Paraplegic Kicks Off World Cup in Exoskeleton

https://i2.wp.com/images.latintimes.com/sites/latintimes.com/files/styles/large/public/2014/06/12/world-cup-kick.pngThe 2014 FIFA World Cup made history when it opened in Sao Paolo this week when a 29-year-old paraplegic man named Juliano Pinto kicked a soccer ball with the aid of a robotic exoskeleton. It was the first time a mind-controlled prosthetic was used in a sporting event, and represented the culmination of months worth of planning and years worth of technical development.

The exoskeleton was created with the help of over 150 researchers led by neuroscientist Dr. Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, who’s collaborative effort was called the Walk Again Project. As Pinto successfully made the kick off with the exoskeleton, the Walk Again Project scientists stood by, watching and smiling proudly inside the Corinthians Arena. And the resulting buzz did not go unnoticed.

WorldCup_610x343Immediately after the kick, Nicolelis tweeted about the groundbreaking event, saying simply: “We did it!” The moment was monumental considering that only a few of months ago, Nicolelis was excited just to have people talking about the idea of a mind-controlled exoskeleton being tested in such a grand fashion. As he said in an interview with Grandland after the event:

Despite all of the difficulties of the project, it has already succeeded. You go to Sao Paulo today, or you go to Rio, people are talking about this demo more than they are talking about football, which is unbelievably impossible in Brazil.

Dr. Gordon Cheng, a team member and the lead robotics engineer of the Technical University of Munich, explained how the exoskeleton works in an interview with BBC News:

The basic idea is that we are recording from the brain and then that signal is being translated into commands for the robot to start moving.

https://i1.wp.com/blog.amsvans.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/the-world-cup-stadium-in-itaquera-brazil-e1393251187879.jpgThe result of many years of development, the mind-controlled exoskeleton represents a breakthrough in restoring ambulatory ability to those who have suffered a loss of motion due to injury. Using metal braces that were tested on monkeys, the exoskeleton relies on a series of wireless electrodes attached to the head that collect brainwaves, which then signal the suit to move. The braces are also stabilized by gyroscopes and powered by a battery carried by the kicker in a backpack.

Originally, a teenage paraplegic was expected to make the kick off. However, after a rigorous selection process that lasted many months, the 29 year-old Pinto was selected. And in performing the kickoff, he participated in an event designed to galvanize the imagination of millions of people around the world. It’s a new age of technology, friends, where disability is no longer a permanent thing,.

And in the meantime, enjoy this video of the event:


Source: cnet.com

Judgement Day Update: Super-Strong Robotic Muscle

robot-arm-wrestling-03-20-09In their quest to build better, smarter and faster machines, researchers are looking to human biology for inspiration. As has been clear for some time, anthropomorphic robot designs cannot be expected to do the work of a person or replace human rescue workers if they are composed of gears, pullies, and hydraulics. Not only would they be too slow, but they would be prone to breakage.

Because of this, researchers have been working looking to create artificial muscles, synthetics tissues that respond to electrical stimuli, are flexible, and able to carry several times their own weight – just like the real thing. Such muscles will not only give robots the ability to move and perform tasks with the same ambulatory range as a human, they are likely to be far stronger than the flesh and blood variety.

micro_robot_muscleAnd of late, there have been two key developments on this front which may make this vision come true. The first comes from the US Department of Energy ’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, where a team of researchers have demonstrated a new type of robotic muscle that is 1,000 times more powerful than that of a human’s, and has the ability to catapult an item 50 times its own weight.

The artificial muscle was constructed using vanadium dioxide, a material known for its ability to rapidly change size and shape. Combined with chromium and fashioned with a silicone substrate, the team formed a V-shaped ribbon which formed a coil when released from the substrate. The coil when heated turned into a micro-catapult with the ability to hurl objects – in this case, a proximity sensor.

micro_robot_muscle2pngVanadium dioxide boasts several useful qualities for creating miniaturized artificial muscles and motors. An insulator at low temperatures, it abruptly becomes a conductor at 67° Celsius (152.6° F), a quality which makes it an energy efficient option for electronic devices. In addition, the vanadium dioxide crystals undergo a change in their physical form when warmed, contracting along one dimension while expanding along the other two.

Junqiao Wu, the team’s project leader, had this to say about their invention in a press statement:

Using a simple design and inorganic materials, we achieve superior performance in power density and speed over the motors and actuators now used in integrated micro-systems… With its combination of power and multi-functionality, our micro-muscle shows great potential for applications that require a high level of functionality integration in a small space.

In short, the concept is a big improvement over existing gears and motors that are currently employed in electronic systems. However, since it is on the scale of nanometers, it’s not exactly Terminator-compliant. However, it does provide some very interesting possibilities for machines of the future, especially where the functionality of micro-systems are concerned.

graphene_flexibleAnother development with the potential to create robotic muscles comes from Duke University, where a team of engineers have found a possible way to turn graphene into a stretchable, retractable material. For years now, the miracle properties of graphene have made it an attractive option for batteries, circuits, capacitors, and transistors.

However, graphene’s tendency to stick together once crumpled has had a somewhat limiting effect on its applications. But by attacking the material to a stretchy polymer film, the Duke researchers were able to crumple and then unfold the material, resulting in a properties that lend it to a broader range of applications- including artificial muscles.

robot_muscle1Before adhering the graphene to the rubber film, the researchers first pre-stretched the film to multiple times its original size. The graphene was then attached and, as the rubber film relaxed, the graphene layer compressed and crumpled, forming a pattern where tiny sections were detached. It was this pattern that allowed the graphene to “unfold” when the rubber layer was stretched out again.

The researchers say that by crumpling and stretching, it is possible to tune the graphene from being opaque to transparent, and different polymer films can result in different properties. These include a “soft” material that acts like an artificial muscle. When electricity is applied, the material expands, and when the electricity is cut off, it contracts; the degree of which depends on the amount of voltage used.

robot_muscle2Xuanhe Zhao, an Assistant Professor at the Pratt School of Engineering, explained the implications of this discovery:

New artificial muscles are enabling diverse technologies ranging from robotics and drug delivery to energy harvesting and storage. In particular, they promise to greatly improve the quality of life for millions of disabled people by providing affordable devices such as lightweight prostheses and full-page Braille displays.

Currently, artificial muscles in robots are mostly of the pneumatic variety, relying on pressurized air to function. However, few robots use them because they can’t be controlled as precisely as electric motors. It’s possible then, that future robots may use this new rubberized graphene and other carbon-based alternatives as a kind of muscle tissue that would more closely replicate their biological counterparts.

artificial-muscle-1This would not only would this be a boon for robotics, but (as Zhao notes) for amputees and prosthetics as well. Already, bionic devices are restoring ability and even sensation to accident victims, veterans and people who suffer from physical disabilities. By incorporating carbon-based, piezoelectric muscles, these prosthetics could function just like the real thing, but with greater strength and carrying capacity.

And of course, there is the potential for cybernetic enhancement, at least in the long-term. As soon as such technology becomes commercially available, even affordable, people will have the option of swapping out their regular flesh and blood muscles for something a little more “sophisticated” and high-performance. So in addition to killer robots, we might want to keep an eye out for deranged cyborg people!

And be sure to check out this video from the Berkley Lab showing the vanadium dioxide muscle in action:


Source:
gizmag.com, (2)
, extremetech.com, pratt.duke.edu

The Future is Here: Brain to Brain Interfaces (Cont’d)

telepathyThis year is shaping up to be an exciting time for technology that enables people to communicate their thoughts via an electronic link. For the most part, this has involved the use of machinery to communicate a person’s thoughts to a machine – such as a prosthetic device. However, some researchers have gone beyond the field of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) and have been making strides with brain-to-brain interfacing (BBI) instead.

Back in February, a research team in Natal Brazil, led by Miguel Nicolelis of Duke University, managed to create a link between the brains of two laboratory rats. In the experiment, an “encoder” rat in Natal was placed inside a “Skinner Box” where it would press a lever with an expectation of getting a treat in return.

BMIThe brain activity was then recorded and sent via electrical signal which was delivered to a second “decoder” rat which, though it was thousands of kilometers away, interpreted the signal and pressed a similar lever with a similar a expectation of reward. This developmental milestone was certainly big news, and has led to some even more impressive experiments since.

One of these comes from Harvard University, where scientists have developed a new, non-invasive interface that allowed a similar thought transfer to take place. Led by Seung-Schik Yoo, an assistant professor of radiology, the research team created a brain-to-brain interface (BBI) that allows a human controller to move a portion of a rat’s body just by thinking about it, all without invasive surgical implants.

BBIThe new technique takes advantage of a few advances being made in the field. These include focused ultrasound (FUS) technology, which delivers focused acoustic energy to a specific point. Ordinarily, this technology has used heat to destroy tumors and other diseased tissue in the deeper reaches of the brain.  Yoo’s team, however, has found that a lower-intensity blast can be used to stimulate brain tissue without damaging it.

In terms of the interface, a human controller was hooked up to an EEG-based BCI while the rat is hooked up to an FUS-based computer-to-brain interface (CBI). The human subject then viewed an image of a circle flashing in a specific pattern which generated electrical brain activity in the same frequency. When the BCI detected this activity, it sent a command to the CBI, which in turn sends FUS into the region of the rat’s brain that controls its tail, causing it to move.

MMIUsing six different human subjects and six different rat subjects, the team achieved a success rate of 94 percent, with a time delay of 1.59 ± 1.07 seconds between user intention and the rat’s response. Granted, it might not be quite the pinnacle of machine-powered telepathy, and the range of control over the animal test subject was quite limited. Still, the fact that two brains could be interfaced, and without the need for electrodes, is still a very impressive feat.

And of course, it raises quite a few possibilities. If brain-to-brain interfaces between humans and animals are possible, just what could it mean for the helper animal industry? Could seeing eye dogs be telepathically linked to their animals, thus able to send and receive signals from them instantaneously? What about butler monkeys? Could a single thought send them scurrying to the kitchen to fetch a fresh drink?

Who knows? But the fact that it could one day be possible is both inspiring and frightening!

Source: news.cnet.com

Latest in 3D Printing: Invisibility Cloaks and Mind-Controlled Printers

anti-grav3d3-D printing continues to grow by leaps and bounds, being used to generate anything from components and models to complex machines and living tissues. And as the technology improves, the applications continue to grow and coalesce with developments made in other fields of scientific research. And in the last month alone, there have been a number of announcements that have both scared and impressed.

The first came from Duke University, where engineers have made yet another breakthrough. Seven years ago, they demonstrated their first “invisibility cloak” in a laboratory. Now, thanks to 3D printing, the fabrication process is a lot more accessible. And while invisibility might be a bit of a misnomer, that’s precisely what this object does as far as microwave radiation is concerned.

3dprinted_invisibilityThe object, which resembles a frisbee, has a large hole in the center, with seemingly random holes in the disc. The size, shape, and placement of these holes have actually been determined to disguise any object placed in the center hole from microwave beams, making it appear as though the object isn’t there. At present, the invention is limited in terms of practical use, but the design team believes this object has great potential.

According to Yaroslav Urzhumov, an assistant research professor in electrical and computer engineering at Duke, the technology could be used to create a polymer-based cloaking layer just 1 inch thick, wrapped around a much larger object. From this, they hope to eventually be able to create a material that will operate in higher wavelengths, including the visible light spectrum.

INVISIBILITY-CLOAKMeanwhile, the team’s creation of the disc using a 3-D printer means the technology is now much more accessible. Urzhumov went as far to say the he believes that anyone with access to a 3D printer will have the ability to create something similar at home. In time, this could mean anyone would have the ability to create a full-spectrum invisibility cloak at home too. Good news for anyone looking to hide from surveillance drones or cameras!

The second bit of news is even more impressive, and potentially frightening. It comes to us from Santiago Makerspace, a technology and design studio located in the heart of the Chilean capital where a designer created a 3D printed object using only their thoughts. The designer in question was George Laskowsky, Chief Technical Officer of Thinker Thing, a Chilean start-up that is developing a mind-controlled 3D printing system.

3dprinted_thought1The purpose behind Laskowsky’s work is simplification: while 3D printing has been growing and making design and fabrication easier and more accessible. However, mastering the design software is still a difficult challenge, especially for young children. That’s where Tinker Thing comes in, which seeks to develop the means to help children unleash their inner creativity.

Bryan Salt, CEO of Thinker Thing, expands on this, stating that there has not been enough work done on adapting the software for popular use. His company is looking to make it open and accessible so that it can be used to create items for one the largest markets for consumer products – children’s toys:

What is the point of these printers if my son cannot design his own toy? I realised that while there were a lot of people talking about the hardware of the printer no-one really seemed to be talking about how to actually use it.

3dprinted_toys1The software that makes this possible – Emotional Evolutionary Design (EED) – works by interpreting its users’ thoughts to make fantastical designs for toys and other objects. As part of the Monster Dreamer Project, Chilean children will get the first opportunity to try it out during tour of schools in the country at the end of this month.

Combined with Emotiv EPOCH (an EEG headset), a computer and a 3D printer, the children running Monster Dreamer will be presented with a series of different body shapes in bubbles. These will mutate randomly, with built-in rules preventing them from becoming too abstract. As different brain states such as excitement or boredom generate specific patterns of brain activity, the computer can identify the shapes associated with positive emotional responses.

3dprinted_toysThe favored shapes will grow bigger on the screen, while the others shrink. The biggest shapes are combined to generate a body part, and the process is repeated for different body parts until the monster is complete. The final result should be a unique 3D model that is ready for printing as a solid object. In essence, a child will create a tailor-made toy based solely on their emotional reactions to what they see.

Amazing the direction things are taking, isn’t it? One of the greatest appeals of 3D printing is the way which it is making technology and industry far more accessible and open to people.What began with items that would only interest engineers and design firms is now expanding to include just about any type of consumer product we can imagine, and comes with the ability to tailor make them at home, giving the average consumer immense control over the process.

future-city3Though an individual printer may still cost more than the average person is willing to spend, in time, they will likely come down in price and become like any other computer accessory – i.e. printers, faxes, modems, wireless routers. What’s more, we are likely to see a situation where communal labs, such as those found in a university or internet cafe, come equipped with one in the next few years.

In a way, it would not be a fevered dream to imagine that this could very well be the curtain raiser for a new age, an age when the means of production is literally in the hands of every person. If we are capable of printing food and buildings as well as toys and components, we would also be looking at an age when scarcity is a thing of the past and society is truly democratic and open. And all without the need for violence and forcible redistribution…

I can’t tell you how preferable it is to think about this stuff and not the current pace and effects of Climate Change. Sometimes, the only way to have hope for the future is to keep things positive and contemplate the happier possibilities. Here’s hoping smarter heads and brighter prospects prevail!

Sources: cnet.news.com, bbc.com

The Future is Here: Invisibility Cloaks (Cont’d)

An update on the ongoing efforts to create invisibility technology has been bearing some pretty interesting fruit. Earlier this year, scientists at Berkeley announced that they were working on a suit that would be capable of bending light around it. Unlike adaptive camouflage, this technology would not merely broadcast a background image to conceal a soldier, but would render them virtually invisible to the naked eye.

Well guess what? Scientists at Duke University have finally created a cloak that works. Granted, it is only capable of concealing objects on the centimeter-scale, it is the only cloak of its kind that is capable of channeling incident light around itself, creating perfect invisibility. In all previous cases, the devices created reflected a certain degree of incident light, leaving the concealed object disguised but discernible.

In addition to the small scale on which it functions, the cloak has a few additional drawbacks. For now, the Duke invisibility cloak only works with microwave radiation; and perhaps more importantly, the cloak is unidirectional, meaning it only provides invisibility from one very specific direction. But that should hardly matter, seeing as how such a device even exists. With a little time, development, and a big fat DARPA contract, soon we may be seeing cloaking devices that are capable of concealing something as large as a person, a vehicle or even a building.

The Duke cloaking device, pictured at left, is composed of metamaterials – an artificial, man-made material that almost always have a negative refractive index. A negative refractive index allows for the creation of some interesting things, such as superlenses that go beyond the diffraction limit; or in this case, invisibility cloaks. Due to their unusual index, they are capable of refracting light around an object so a viewer does not see the object, but what is behind the object.

But in addition to metamaterials, the compositional materials also need a to be arranged in such a way that the illusion is perfect. After all, a 3D object has multiple sides, and the wearer has to be expected to turn a corner and change direction at some point. All previous designers in this case have struggled to fashion metamaterials that bend waves around corners without causing reflections. In this case, it was researcher Nathan Landy, a Duke University student, who arranged the metamaterials into the shape of a diamond to acheive the desired effect, since diamonds are apparently the best shape for minimizing reflections.

According to the Duke team, the next step is to expand on their design and make their cloak omnidirectional, meaning that it can bend light around the object from all directions. Don’t worry, I’m thinking some rather interested parties (i.e. every high-tech developer and military on the planet) is likely to be knocking on their door real soon!

Source: Extreme Tech