The Future of Tanks: Ground X and Scout Specialist Vehicles

hybrid_IFVfleetAs armies continue to modernize, the challenge of creating new fighting vehicles that withstand the latest in battlefield conditions, and at the same time be more cost-effective, is a constant. And, as the latest announcements made by DARPA and General Dynamics over the course of the summer can attest, its been known to produce some pretty interesting and innovate design concepts.

Known as the Ground X-Vehicle Technology (or GXV-T for short) the aim of this DARPA-funded program is to develop a lighter, more agile successors to the tank. Whereas tanks in the past have always responded to the development of more and better anti-tank weapons with heavier more elaborate armor, the focus of the GXV-T will be on protection that does not result in yet another bigger, badder, and way more expensive tank.

MBT_muzzleBeginning in 1917, the development of the tank led to a revolution is modern warfare, which has led to an ongoing arms race ever since. In just the last half-century, the guns used to take out tanks have been joined by rockets, guided missiles, and high-tech rounds designed to penetrate the thickest steel. Tank designers have responded with composite armor, reactive armor, and even electric countermeasures to detonate warheads before they make contact.

The result of this is a spiral of larger weapons, leading to larger tanks, leading to larger weapons until the mainline tanks of today have become behemoths so large that they are difficult to deploy, very expensive and can only be used in certain environments. To prevent this, DARPA wants to not just produce a more advanced tank, but one that moves away from relying so heavily on armor for survival.

gxv-t-6The GXV-T is intended to pursue technologies that move away from armor with the goal of making tanks 50 percent smaller, with crews half their present size, able to move at double the present speed, make them capable of operating over 95 percent of the terrain, and make them harder to detect and engage. As Kevin Massey, DARPA program manager, explained:

GXV-T’s goal is not just to improve or replace one particular vehicle – it’s about breaking the ‘more armor’ paradigm and revolutionizing protection for all armored fighting vehicles. Inspired by how X-plane programs have improved aircraft capabilities over the past 60 years, we plan to pursue groundbreaking fundamental research and development to help make future armored fighting vehicles significantly more mobile, effective, safe and affordable.

What this amounts to is finding ways to build tanks that can move around the battlefield like off-road vehicles, can dodge incoming fire rather than taking it, reposition its armor to its most effective angle, provide the crews with full situational awareness similar to that afforded fighter pilots, and make them stealthy against both infrared and electromagnetic detection.

gxv-t-5To achieve this, DARPA is soliciting new concepts and new technologies for designers. As you can see from the concept art above, some ideas have already been floated, but they remain very much in the design stage for now. The agency says that it hopes to see new GVX-T technologies emerge two years after the first contracts – which are slated to be awarded in April next year – with the hopes that the new technologies can be fast-tracked into demonstrators.

Meanwhile, General Dynamics is busy producing what will amount to the next-generation of armored vehicles. As part of a contract with the British Ministry of Defence (MoD), the company has been contracted to deliver 589 light-armor Scout Specialist Vehicles (SV) to the Army between 2017 and 2024. The tracked, medium-weight armored vehicle is designed to provide state-of-the-art, best-in-class protection for its crews.

gd-british-army-tank-5The Scout SV is intended to fill an important role in the British Army’s Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. The Scout comes in six variants based on a common platform with shared mobility, electronics, and survivability systems, has an open electronic architecture, a modular armor system, and places emphasis on the ability to upgrade in order to incorporate new technology and meet new threats.

The Scout variants include Reconnaissance, Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support (PMRS), Command and Control, Engineering Reconnaissance, Repair, and Recovery. According to General Dynamics, these are designed to provide the basics of protection, survivability, reliability, mobility and all-weather ISTAR capabilities for a wide range of extended military operations at a reduced cost.

gd-british-army-tank-3The Scout’s main armament in its turret-mounted 40-mm cannon, but it also comes equipped with acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route-marking system, and a high-performance power pack. The announced contract also includes the provision of support and training by General Dynamics for the delivered vehicles.

The deal represents the single biggest contract for armored vehicles that the British Army has signed since the 1980s. It also comes on the eve of a NATO Summit, and at a time when Britain is contemplating the future of its forces as it prepares for future operations similar to what it experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these cases, the warfare was unconventional and prolonged, requiring a whole set of strategies.

gd-british-army-tank-0As British Prime Minister David Cameron declared when speaking of the deal:

With the second largest defence budget in NATO, meeting NATO’s two per cent of GDP spending target and investing in new capabilities to deal with the emerging threats we are ensuring Britain’s national security, staying at the forefront of the global race and providing leadership within NATO.

As the saying goes: “necessity is the mother of invention”. Well, there is nothing more necessary in war than making machines that are practical, effective, and not cost the taxpayers an arm and a leg. Between dwindling budgets, improved technology, and the fact that future operations are likely to take place in war-torn and impoverished areas, the race to build a weapon-system that can handle it all is sure to be both interesting and productive!

Sources: gizmag.com, (2)

The Future of Naval Warfare: Supersonic Submarines

Chinese_subsResearchers in China are reporting that they’ve taken a big step towards creating a truly revolutionary submarine. For years, the nation has been dedicated to the expansion of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) Submarine Force. That latest announcement in this plan is the intended development of supersonic submarines. And if feasible, it could a sub to travel from Shanghai to San Francisco a distance of about 9650 km (6,000 miles) – in just 100 minutes.

The research behind this proposed development comes from the Harbin Institute of Technology’s Complex Flow and Heat Transfer Lab, where researchers are applying a concept known as supercavitation. Originally conceived by the Soviets in the ’60s to create high-speed torpedoes, the Harbin researchers are looking to take things to the next level by applying it to a much larger sea-faring vessel.

https://i0.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/supercavitation-diagram.jpgAs is commonly known, objects moving through water have a harder time than those moving through air. While automobiles are only able to travel so fast before succumbing to wind resistance (aka. drag), surface ships and submarines must content with fluid-dynamics, which are much more tricky. Compared to air, water is far more dense and viscous, which means more energy is required to get up to a certain speed.

Even the most modern and advanced nuclear submarine cannot travel much faster than 40 knots (74 kph/46 mph), and the same applies to torpedoes. Higher speeds are possible, but would require so much power to make it impractical. That’s where supercavitation comes into play, a technique devised with the explicit purpose of creating high-speed torpedoes during the Cold War.

Shkval_headThis technique gets around the drag of water by creating a bubble of gas for the object to travel through. In the hands of the Soviet’s, the research resulted in the Shkval torpedo, which uses a special nose cone to create the supercavitation envelope that allows it to travel through the water at speeds of up to 200 knots (370 kph/230 mph) – much, much faster than the standard torpedoes fielded by the US.

The only other countries with supercavitational weapons are Iran – which most likely reverse-engineered the Russian Shkval – and Germany, the creators of the Superkavitierender Unterwasserlaufkörper (“supercavitating underwater running body”). The US is researching its own supercavitational torpedo, but there’s very little public information available. Meanwhile, China is not only looking to create supercavitating torpedoes, but an underwater vessel.

supercavitational-torpedo-techUnlike previous designs, which had to be launched at speeds of 95 km (60 mph) to create a supercavitation bubble, the method described by the Harbin researchers uses a “special liquid membrane” to reduce friction at low speeds. This liquid is showered over the object to replenish the membrane as it’s worn off by the passage of water, and once the object gets up to speed, it would theoretically use the same nose-cone technique to achieve supercavitation.

In theory, supercavitation could allow for speeds up to the speed of sound — which underwater is 5343 kph (3,320 mph) – which would allow a sub to go from Shanghai to San Francisco in well under two hours. For any nation with a nuclear arsenal – i.e. China, Russia, France, the UK, the US – the ability to deploy nuclear missile subs speedily around the world is certainly desirable.

https://i2.wp.com/grupocaos2007.brinkster.net/supercav2/BancoPruebMini.JPGBut of course, there are some challenges posed by the concept and any ship that is equipped to run on it. For one, it is very difficult to steer a supercavitating vessel and conventional methods (like rudders) don’t work without water contact. Second, developing an underwater engine that’s capable of high velocity over long distances is very difficult. Jet engines do not work underwater and generally, rockets only have enough fuel to burn for a few minutes.

Nuclear power might be a possibility as far as supersonic submarines go, but that’s strictly academic at this point. Li Fengchen, a professor at the Harbin Institute, says their technology isn’t limited to military use. While supersonic submarines and torpedoes are at top of the list, the same technology could also boost civilian transport, or even boost the speed of swimmers. As Li put it:

If a swimsuit can create and hold many tiny bubbles in water, it can significantly reduce the water drag; swimming in water could be as effortless as flying in the sky.

https://storiesbywilliams.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/e1095-chinese_submarine.jpgAs always with such advanced (and potentially weaponized) technology, it’s hard to say how far away it is from real-world application. Given that this is primarily a military research project within China, one can expect that it will remain shrouded in secrecy until it is ready. And if civilian researchers are making good progress, then it’s a fairly safe bet that the military is even further along.

While the future of transit is already exciting – what with hyperloops, aerospace travel, robotaxis and robot cars – the idea that people could travel under the waves as fast as on they could on the Concorde is pretty cool! At the same time, the idea that subs equipped with nuclear missiles could reach our shores within two hours is pretty scary. But futuristic military technology has never been known to inspire warm and fuzzy feelings, has it?

Sources: extremetech.com, scmp.com

The Future is Here: DARPA’s Nervous System Implants

DARPA_implantHard on the heels of their proposed BRAIN initiative – a collaborative research initiative to map the activity of every neuron in the human brain – DARPA has announced a bold new program to develop tiny electronic implants that will be able to interface directly with the human nervous system to control and regulate many different diseases and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, PTSD, Crohn’s disease, and depression.

The program, called ElectRx (pronounced ‘electrics’), ultimately aims to replace medication with “closed-loop” neural implants which monitor the state of your health and then provide the necessary nerve stimulation to keep your organs and biological systems functioning properly. The work is primarily being carried out with US soldiers and veterans in mind, but the technology will certainly percolate down to civilians as well.

electrx-darpaThe ElectRx program will focus the relatively new area of medical therapies called neuromodulation, which seeks to modulate the nervous system to improve neurological problem. Notable examples of this are cochlear implants which restore hearing by modulating your brain’s auditory nerve system, and deep brain stimulation (DBS) which is apparently capable of curing/regulating conditions  like depression and Parkinson’s by overriding erroneous neural spikes.

So far, these implants have been fairly large, which makes implantation fairly invasive and risky. Most state-of-the-art implants also lack precision, with most placing the stimulating electrodes in roughly the right area, but which are unable to target a specific bundles of nerves. With ElectRx, DARPA wants to miniaturize these neuromodulation implants so that they’re the same size as a nerve fiber.

electrx-darpa-implant-diagramThis way they can be implanted with a minimally invasive procedure (through a needle) and attached to specific nerve fibers, for very precise stimulation. While these implants can’t regulate every condition or replace every medication (yet), they could be very effective at mitigating a large number of conditions. A large number of conditions are caused by the nervous system misfiring, like inflammatory diseases, brain and mental health disorders.

Currently, a variety of drugs are used to try and cajole these awry neurons and nerves back in-line by manipulating various neurotransmitters. However, the science behind these drugs is not yet exact, relying heavily on a trial-and-error approach and often involving serious side-effects. Comparatively, an electronic implant that could “catch” the misfire, cleans up the signal, and then retransmits it would be much more effective.

cochlear_implantAs DARPA’s Doug Weber explained:

The technology DARPA plans to develop through the ElectRx program could fundamentally change the manner in which doctors diagnose, monitor and treat injury and illness. Instead of relying only on medication — we envision a closed-loop system that would work in concept like a tiny, intelligent pacemaker. It would continually assess conditions and provide stimulus patterns tailored to help maintain healthy organ function, helping patients get healthy and stay healthy using their body’s own systems.

Despite requiring a lot of novel technological breakthroughs, DARPA is planning to perform human trials of ElectRx in about five years. The initial goal will be improving the quality of life for US soldiers and veterans. And while they have yet to announce which conditions they will be focusing on, it is expected that something basic like arthritis will be the candidate – though there are expectations that PTSD will become a source sooner other than later.

AI'sAnd this is just the latest neurological technology being developed by DARPA. Earlier in the year, the agency announced a similar program to develop a brain implant that can restore lost memories and experiences. A joint fact sheet released by the Department of Defense and the Veteran’s Association revealed that DARPA also secured 78 million dollars to build the chips as part of the government’s Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) program.

While DARPA’s ElectRx announcement is purely focused on the medical applications of miniature neural implants, there are of course a variety of other uses that might arise from elective implantation – for soldiers as well as civilians. With a few well-placed implants in a person’s spine, they could flip a switch and ignore any pain reported by your limbs, allowing them to withstand greater physical stress or ignore injuries.

posthumanImplants placed in muscle fibers could also provide added electrostimulation to provide extra boosts of raw muscle power. And With precision-placed implants around the right nerve fibers, people could gain manual control of their organs, allowing them to speed up or slow down their hearts, turbo-charge their livers, or tweak just about any other function of their bodies.

The age of the Transhuman looms, people!

Source: extremetech.com, motherboard.vice.com, darpa.mil

The Future is Here: First Brain-to-Brain Interface!

https://i0.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/professor-x-x-men-telepathy-helmet-640x352.jpgIn a first amongst firsts, a team of international researchers have reported that they have built the first human-to-human brain-to-brain interface; allowing two humans — separated by the internet — to consciously communicate with each other. One researcher, attached to a brain-computer interface (BCI) in India, successfully sent words into the brain of another researcher in France, who was wearing a computer-to-brain interface (CBI).

In short, the researchers have created a device that allows people to communicate telepathically. And it’s no surprise, given the immense amount of progress being made in the field. Over the last few years, brain-computer interfaces that you can plug into your computer’s USB port have been commercially available. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen advanced BCIs that can be implanted directly into your brain.

BCICreating a brain-to-brain connection is a bit more difficult though, as it requires that brain activity not only be read, but inputted into someone else’s brain. Now, however, a team of international researchers have cracked it. On the BCI side of things, the researchers used a fairly standard EEG (electroencephalogram) from Neuroelectrics. For the CBI, which requires a more involved setup, a transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) rig was used.

To break the process down, the BCI reads the sender’s thoughts, like to move their hands or feet, which are then broken down into binary 1s and 0s. These encoded thoughts are then transmitted via the internet (or some other network) to the recipient, who is wearing a TMS. The TMS is focused on the recipient’s visual cortex, and it receives a “1″ from the sender, it stimulates a region in the visual cortex that produces a phosphene.

https://i2.wp.com/www.extremetech.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/brain-to-brain-bci-eeg-tms.jpgThis is a phenomenon whereby a person sees flashes of light, without light actually hitting the retina. The recipient “sees” these phosphenes at the bottom of their visual field, and by decoding the flashes — phosphene flash = 1, no phosphene = 0 — the recipient can “read” the word being sent. While this is certainly a rather complex way of sending messages from one brain to another, for now, it is truly state of the art.

TMS is somewhat similar to TDCS (transcranial direct-current stimulation), in that it can stimulate regions of neurons in your brain. But instead of electrical current, it uses magnetism, and is a completely non-invasive way of stimulating certain sections of the brain and allowing a person to think and feel a certain way. In short, there doesn’t need to be any surgery or electrodes implanted into the user’s brain to make it happen.

brain-to-brain-interfacingThis method also neatly sidestep the fact that we really don’t know how the human brain encodes information. And so, for now, instead of importing a “native” message, we have to use our own encoding scheme (binary) and a quirk of the visual cortex. And even if it does seem a little bit like hard work, there’s no denying that this is a conscious, non-invasive brain-to-brain connection.

With some refinement, it’s not hard to imagine a small, lightweight EEG that allows the sender to constantly stream thoughts back to the receiver. In the future, rather than vocalizing speech, or vainly attempting to vocalize one’s own emotions, people could very well communicate their thoughts and feelings via a neural link that is accommodated by simple headbands with embedded sensors.

Brain-ScanAnd imagine a world where instant messaging and video conferencing have the added feature of direct thought sharing. Or an The Internet of Thoughts, where people can transfer terabytes worth of brain activity the same way they share video, messages and documents. Remember, the internet began as a small-scale connection between a few universities, labs and research projects.

I can foresee a similar network being built between research institutions where professors and students could do the same thing. And this could easily be followed by a militarized version where thoughts are communicated instantly between command centers and bunkers to ensure maximum clarity and speed of communication. My how the world is shaping up to be a science fiction novel!

Sources: extremetech.com, neurogadget.com, dailymail.co.uk

Climate Crisis: London’s River Village and Pools

https://i0.wp.com/i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/02192/london-from-space_2192333k.jpgOne of the greatest challenges facing future urban planning is the very real prospect of running out of land. In addition to urban sprawl encroaching on neighboring farmlands, the concentration of people at the core eventually creates a situation where open spaces become incredibly scarce. Luckily, the city of London – one of the largest and most densely populated cities in the world – is coming up with some innovative solutions.

For starters, the city is developing the area around some former dockyards in East London to accommodate a floating neighborhood. Borrowing from similar projects that were initiated in the Netherlands to prepare for rising sea levels, London’s new river-based housing program is designed to place housing in the one spot that hasn’t been converted to high-rise apartments or suburban dwellings.

https://i0.wp.com/b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034075-slide-s-3-ondon-is-planning-its-first-floating-village-to-make-room-for-more-housing.jpgExperts from the Netherlands are helping to plan the new “floating village,” which will include 50 floating homes around a neighborhood square that comes complete with floating restaurants, offices, and shops, and possibly a floating swimming pool (more on that below). A floating walkway will lead back to land, where the city plans a much larger development with tens of thousands of new homes.

Earlier in its history, the area, known as the Royal Docks, served hundreds of cargo and passenger ships each day. The three docks were the largest enclosed docks in the world – 250 acres of water and over 1000 acres of land – and got more use than any other port in London. But they haven’t been in use for the last several decades, and that’s why the city wants to transform the area.

https://i2.wp.com/b.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/slideshow_large/slideshow/2014/08/3034075-slide-s-1-ondon-is-planning-its-first-floating-village-to-make-room-for-more-housing.jpgAs Richard Blakeway, the city’s deputy mayor for housing, land and property

With demand for new homes in London soaring, we need to put every scrap of available land to the best possible use. Tens of thousands of new homes, workspace, leisure, and cultural facilities are being developed . . . The ‘Floating Village’ will be yet another draw, restoring London’s docklands to their former glory as a centre of enterprise and bringing jobs, growth, homes and visitors.

On the same front, the city of London is also contemplating turning its river waters into a massive public pools project. Known as the Thames Bath Project, this idea was inspired by similar ideas where swimming pools have been created out of waterways. For example, New York has a project called +Pool, which has raised more than $300,000 in crowd-funding, and looks set for a 2016 launch.

https://i0.wp.com/h.fastcompany.net/multisite_files/fastcompany/imagecache/inline-large/inline/2014/08/3034656-inline-i-1-london-joins-list-of-cities-building-pools-in-their-rivers.jpgThe Thames Baths Project is similar, aiming to create a freshwater lagoon amid the meandering old waterway. The consortium responsible consists of Studio Octopi, Civic Engineers and Jonathan Cook Landscape Architects, all of whom won the competition last year to come up with new river uses. Initially, they hoped to create a pool using water from the Thames that would be filtered and treated.

However, that plan has since been updated and improved to something a little more sanitary. Now, they plan to pump in freshwater, rejected the New York City idea of filtering the water as it enters the pool space because of the concern of sewage. And though London has a major sewage system upgrade planned, the designers are worried it won’t be ready in time to ensure sufficient water quality.

london-poolAs Chris Romer-Lee, director of Octopi, explained:

We’re using freshwater because of the sewage overflows from the aging [Sir Joseph William] Bazalgette sewers. They dump millions of tons of sewage into the river after even the shortest rain storm. A filtration system could work. We’ve been looking at natural swimming pools and the filtering systems they use. But the +Pool filtering system is as yet unproven.

The design calls for floating pontoons with space for three pools –  one large, one medium, and one for paddling. A thick layer of vegetation will mark the edges and a ramp leading off the side will connect swimmers back to firm ground. The $8.5 million plans are still awaiting approval from the city, but, if all goes well, the baths could be completed sometime early in the next decade.

london-pools1The purpose, according to Romer-Lee, is about re-purposing something that would otherwise be forgotten:

We need these baths to reconnect Londoners with their largest public space. The river is used extensively for transporting building materials, passengers and the like but is increasingly becoming something that Londoners look over and don’t engage with.

Meanwhile, Berlin also has a proposal for an open river pool, as does Copenhagen, which actually already has swimming in its harbor. No doubt, it won’t be long before others follow. In fact, the idea of re-purposing public spaces that have fallen into disuse is becoming increasingly popular – not just as a response to sprawl, but as an innovative solution of what to do with infrastructure that has fallen into disuse.

Cities like Detroit, Philadelphia, Washington DC and Hamilton, Ontario and Montreal, Quebec – just to name a few – all might want to consider getting on board with this…

Sources: fastcoexist.com, (2)

The Future is Here: Shipbuilder Robotic Exosuit

SK_exoskeletonWith numerous prototypes in development, it seems like just a matter of time before the industrial robotic exoskeleton becomes an everyday reality. Between NASA, the US armed forces, Panasonic, and now Daewoo, the range of powered robot suits seems virtually limitless. And Daewoo, the South-Korean manufacturing giant, now appears to be a step ahead of the competition, having already tested its prototype suits last year.

The test took place at a sprawling shipyard in Okpo-dong in South Korea, where workers dressed in wearable robotics were hefting large hunks of metal, pipes and other objects. It was all part of a test by Daewoo’s Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering facility, where workers strapped into 28kg (62 pound) aluminum alloy, steel and carbon fiber suits called the RoboShipbuilder that supported their own weight plus an additional 30kg (66 pounds).

Daewoo-exoskeletonAnyone between 160 and 185cm tall (5 feet 2 inches and 6 feet) fits the suit, and it has three hours of battery life. Straps across the legs, feet and chest secure the wearer, and the RoboShipbuilder runs on hydraulic joints and electric motors, with the power source tucked inside a backpack. And, because the suit bears most of the weight of the heavy objects, wearers have much finer control over what they are handling.

Gilwhoan Chu, the lead engineer for the firm’s research and development arm, says the pilot showed that the exoskeleton does help workers perform their tasks. Worker feedback was mostly positive, but their were comments that the suit could be faster and be bale to carry more weight. Chu and his team are working towards this, hoping to increase the robot’s lift capacity to 100 kilograms (220 pounds).

activelink-power-loader-concept-1The prototypes still have several important kinks to be worked out as well. In tests, workers had a hard time negotiating sloping or slippery surfaces. And the prototypes cannot yet cope with twisting motions, so workers making turns while carrying heavy objects could tire out easily. But South Korea’s vast shipbuilding market is committed to merging human oversight with automation, and Daewoo is hardly alone in working towards this goal.

Earlier this year, the Panasonic subsidiary Activelink is developing an exosuit known as the Powered Loader – a deliberate homage to the Caterpillar P-5000 Powered Work Loader from Aliens fame. According to Activelink, the Power Loader will enable a human to lift up to 100 kilos (220 pounds) and run at speeds up to 8 kilometers (5 miles) per hour, and will be powered by lithium ion battery packs that will provide several hours worth of power.

exoskeleton-titan-armThe exoskeleton will initially be deployed in construction work, nuclear power plants, and emergency situations, but the company has big plans for the future. Activelink would like to develop an exosuit that can fit under a spacesuit or diving gear for underwater and space exploration purposes. The Power Loader appears to be a full-body version of creations like the battery-powered robotic Titan Arm, which won the 2013 James Dyson Award.

The Titan Arm augments arm strength by 18 kg (40 pounds), helping rehabilitate people with back injuries and assisting those lifting objects as part of their daily work. The price for Panasonic’s strength suit is currently projected to be 500,000 yen (around $4,940), and Panasonic says it wants to bring the suits to market by next year. It’s an exciting time to be alive, where a once-feverish dream of science fiction fanatics is fast becoming reality!

And who knows? By the 2020’s, we might even be seeing something along the lines of this in active service:

"Get away from her you bitch!"
“Get away from her you bitch!”

And be sure to watch this video of the Power Loader exoskeleton being tested:


Sources: newscientist.com, cnet.com, (2), jamesdysonfoundation.com

The Future of Medicine: Muscle-Powered Pacemaker

piezoelectric-pacemakerOver the past few decades, cardiac pacemakers have improved to the point that they have become a commonplace medical implant that have helped improve or save the lives of millions around the world. Unfortunately, the battery technology that is used to power these devices has not kept pace. Every seven years they need to be replaced, a process which requires further surgery.

To address this problem, a group of researchers from Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) has developed a cardiac pacemaker that is powered by harnessing energy from the body’s own muscles. The research team, headed by Professor Keon Jae Lee of KAIST and Professor Boyoung Joung, M.D. at Severance Hospital of Yonsei University, has created a flexible piezoelectric nanogenerator can keep a pacemaker running almost indefinitely.

piezoelectric_nanogeneratorTo test the device, Lee, Joung and their research team implanted the pacemaker into a live rat and watched as it produced electrical energy using nothing but small body movements. Based on earlier experiments with piezoelectric generator technology used by KAIST to produce a low-cost, large area version, the team created their new high-performance flexible nanogenerator from a thin film semiconductor material.

In this case, lead magnesium niobate-lead titanate (PMN-PT) was used rather than the graphene oxide and carbon nanotubes of previous versions. As a result, the new device was able to harvest up to 8.2 V and 0.22 mA of electrical energy as a result of small flexing motions of the nanogenerator. This voltage was sufficient enough to stimulate the rat’s heart directly.

pacemaker3The direct benefit of this experimental technology could be in the production and use of self-powered flexible energy generators that could increase the life of cardiac pacemakers, reduce the risks associated with repeated surgeries to replace pacemaker batteries, and even provide a way to power other implanted medical monitoring devices. As Professor Keon Jae Lee explains:

For clinical purposes, the current achievement will benefit the development of self-powered cardiac pacemakers as well as prevent heart attacks via the real-time diagnosis of heart arrhythmia. In addition, the flexible piezoelectric nanogenerator could also be utilized as an electrical source for various implantable medical devices.

Other self-powering experimental technologies for cardiac pacemakers have sought to provide energy from the beating of the heart itself, or from external sources, such as in light-controlled non-viral optogenetics.But the KAIST pacemaker appears to be the first practical version to demonstrate real promise in living laboratory animals and, with any luck, human patients in the not-too-distant future.

heart_patchesAnd while this does represent a major step forward in the field of piezoelectrics – a technology that could power everything from personal devices to entire communities by harnessing kinetic energy – it is also a boon for non-invasive medicine and energy self-sufficiency.

And be sure to check out this video of the pacemaker at work, courtesy of KAIST and the Severance Hospital of Yonsei University:


Sources: gizmag.com, circep.ahajournals.org, kaist.edu