudinal study conducted by a group of European researchers and led by Dr. Lennart Hardell, a professor of oncology and cancer epidemiology at Orebro University Hospital in Sweden, concluded that talking on a mobile or cordless phone for extended periods could triple the risk of a certain kind of brain cancer.

There is, of course, antithetical research. But some of this was partly funded by cellphone companies or trade groups.

One example is the international Interphone study, which was published in 2010 and did not find strong links between mobile phones and an increased risk of brain tumors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded in 2014 that “more research is needed before we know if using cell phones causes health effects.”

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Another study, in The BMJ, which measured cellphone subscription data rather than actual use, said there was no proof of increased cancer. Yet even here, the Danish team behind the report acknowledged that a “small to moderate increase” in cancer risk among heavy cellphone users could not be ruled out.

But what does all this research tell the Apple faithful who want to rush out and buy an Apple Watch, or the Google and Windows fanatics who are eager to own an alternative smartwatch?

Dr. Joseph Mercola, a physician who focuses on alternative medicine and has written extensively about the potential harmful effects of cellphones on the human body, said that as long as a wearable does not have a 3G connection built into it, the harmful effects are minimal, if any.

“The radiation really comes from the 3G connection on a cellphone, so devices like the Jawbone Up and Apple Watch should be O.K.,” Dr. Mercola said in a phone interview. “But if you’re buying a watch with a cellular chip built in, then you’ve got a cellphone attached to your wrist.” And that, he said, is a bad idea.

(The Apple Watch uses Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to receive data, and researchers say there is no proven harm from those frequencies on the human body. Wearables with 3G or 4G connections built in, including the Samsung Gear S, could be more harmful, though that has not been proved. Apple declined to comment for this article, and Samsung could not be reached for comment.)

Researchers have also raised concerns about having powerful batteries so close to the body for extended periods of time. Some reports over the last several decades have questioned whether being too close to power lines could cause leukemia (though other research has also negated this).

So what should consumers do? Perhaps we can look at how researchers themselves handle their smartphones.

While Dr. Mercola is a vocal proponent of cellphone safety, he told me to call him on his cell when I emailed about an interview. When I asked him whether he was being hypocritical, he replied that technology is a fact of life, and that he uses it with caution. As an example, he said he was using a Bluetooth headset during our call.

In the same respect, people who are concerned about the possible side effects of a smartwatch should avoid placing it close to their brain (besides, it looks a little strange). But there are some people who may be more vulnerable to the dangers of these devices: children.

While researchers debate about how harmful cellphones and wearable computers actually are, most agree that children should exercise caution.

Continue reading the main story
In an email, Dr. Hardell sent me research illustrating that a child’s skull is thinner and smaller than an adult’s, which means that children’s brain tissues are more exposed to certain types of radiation, specifically the kind that emanates from a cellphone.

Children should limit how much time they spend talking on a cellphone, doctors say. And if they have a wearable device, they should take it off at night so it does not end up under their pillow, near their brain. Doctors also warn that women who are pregnant should be extra careful with all of these technologies.

But what about adults? After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.

That being said, when it comes to wearable computers, I’ll still buy the Apple Watch, but I won’t let it go anywhere near my head. And I definitely won’t let any children I know play with it for extended periods of time.While researchers debate about how harmful cellphones and wearable computers actually are, most agree that children should exercise caution.

In an email, Dr. Hardell sent me research illustrating that a child’s skull is thinner and smaller than an adult’s, which means that children’s brain tissues are more exposed to certain types of radiation, specifically the kind that emanates from a cellphone.

Children should limit how much time they spend talking on a cellphone, doctors say. And if they have a wearable device, they should take it off at night so it does not end up under their pillow, near their brain. Doctors also warn that women who are pregnant should be extra careful with all of these technologies.

But what about adults? After researching this column, talking to experts and poring over dozens of scientific papers, I have realized the dangers of cellphones when used for extended periods, and as a result I have stopped holding my phone next to my head and instead use a headset.

That being said, when it comes to wearable computers, I’ll still buy the Apple Watch, but I won’t let it go anywhere near my head. And I definitely won’t let any children I know play with it for extended periods of time.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/19/style/could-wearable-computers-be-as-harmful-as-cigarettes.html?_r=0

By Peter Shadbolt, for CNN

How long will the data last in your hard-drive or USB stick? Five years? 10 years? Longer?

Already a storage company called Backblaze is running 25,000 hard drives simultaneously to get to the bottom of the question. As each hard drive coughs its last, the company replaces it and logs its lifespan.

While this census has only been running five years, the statistics show a 22% attrition rate over four years.

Some may last longer than a decade, the company says, others may last little more than a year; but the short answer is that storage devices don’t last forever.

Science is now looking to nature, however, to find the best way to store data in a way that will make it last for millions of years.

Researchers at ETH Zurich, in Switzerland, believe the answer may lie in the data storage system that exists in every living cell: DNA.

So compact and complex are its strands that just 1 gram of DNA is theoretically capable of containing all the data of internet giants such as Google and Facebook, with room to spare.

In data storage terms, that gram would be capable of holding 455 exabytes, where one exabyte is equivalent to a billion gigabytes.

Fossilization has been known to preserve DNA in strands long enough to gain an animal’s entire genome — the complete set of genes present in a cell or organism.

So far, scientists have extracted and sequenced the genome of a 110,000-year-old polar bear and more recently a 700,000-year-old horse.

Robert Grass, lecturer at the Department of Chemistry and Applied Biosciences, said the problem with DNA is that it degrades quickly. The project, he said, wanted to find ways of combining the possibility of the large storage density in DNA with the stability of the DNA found in fossils.

“We have found elegant ways of making DNA very stable,” he told CNN. “So we wanted to combine these two stories — to get the high storage density of DNA and combine it with the archaeological aspects of DNA.”

The synthetic process of preserving DNA actually mimics processes found in nature.

As with fossils, keeping the DNA cool, dry and encased — in this case, with microscopic spheres of glass – could keep the information contained in its strands intact for thousands of years.

“The time limit with DNA in fossils is about 700,000 years but people speculate about finding one-million-year storage of genomic material in fossil bones,” he said.

“We were able to show that decay of our DNA and store of information decays at the same rate as the fossil DNA so we get to similar time frames of close to a million years.”

Fresh fossil discoveries are throwing up new surprises about the preservation of DNA.

Human bones discovered in the Sima de los Huesos cave network in Spain show maternally inherited “mitochondrial” DNA that is 400,000 years old – a new record for human remains.

The fact that the DNA survived in the relatively cool climate of a cave — rather than in a frozen environment as with the DNA extracted from mammoth remains in Siberia – has added to the mystery about DNA longevity.

“A lot of it is not really known,” Grass says. “What we’re trying to understand is how DNA decays and what the mechanisms are to get more insight into that.”

What is known is that water and oxygen are the enemy of DNA survival. DNA in a test tube and exposed to air will last little more than two to three years. Encasing it in glass — an inert, neutral agent – and cooling it increases its chances of survival.

Grass says sol-gel technology, which produces solid materials from small molecules, has made it a relatively easy process to get the glass around the DNA molecules.

While the team’s work invites immediate comparison with Jurassic Park, where DNA was extracted from amber fossils, Grass says that prehistoric insects encased in amber are a poor source of prehistoric DNA.

“The best DNA comes from sources that are ceramic and dry — so teeth, bones and even eggshells,” he said.

So far the team has tested their storage method by preserving just 83 kilobytes of data.

“The first is the Swiss Federal Charter of 1291 — it’s like the Swiss Magna Carta — and the other was the Archimedes Palimpsest; a copy of an Ancient Greek mathematics treatise made by a monk in the 10th century but which had been overwritten by other monks in the 15th century.

“We wanted to preserve these documents to show not just that the method works, but that the method is important too,” he said.

He estimates that the information will be readable in 10,000 years’ time, and if frozen, as long as a million years.

The cost of encoding just 83Kb of data cost about $2,000, making it a relatively expensive process, but Grass is optimistic that price will come down over time. Advances in technology for medical analysis, he said, are likely to help with this.

“Already the prices for human genome sequences have dropped from several millions of dollars a few years ago to just hundreds of dollars now,” Grass said.

“It makes sense to integrate these advances in medical and genome analysis into the world of IT.”

http://www.cnn.com/2015/02/25/tech/make-create-innovate-fossil-dna-data-storage/index.html?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+rss%2Fcnn_latest+%28RSS%3A+Most+Recent%29

Water often damages metals, causing rust, wear and decay.

Thanks to an innovative laser process, however, metal is getting its revenge.

University of Rochester scientists Chunlei Guo and Anatoliy Vorobyev have developed a technique using extremely precise laser patterns that renders metals superhydrophobic: in other words, incredibly water-repellent.

Imagine a much more powerful Teflon — except that Guo and Vorobyev’s material isn’t a coating but part of the metal itself. Water actually bounces off the surface and rolls away.

The possibilities are many, Guo says. Kitchenware, of course. Airplanes: No more worrying about de-icing, because water won’t be able to freeze on aircraft in the first place.

And sanitation in poor countries, an idea close to the heart of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which helped fund the project. Thanks to the surface’s repellent properties, it’s essentially self-cleaning.

Ironically, Guo was inspired by a project in which he and a team treated a variety of materials to make them superhydrophilic — that is, water-attracting.

“We worked with a variety of materials — not just metal but semiconductors, glass, other things,” he said. Even on a vertical surface, “the effect was very strong. If I drop a drop of water on the bottom of this surface, it would actually shoot up against gravity, uphill. So that really motivated us to look into this reverse process.”

In their paper, the two compared the surface to that of a lotus leaf, which has “a hierarchical structure containing a larger micro-scale structure” and is superhydrophobic.

“Our structure sort of mimics, in some way, this natural (arrangement) of the lotus leaf,” Guo said.

And like the lotus leaf, because the laser-patterned metal is so water-repellent, it has self-cleaning properties. In an experiment, Guo dumped some household dust from a vacuum cleaner on a treated surface. Just a few drops of water collected the dust, and the metal remained dry.

In their work, the scientists used platinum, titanium and brass as sample metals, but Guo says he believes it could work for a wide variety of metals — not to mention other substances.

The process is still very much of the lab. It took the scientists an hour to treat a 1-inch-by-1-inch sample and required extremely short bursts of the laser lasting a femtosecond, or a millionth of a billionth of a second.

But Guo is optimistic about ramping up the process for industrial use, and he says the goal for the sanitation project is to “really push the technology out” in the next two or three years.

And then?

“I do believe down the line we will be able to make it accessible to everyday life,” he said.

Watch out, water.

The scientists’ paper was published in the Journal of Applied Physics. The project was also funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research.

http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/22/us/feat-metal-repels-water-rochester/index.html