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The Edge of Robotics

Gimball: A Crash Happy Flying Robot

October 30th 2013

Flying Robot

Gimball bumps into and ricochets off of obstacles, rather than avoiding them. This 34 centimeter in diameter spherical flying robot buzzes around the most unpredictable, chaotic environments, without the need for fragile detection sensors. This resiliency to injury, inspired by insects, is what sets it apart from other flying robots. Gimball is protected by a spherical, elastic cage which enables it to absorb and rebound from shocks. It keeps its balance using a gyroscopic stabilization system. When tested in the forests above Lausanne, Switzerland, it performed brilliantly, careening from tree trunk to tree trunk but staying on course. It will be presented in public at the IREX conference in Tokyo, Japan from November 5-9, 2013.

Powered by twin propellers and steered by fins, Gimball can stay on course despite its numerous collisions. This feat was a formidable challenge for EPFL PhD student Adrien Briod. "The idea was for the robot's body to stay balanced after a collision, so that it can keep to its trajectory," he explains. "Its predecessors, which weren't stabilized, tended to take off in random directions after impact." With colleague Przemyslaw Mariusz Kornatowski, Briod developed the gyroscopic stabilization system consisting of a double carbon-fiber ring that keeps the robot oriented vertically, while the cage absorbs shocks as it rotates. Read more ..


The Digial Edge

Seeing in the Dark

October 29th 2013

Radio and Infrared Emission

Thermal infrared (IR) energy is emitted from all things that have a temperature greater than absolute zero. Human eyes, primarily sensitive to shorter wavelength visible light, are unable to detect or differentiate between the longer-wavelength thermal IR "signatures" given off both by living beings and inanimate objects. While mechanical detection of IR radiation has been possible since Samuel Pierpont Langley invented the bolometer in 1880, devices that also can recognize and identify an IR source after detection have been more challenging to develop.

In a recent paper in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments, researchers at two Chinese universities describe a novel instrument that successfully does both tasks with extremely high sensitivity by splitting the IR radiation given off by an object into a long-wave portion for detection and a mid-wave portion that can be spectrally analyzed for accurate identification.

Conventional remote sensing systems share a single sensor for both imaging and spectral data processing. The new instrument designed by the Chinese researchers has separate sensors for each task and uses a dichoric beamsplitter to divide the IR signal from an object into two components, a long-wave IR (LWIR) beam and a mid-wave IR (MWIR) beam. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Historic Demonstration Proves Laser Communication Possible

October 28th 2013

xray laser

In the early morning hours of Oct. 18, NASA’s Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a rate of 622 Megabits-per-second (Mbps). That download rate is more than six times faster than previous state-of-the-art radio systems flown to the moon.

“It was amazing how quickly we were able to acquire the first signals, especially from such a distance,” said Don Cornwell, LLCD manager. “I attribute this success to the great work accomplished over the years by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory (MIT/LL) and their partnership with NASA.”

On Oct. 18, 2013, the Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) made history, transmitting data from lunar orbit to Earth at a record-breaking rate.

LLCD is being flown aboard the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer satellite known as LADEE, currently orbiting the moon. LADEE is a 100-day robotic mission designed, built, tested and operated by a team from NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. Its primary science mission is to investigate the tenuous and exotic atmosphere that exists around the moon.

LADEE, with LLCD onboard, reached lunar orbit 30 days after launch from NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va., on Sept. 6.  During the trip, the LADEE team provided an opportunity for LLCD to make post-flight calibrations of its pointing knowledge. “Being able to make those calibrations allowed us to lock onto our signal almost instantaneously when we turned on the laser at the moon,” said Cornwell. “A critical part of laser communication is being able to point the narrow laser beam at a very small target over a great distance.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Material for Quantum Coputing

October 27th 2013

Oak Ridge Super Computer

A common blue pigment used in the £5 note could have an important role to play in the development of a quantum computer, according to a paper published today in the journal Nature.

The pigment, copper phthalocyanine (CuPc), which is similar to the light harvesting section of the chlorophyll molecule, is a low-cost organic semiconductor that is found in many household products. Crucially, it can be processed into a thin film that can be readily used for device fabrication, a significant advantage over similar materials that have been studied previously.

Now, researchers from the London Centre for Nanotechnology at UCL and the University of British Columbia have shown that the electrons in CuPc can remain in 'superposition' – an intrinsically quantum effect where the electron exists in two states at once - for surprisingly long times, showing this simple dye molecule has potential as a medium for quantum technologies. Read more ..


The Race for Solar

Breakthrough for Solar Cell Efficency

October 26th 2013

Research and Development Chemistry

Did you know that crystals form the basis for the penetrating icy blue glare of car headlights and could be fundamental to the future in solar energy technology?

Crystals are at the heart of diodes. Not the kind you might find in quartz, formed naturally, but manufactured to form alloys, such as indium gallium nitride or InGaN. This alloy forms the light emitting region of LEDs, for illumination in the visible range, and of laser diodes (LDs) in the blue-UV range.

Research into making better crystals, with high crystalline quality, light emission efficiency and luminosity, is also at the heart of studies being done at Arizona State University in the Department of Physics.

In an article recently published in the journal Applied Physics Letters, the ASU group, in collaboration with a scientific team at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has just revealed the fundamental aspect of a new approach to growing InGaN crystals for diodes, which promises to move photovoltaic solar cell technology toward record-breaking efficiencies. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Orcam Device Turns the World into Speech for the Blind

October 25th 2013

Blind theater-goers

Liat Negrin is happy to demonstrate a new Israeli technology that “sees” and reads for her. She is visually impaired with coloboma, a birth defect that affects one in 10,000 people globally.

Wearing an OrCam device clipped to her glasses, Negrin — who works for the company — can now do the smallest things that sighted people take for granted.

Just by pointing her finger at objects and listening to the device read the words and numbers, she can hand over money at the store without fear of being shortchanged. She can easily step on the right bus as it approaches her stop. And she can “read” the ingredients labels on products at the supermarket. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Africa’s Tech Innovators Show Off at 'Demo Africa' in Nairobi

October 24th 2013

Computer Gaming

From games to mobile payment systems, entrepreneurs from across Africa are getting together in Nairobi, Kenya, to pitch their high-tech innovations to potential investors and partners. Some of the newest trends are on display at Demo Africa.

By his stall at the back of the showroom floor, Bayo Puddicombe of Nigeria plays a bus-driving game on his phone as he touts a new mobile payment system called ChopUP.

“ChopUP is a social platform that helps local developers to monetize using locally available payment messages, such as premium SMS and mobile money,” said Puddicombe.

The game shows how one can go to a “garage” for a bus and buy upgrades by using ChopUP to send the payment through existing mobile money transfer services. Puddicombe said the idea came to him following some early disappointments when he first tried to launch the game. Read more ..


The Ancient Edge

Ancient Near East Empires Collapsed Following a Climate Crisis

October 23rd 2013

Dr. Dafna Langgut examines Sea of Galilee core
Dr. Dafna Langgut examines Sea of Galilee core (credit: Tel Aviv University)

Research conducted at Tel Aviv University in The Kinneret, the Sea of Gallilee, has led to the dramatic discovery that ancient Near East empires collapsed following a climate crisis in the region. A study of fossil pollen particles in sediments extracted from the bottom of the Sea of Galilee has revealed evidence of a climate crisis that traumatized the Near East from the middle of the 13th to the late 12th century BCE. The crisis brought about the collapse of the great empires of the Bronze Age.

The study was conducted by Dr. Dafna Langgut and Prof. Israel Finkelstein of the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and Prof. Thomas Litt of the Institute of Geology, Mineralogy, and Paleontology at the University of Bonn, Germany. Prof. Mordechai Stein of the Hebrew University also participated in the research.

“In a short period of time the entire world of the Bronze Age crumbled,” explains Prof. Finkelstein. “The Hittite empire, Egypt of the Pharaohs, the Mycenaean culture in Greece, the copper producing kingdom located on the island of Cyprus, the great trade emporium of Ugarit on the Syrian coast and the Canaanite city-states under Egyptian hegemony—all disappeared and only after a while were replaced by the territorial kingdoms of the Iron Age, including Israel and Judah.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Need a Doctor? Turn on Your Electronic Device

October 22nd 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

Picture youself at home with a bad cold, aching face and green mucus leaking from your nose. You can barely get out of bed, let alone get to a clinic. That was the predicament Diana Rae found herself in recently. The nurse educator from the small town of Tenino, Washington, called her doctor and described her symptoms, and eventually got a prescription.

But she could have talked to and been seen by a doctor from the comfort of home. All she needed was a wifi-connected device and a video-chat software, such as Skype.

Ben Green, a doctor with Franciscan Virtual Urgent Care in Tacoma, Washington, has patients describe their symptoms using this video conferencing method. The video chat allows the doctor to perform a physical exam by mimicking what he wants his patient to do. Green says a patient's ailment can be treated remotely about 75 percent of the time. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Ocean Currents Make the Northern Hemisphere Soggier than the Southern

October 20th 2013

Rain

A quick glance at a world precipitation map shows that most tropical rain falls in the Northern Hemisphere. The Palmyra Atoll, at 6 degrees north, gets 175 inches of rain a year, while an equal distance on the opposite side of the equator gets only 45 inches.

Scientists long believed that this was a quirk of the Earth's geometry – that the ocean basins tilting diagonally while the planet spins pushed tropical rain bands north of the equator. But a new University of Washington study shows that the pattern arises from ocean currents originating from the poles, thousands of miles away.

The findings, published in Nature Geoscience, explain a fundamental feature of the planet's climate, and show that icy waters affect seasonal rains that are crucial for growing crops in such places as Africa's Sahel region and southern India.

In general, hotter places are wetter because hot air rises and moisture precipitates out.
Read more ..


Healthy Edge

Advancement Made in Treating Rare Adrenal Cancer

October 20th 2013

One of the most challenging cancers to treat is also one of the rarest, which only adds to the challenge of finding potential new therapies. Now adrenal cancer researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center are seeing the results of their laboratory studies translate to a clinical trial to test a potential new therapy in patients.

Researchers Tom Kerppola, Ph.D., and Gary Hammer, M.D., Ph.D., collaborated to test a new compound, ATR-101, in cell lines and mice. Their studies found that ATR-101 selectively killed the adrenal and adrenal cancer cells with very little effect on other cells in the body. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Incredible Bionic Man Showcases Cutting-Edge Medical Technology

October 18th 2013

Robots (Star Wars)

A new state-of-the-art robot that walks, talks, grasps, sees and hears was recently the star attraction at an event at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, in Washington.

The robot doesn’t walk very well and doesn’t dance, but the two-meter-tall bot holds great promise for the future. The Incredible Bionic Man, as he is called, is built entirely from artificial body parts and synthetic organs. He is the subject of a new documentary that chronicles the behind-the-scenes aspects of his story. 

Host Bertolt Meyer says it explores the question, "how far has medical technology come?" “What parts of the human body can we already replace today? If we get all of the spare parts that exist and put them together in one piece, what will it look like?  And the result is, it looks like this,” explained Meyer.

Like the Bionic Man, Meyer, a psychologist at the University of Zurich, has a bionic hand. The robot also has 27 other artificial body parts. “He has a great set of artificial organs already; he has an artificial heart, which is already used in patients; the artificial heart pumps artificial blood,” said Meyer. “He has the same bionic hand as I have, as I was born without my lower left arm, and he sits in a robotic exoskeleton. Think of this as the wheelchair of the future; a device that will restore the ability to walk to people who are paralyzed.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Technologies Save Lives When Disasters Strike

October 17th 2013

Facebook page

A new report claims digital innovations such as Facebook and Twitter are saving lives when natural disasters strike, but the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, which has just published its World Disasters Report 2013, finds poor, disaster-prone nations are disadvantaged because they lack access to the new technologies. 

Red Cross Information Technology Specialist Sarmad Alsaffaj said the so-called digital divide is huge in the most disaster-prone countries, which tend to be some of the poorest in the world, and that the lack of access to modern communications increases the severity of the disasters and reduces people’s ability to cope with them.

“For example, social media is increasingly becoming a media for humanitarian workers to get information from disaster-affected areas.  The problem is relying on this specific technology puts us in a risk of actually isolating those who do not have access to this technology - those who are not connected,” said Alsaffaj. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Finding Blood Clots Before They Wreck Havoc

October 16th 2013

Blood Clot formation

Life-threatening blood clots can form in anyone who sits on a plane for a long time, is confined to bed while recovering from surgery, or takes certain medications.

There is no fast and easy way to diagnose these clots, which often remain undetected until they break free and cause a stroke or heart attack. However, new technology from MIT may soon change that: A team of engineers has developed a way to detect blood clots using a simple urine test.

The noninvasive diagnostic, described in a recent issue of the journal ACS Nano, relies on nanoparticles that detect the presence of thrombin, a key blood-clotting factor.

Such a system could be used to monitor patients who are at high risk for blood clots, says Sangeeta Bhatia. "Some patients are at more risk for clotting, but existing blood tests are not consistently able to detect the formation of new clots," says Bhatia.  Read more ..


The Edge of Health

Circadian Rhythms in Skin Stem Cells Protect Us Against UV Rays

October 13th 2013

stem cells

Human skin must cope with UV radiation from the sun and other harmful environmental factors that fluctuate in a circadian manner. A study has revealed that human skin stem cells deal with these cyclical threats by carrying out different functions depending on the time of day. By activating genes involved in UV protection during the day, these cells protect themselves against radiation-induced DNA damage. The findings could pave the way for new strategies to prevent premature aging and cancer in humans.

"Our study shows that human skin stem cells posses an internal clock that allows them to very accurately know the time of day and helps them know when it is best to perform the correct function," says study author Salvador Aznar Benitah. "This is important because it seems that tissues need an accurate internal clock to remain healthy."

A variety of cells in our body have internal clocks that help them perform certain functions depending on the time of day, and skin cells as well as some stem cells exhibit circadian behaviors. Benitah and his collaborators previously found that animals lacking normal circadian rhythms in skin stem cells age prematurely, suggesting that these cyclical patterns can protect against cellular damage. But until now, it has not been clear how circadian rhythms affect the functions of human skin stem cells. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

First Evidence of Comet Strike Found

October 12th 2013

Comet Garradd credit: NASA/Swift

A team of South African scientists writing in the journal ‘Earth and Planetary Science Letters’ said that they have found the first evidence of a comet striking Earth 28 million years ago.

“Comets always visit our skies – they’re these dirty snowballs of ice mixed with dust – but never before in history has material from a comet ever been found on Earth,” said David Block, a member of the research team and a professor of the University of the Witwatersrand.

The researchers said that the comet shot into Earth’s atmosphere and blew up above what is now known as Egypt with blast that wiped out every living thing in its path.

As the fireball exploded it created a super-hot shock wave that heated the sand on the surface to about 2,000 degrees Celsius.  The extreme heat and pressure formed a great quantity of yellow silica glass that was spread throughout a 6,000 square kilometer area of the Sahara that’s known as the Libyan Desert Glass strewn field. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Technology Can Prevent Cellular Overload, Dropped Calls

October 11th 2013

Walking-Cell phone

When a natural disaster strikes and too many people take to their mobile phones at once, cellular networks easily overload. But a University of British Columbia graduate student has developed a solution to ensure that calls don’t get dropped and texts make it to their destination.

In a study published in the journal IEEE Transactions on Wireless Communications, Mai Hassan, a PhD student in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, found a way to opportunistically use television and radio channels to transmit cellular signals when systems are pushed beyond capacity.

“I proposed a more effective way to use any channel in the neighborhood, even if those channels are being used by radio or television stations,” said Hassan. “The challenge was finding a way to make sure the cellular signals didn’t interfere with the people using those channels in the first place.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Israeli Chips for the 'Internet of Everything'

October 10th 2013

Tablet Use

Looking beyond the smartphone, Israel’s Altair Semiconductor readies a novel chip to power devices with embedded Internet.

Watch out, Qualcomm. An Israeli startup thinks it can make an end run around your core business of providing chipsets to smartphones. Altair Semiconductor, located in the Tel Aviv suburb of Hod HaSharon, aims to beat Qualcomm, as well as the other big semiconductor makers like Intel, Broadcom and Marvell, by eschewing the phone entirely and looking beyond to the “Internet of everything.”

That’s the Internet that very soon will be embedded in digital cameras, gaming devices, car entertainment systems, video surveillance, traffic control and all manner of sensors. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Cellular Delivery System Research Wins Nobel Prize

October 8th 2013

Research and Development Chemistry

Three researchers studying how cells transport chemicals within and between cells have won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Awarded to three scientists for solving the mystery of how the cell organizes its transport system

James Rothman: Professor and Chairman in the Department of Cell Biology at Yale University
Randy Schekman: Professor in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of California at Berkeley
Thomas Sudhof: Professor of Molecular and Cellular Physiology at Stanford University

To explain what the researchers discovered, Harvard University cell biologist Tom Kirchhausen says it helps to think of each cell in the body as a tiny city. “You have people that are moving from one place to the other to do whatever function they do,” he said. “You move from place to place in carriers or containers,” like buses, trucks or trains, he says. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

Homo Neanderthalensis Made Bone Tools Before Homo sapiens

October 6th 2013

Click to select Image

One day in 2011, undergraduate student Naomi Martisius was sorting through tiny bone remnants in the University of California, Davis, paleoanthropology lab when she stumbled across a peculiar piece. The bone fragment, from a French archaeological site, turned out to be a part of an early specialized bone tool used by a Neandertal before the first modern humans appeared in Europe. "At the time, I had no idea about the impact of my discovery," said Martisius, who is now pursuing her doctoral degree in anthropology at UC Davis.

Martisius' opportunity was the result of a decade of excavation and research by two international teams. Their findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August.

"Previously these types of bone tools have only been associated with modern humans," said Teresa E. Steele, associate professor of anthropology at UC Davis, who also served as a co-author on the article and adviser to Martisius at UC Davis and at archaeological excavations in France.

"However, our identification of these pieces in secure Neandertal contexts leaves open the possibility that we have found, for the first time, evidence that Neandertals may have influenced the technology of modern humans," she said. Read more ..


The Prehistoric Edge

High Altitude Europeans Utilized Alpine Environments 8,000 Years Ago

October 6th 2013

Click to select Image

An international team of archaeologists led by experts from the University of York has uncovered evidence of human activity in the high slopes of the French Alps dating back over 8000 years. The 14-year study in the Parc National des Écrins in the southern Alps is one of the most detailed archaeological investigations carried out at high altitudes. It reveals a story of human occupation and activity in one of the world’s most challenging environments from the Mesolithic to the Post-Medieval period.

The work included the excavation of a series of stone animal enclosures and human dwellings considered some of most complex high altitude Bronze Age structures found anywhere in the Alps. The research, published in Quaternary International, was led by Dr Kevin Walsh, landscape archaeologist at the University of York in partnership with Florence Mocci of the Centre Camille Julian, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

New Research Could Lead to Particle Accelerator on a Chip

October 4th 2013

Tabletop-Accelerator

Scientists from Stanford University and the U.S. Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory say they’ve developed an innovation that could lead to particle accelerators the size of a computer chip, a development that could have far-reaching implications for science and medicine.

When many think about a particle accelerator device, they may think of units such as CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Switzerland. The LHC is enormous - a tunnel 27 kilometers in circumference sitting 175 meters underground. Writing in Nature, the researchers said they used a laser rather than microwaves to accelerate electrons in a nanostructured glass chip smaller than a grain of rice. The scientists said they were able speed up those electrons at a rate 10 times higher than its possible using current conventional technology. Read more ..


The Healthy Edge

Micro-Fluidic Chip May Improve Cancer Diagnosis through Liquid Biopsy

October 3rd 2013

A microfluidic chip developed at the University of Michigan is among the best at capturing elusive circulating tumor cells from blood—and it can support the cells' growth for further analysis. The device, believed to be the first to pair these functions, uses the advanced electronics material graphene oxide. In clinics, such a device could one day help doctors diagnose cancers, give more accurate prognoses and test treatment options on cultured cells without subjecting patients to traditional biopsies.

"If we can get these technologies to work, it will advance new cancer drugs and revolutionize the treatment of cancer patients," said Max Wicha, M.D., Distinguished Professor of Oncology and director of the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center and co-author of a paper on the new device, published online this week in Nature Nanotechnology. Read more ..


The Medical Edge

Leukemia Cells Addicted To A Healthy Gene

October 2nd 2013

Test Tubes

What keeps leukemia cells alive almost forever, able to continue dividing endlessly and aggressively? New research at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggests that, in about a quarter of all leukemias, the cancer cells rely on an internal “balance of terror” to keep going. When one version of a certain gene is mutated, it becomes a cancer-promoting gene—an oncogene. But the new findings show that the second, normal version of the gene, which functions alongside the mutation, is what keeps the cells both cancerous and alive, able to continue forging their destructive pathway in the body. This research appeared recently in Cell Reports.

That gene, RUNX1, is crucial for the development and maintenance of the blood circulatory system. It encodes a transcription factor—a protein that regulates the expression of many other genes. In the blood system, this transcription factor directs the differentiation of certain adult stem cells found in the bone marrow into the various mature blood cells. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Connecting Campuses Building-to-Building: Exploring Fiber Optics

October 1st 2013

Fiber Optics

As recently as the early 1990s most computers lacked network connections of any kind. Dialup modems were painfully slow, the Internet hadn’t caught on yet, and unless you were employed by a university or the military you probably had no use for Email.

The office and industrial networks that did exist tended to be relatively small, and 10Mbps connections over coaxial cable were fast enough and reliable enough for the applications of the day.
Fast forward to the present. Both the size and complexity of local networks have grown exponentially.  We’re not just connecting a handful of PCs in a single building anymore; quite often we’re connecting hundreds of network nodes located in a variety of different buildings.

Network equipment was primarily designed for small LANs (Local Area Networks), and as a result, copper cabling was -- and still is -- widely deployed. It’s inexpensive, it’s easy to use, and when combined with switches and routers it lets network designers create fairly complex local area networks and connect those networks to the outside world via the Internet. When a network is located in a controlled environment, and the network isn’t large, copper cabling is quite reliable. Read more ..


The Edge of Outer Space

Curiosity Rover Discovers Water on Mars

September 30th 2013

Click to select Image

The first scoop of Martian soil analyzed by Curiosity Rover’s built-in laboratory has revealed a high amount of water in the soil, according to NASA. “One of the most exciting results from this very first solid sample ingested by Curiosity is the high percentage of water in the soil,” said Curiosity researcher Laurie Leshin, of the Renesslaer Polytechnic Institute. “About 2 percent of the soil on the surface of Mars is made up of water, which is a great resource, and interesting scientifically.”

Researchers made their findings using Curiosity’s Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) unit, which includes three sophisticated instruments: a gas chromotograph, mass spectrometer, and tunable laser spectrometer. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Dutch Designer Seeks A Smarter Smartphone That Will Last Forever

September 30th 2013

Smart phone running voice recogniton

The world's hottest new smartphone isn't even close to being on the market. In fact, it's not even being manufactured yet. But hundreds of thousands of consumers already say they want one.

With little more than a website and a YouTube video, Dutch designer Dave Hakkens is seeking to upend the smartphone market with something called Phonebloks.

The idea is simple: enable consumers to replace individual components of their phone -- the screen, speakers, battery, storage, camera etc. -- while retaining the device's basic frame. It's essentially a phone you assemble like Lego.

Hakkens argues in a Phonebloks promotional YouTube video, which has gone viral with more than 15 million views, that thinking about a smartphone as a series of replaceable components or modules would reduce electronic waste and lower costs. Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Cygnus Spacecraft Brings Cargo to ISS Astronauts

September 29th 2013

Orion and International Space Station

A privately-owned spacecraft named Cygnus successfully docked with the International Space Station on Sunday, becoming the second such craft to do so.  The docking came a week later than planned, in part due to a software issue and traffic at the orbiting station.

The unmanned Cygnus spacecraft was drifting near the International Space Station, as planned, when Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency used the space station's robotic Canada-arm to grab the cargo capsule. Astronauts then used the Canada-arm to connect the capsule to the orbiting lab.  And with that, Virginia-based Orbital Sciences became the second U.S. company to show it can resupply the ISS.

It's a feat that had only been accomplished by a handful of governments until just last year, when the California-based company SpaceX made history by docking its Dragon spacecraft.  Orbital now joins SpaceX as a private provider of cargo resupply services. Read more ..


The Edge of Healthcare

Life-Saving App for Smartphones and Tablets

September 28th 2013

Smart phone

A new application, or app, has been developed for smartphones and portable computer tablets that may soon save lives in developing countries.  Besides being highly portable, the technology is cheap and easy to use. 

Of the six billion mobile phone users in the world, experts say about two-thirds live in developing countries where millions of children die each year due to lack of oxygen from pneumonia.  The lung infection is highly treatable with antibiotics, but often caregivers are not aware of the critical nature of the child's condition.

So, Dr. Mark Ansermino of the University of British Columbia and his colleagues developed a small, inexpensive device that can be attached to the earphone jack of a smartphone or mobile tablet that measures pulse oximetry.  Assessing the level of oxygen in the blood is sometimes called the fifth vital sign - along with pulse, temperature, breathing rate and blood pressure measurements.

The app, called the Phone Oximeter, gets its data from a clip attached to a fingertip or earlobe. Ansermino, a pediatric anesthesiologist, explains the device shines light of different wavelengths through the skin, taking advantage of a unique characteristic of blood. Read more ..


The Edge of the Universe

Scientists Compile 'Census Of The Galaxies' Using Power Of The Crowd

September 27th 2013

M55 in Sagittarius via VISTA

Cutting-edge instruments allow us to peer deep into time and space. But back on Earth, there are still just 24 hours in a day. That's the conundrum researchers have increasingly faced in recent years, as the quantity of images returned by telescopes has outpaced attempts at organizing them.

Now, an international group of scientists is tackling that problem by harnessing people power, plus the Internet, to help them take on the enormity of the universe. The result is "Galaxy Zoo," a project determined to catalog the skies. It has just completed its second groundbreaking phase.

"Galaxies tend to come in two main morphologies, or shapes: ellipticals or spirals," Lucy Fortson, a professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Minnesota and one of the project's leaders said. "The complexity of those shapes makes it very difficult for machine algorithms or computers to be able to tell the difference. The best machine algorithm that we have to tell the difference between these shapes is actually the human brain. There was a graduate student from Oxford [who was working on this] and his supervisor, and they sat in a pub and thought, 'You know, if we just put this up on the web, do you think people would come and classify the galaxies?'" Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Nanoparticles Used to Deliver Vaccines to Lungs

September 25th 2013

Premature Baby

Many viruses and bacteria infect humans through mucosal surfaces, such as those in the lungs, gastrointestinal tract and reproductive tract. To help fight these pathogens, scientists are working on vaccines that can establish a front line of defense at mucosal surfaces.

Vaccines can be delivered to the lungs via an aerosol spray, but the lungs often clear away the vaccine before it can provoke an immune response. To overcome that, MIT engineers have developed a new type of nanoparticle that protects the vaccine long enough to generate a strong immune response -- not only in the lungs, but also in mucosal surfaces far from the vaccination site, such as the gastrointestinal and reproductive tracts.

Such vaccines could help protect against influenza and other respiratory viruses, or prevent sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, herpes simplex virus and human papilloma virus, says Darrell Irvine, an MIT professor of materials science and engineering and biological engineering and the leader of the research team. He is also exploring use of the particles to deliver cancer vaccines. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Stem Cell Reprogramming Made Easier

September 24th 2013

Human embryonic stem cells
credit: PLoS Bio

Embryonic stem cells have the enormous potential to treat and cure many medical problems. That is why the discovery that induced embryonic-like stem cells can be created from skin cells was rewarded with a Nobel Prize in 2012. But the process of creating such cells has remained frustratingly slow and inefficient, and the resulting stem cells are not yet ready for medical use.

Research in the lab of the Weizmann Institute of Science’s Dr. Yaqub Hanna, which appears September 18 in Nature, dramatically changes that: He and his group have identified the “brake” that holds back the production of stem cells, and found that releasing this brake can both synchronize the process and increase its efficiency from around one percent or less today to 100 percent. These findings may help facilitate the production of stem cells for medical use, as well as advancing our understanding of the mysterious process by which adult cells can revert back into their original, embryonic state. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Direct Measurement of Spinal Cord Myelin in Multiple Sclerosis

September 23rd 2013

MRI Machine

Researchers have made an exciting breakthrough – developing a first-of-its-kind imaging tool to examine myelin damage in multiple sclerosis (MS). An extremely difficult disease to diagnose, the tool will help physicians diagnose patients earlier, monitor the disease’s progression, and evaluate therapy efficacy.

Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine scientists have developed a novel molecular probe detectable by positron emission tomography (PET) imaging. The new molecular marker, MeDAS, offers the first non-invasive visualization of myelin integrity of the entire spinal cord at the same time

“While MS originates in the immune system, the damage occurs to the myelin structure of the central nervous system. Our discovery brings new hope to clinicians who may be able to make an accurate diagnosis and prognosis in as little as a few hours compared to months or even years,” said Yanming Wang, PhD.  “Because of its shape and size, it is particularly difficult to directly detect myelin damage in the spinal cord; this is the first time we have been able to image its function at the molecular level.” Read more ..


The Edge of Space

Unusual Ring of Radiation in Space

September 22nd 2013

Solar System Birth

Since the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belts in 1958, space scientists have believed these belts encircling the Earth consist of two doughnut-shaped rings of highly charged particles — an inner ring of high-energy electrons and energetic positive ions and an outer ring of high-energy electrons.

In February of this year, a team of scientists reported the surprising discovery of a previously unknown third radiation ring — a narrow one that briefly appeared between the inner and outer rings in September 2012 and persisted for a month.

In new research, UCLA space scientists have successfully modeled and explained the unprecedented behavior of this third ring, showing that the extremely energetic particles that made up this ring, known as ultra-relativistic electrons, are driven by very different physics than typically observed Van Allen radiation belt particles. The region the belts occupy — ranging from about 1,000 to 50,000 kilometers above the Earth's surface — is filled with electrons so energetic they move close to the speed of light. Read more ..


The Digital Edge

Your Brain Digitally Remastered for Clarity of Thought

September 20th 2013

Baby Boomer

The sweep of a needle across the grooves of a worn vinyl record carries distinct sounds: hisses, scratches, even the echo of skips. For many years, though, those yearning to hear Frank Sinatra sing "Fly Me to the Moon" have been able to listen to his light baritone with technical clarity, courtesy of the increased signal-to-noise ratio of digital remasterings.

Now, with advances in neurofeedback techniques, the signal-to-noise ratio of the brain activity underlying our thoughts can be remastered as well, according to a recent discovery  by a research team led by Stephen LaConte, an assistant professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion Research Institute.

LaConte and his colleagues specialize in real-time functional magnetic resonance imaging, a relatively new technology that can convert thought into action by transferring noninvasive measurements of human brain activity into control signals that drive physical devices and computer displays in real time. Crucially, for the ultimate goal of treating disorders of the brain, this rudimentary form of mind reading enables neurofeedback. Read more ..


The Edge of Medicine

Motor Control Development Continues Longer Than Previously Believed

September 18th 2013

Special Ed Teacher

The development of fine motor control—the ability to use your fingertips to manipulate objects—takes longer than previously believed, and isn't entirely the result of brain development, according to a pair of complementary studies.

The research opens up the potential to use therapy to continue improving the motor control skills of children suffering from neurodevelopmental disorders such as cerebral palsy, a blanket term for central motor disorders that affects about 764,000 children and adults nationwide

"These findings show that it's not only possible but critical to continue or begin physical therapy in adolescence," said Francisco Valero-Cuevas. "We find we likely do not have a narrow window of opportunity in early childhood to improve manipulation skills, as previously believed, but rather developmental plasticity lasts much longer and provides opportunity throughout adolescence" he said. "This complements similarly exciting findings showing brain plasticity in adulthood and old age."  Read more ..


Space The Edge of Life

Comet Crashes Kick-start Life Across Solar System

September 17th 2013

Comet Garradd credit: NASA/Swift

Comets and other celestial travelers carry ingredients that can help kick-start life on planets, according to a team of British and American scientists.

The scientists from Imperial College London, The University of Kent and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say they’ve discovered  a cosmic factory for producing amino acids, which are considered to be the building blocks of life.

According to the researchers, those potential life-producing amino acids are formed when an icy comet smashes into a planet or a rocky meteorite collides with an ice covered planet. The new findings provide additional clues as to how life began on Earth some 3.8 to 4.5 billion years ago, when our planet was frequently being blasted with comets and meteorites.

"This process demonstrates a very simple mechanism whereby we can go from a mix of simple molecules, such as water and carbon dioxide ice, to a more complicated molecule, such as an amino acid,” said co-author Mark Price from the University of Kent. “This is the first step towards life. The next step is to work out how to go from an amino acid to even more complex molecules such as proteins.” Read more ..


The Digital Edge

US Doctors Aid Syrians With 'Virtual Surgery'

September 16th 2013

Syria fighting injured baby

A field hospital near Aleppo was destroyed Wednesday by shelling, killing the six medical personnel inside, and patients. The Syrian American Medical Society says that hospital was the third that has been destroyed in the town in two years - in a war that has killed more than 100,000 people. A group of surgeons in the United States - through the Union of Syrian Medical Relief Organizations and the Syrian American Medical Society - is assisting with the increasing medical needs - without ever entering a Syrian operating room.

A secret Skype surgery session was made available for this exclusive report. We should warn you, this story contains some graphic images that may offend sensitive viewers.

This patient will never know that his destiny lies in the expertise of a man 9,400 kilometers away. The 19-year-old took a bullet to the leg. “He hasn't been able to walk since,” said a doctor.

Assisting from States
Neither the surgeon nor a visiting British doctor in Syria has expertise in peripheral nerve damage. So in the midst of war, they are consulting via Skype with Dr. Abdalmajid Katranji, a hand surgeon - in the Midwestern U.S. state of Michigan. Read more ..


The Edge of Climate Change

Unprecedented Rate And Scale Of Ocean Acidification Found In The Arctic

September 15th 2013

Stormy Seas

Acidification of the Arctic Ocean is occurring faster than projected according to new findings published in the journal PLoS One. The increase in rate is being blamed on rapidly melting sea ice, a process that may have important consequences for health of the Arctic ecosystem.

Ocean acidification is the process by which pH levels of seawater decrease due to greater amounts of carbon dioxide being absorbed by the oceans from the atmosphere. Currently oceans absorb about one-fourth of the greenhouse gas. Lower pH levels make water more acidic and lab studies have shown that more acidic water decrease calcification rates in many calcifying organisms, reducing their ability to build shells or skeletons. These changes, in species ranging from corals to shrimp, have the potential to impact species up and down the food web. Read more ..


The Race for LEDs

Toward a Truly White Organic LED

September 14th 2013

LED bulb

By inserting platinum atoms into an organic semiconductor, University of Utah physicists were able to "tune" the plastic-like polymer to emit light of different colors – a step toward more efficient, less expensive and truly white organic LEDs for light bulbs of the future.

"These new, platinum-rich polymers hold promise for white organic light-emitting diodes and new kinds of more efficient solar cells," says University of Utah physicist Z. Valy Vardeny, who led a study of the polymers published online Friday, Sept. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

Certain existing white light bulbs use LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, and some phone displays use organic LEDs, or OLEDs. Neither are truly white LEDs, but instead use LEDs made of different materials that each emit a different color, then combine or convert those colors to create white light, Vardeny says.

In the new study, Vardeny and colleagues report how they inserted platinum metal atoms at different intervals along a chain-like organic polymer, and thus were able to adjust or tune the colors emitted. That is a step toward a truly white OLED generated by multiple colors from a single polymer. Read more ..



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