Tech Industry Has a Tubular Tuesday

Brain Scans for Higher IQ, Vaccination Drones & Robots with Human Moves

Here are some awesomely interesting SciTech articles I believe you’ll enjoy…

Big Boosts to Brain Scanning
The Human Connectome Project has announced some of its achievements and advances to date http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/imaging/brain-scanning-just-got-very-good-and-very-unsettling. The project has scanned the brains of well over a thousand people, developed techniques to identify an individual’s unique brain activity and identify them with 99% accuracy, predict how people will perform on an intelligence test, and during memory or reading tasks. Big Data and numerous software innovations have also resulted. Hardware wise big advances have been made with MRI machines: acquiring high-res 3D scans of a brain used to take 24 hours, but now takes under an hour and with ten times the resolution. Meanwhile brain volume and energy markers have been linked to quantitative reasoning ability and verbal/spatial intelligence respectively https://illinois.edu/blog/view/6367/375272.
More Big Steps in Deep Learning
First, Baidu achieves a 30x efficiency gain in GPUs running Deep Learning algorithms http://nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/baidu-improves-efficiency-by-30-times.html. Second, Deep Learning algorithms can now understand or extract summaries of articles with 70% accuracy https://www.newscientist.com/article/2094385-ai-just-got-a-big-boost-in-its-ability-to-understand-the-news/. Third, Deep Learning algorithms are producing impressive results with quite small datasets, for example quickly learning to automate boring tasks such as cell recognition with minimal effort http://www.cosmonio.com/blog/2016/06/20/deep-learning-with-small-data/.
Robot Motion Planning Speedup
A new custom processor has been developed specifically for the task of collision checking for robot motion planning, and which is able to speed the process up by three orders of magnitude while using 20 times less power http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/robotics-software/custom-processor-speeds-up-robot-motion-planning-by-factor-of-1000. This allows real time millisecond motion planning, and all via an appropriately configured FPGA that allows dedicated circuits to operate simultaneously. The main limitations are that a new FPGA configuration is needed for each new physical setup of a robot.
SpotMini from Boston Dynamics
Boston Dynamics has released a new, smaller version of their quadruped robot platform called SpotMini that comes complete with a vision-powered arm and gripper that looks like a head on a long neck http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/home-robots/boston-dynamics-spotmini. SpotMini appears to be fully electric, nimble, adaptable to the outdoors, obstacles, stairs, recovery from loss of footing, and being fitted out with different sensors and arms as needed. Short demonstrations show it picking up a glass to load into a dishwasher and grabbing a tin can to throw in the bin. The “slip mishap” is particularly entertaining to watch.
Nanoparticle Libraries on Chips
Taking inspiration from gene chips a new nanoparticle discovery tool on a type of chip enables rapid screening of many millions of different nanoparticles in order to optimally select the best candidate or a particular purpose http://www.mccormick.northwestern.edu/news/articles/2016/06/nanoscientists-develop-the-ultimate-discovery-tool.html. The technique produces combinatorial libraries of nanoparticles with different compositions using dip-pen nanolithography. Variability currently comes from Au, Ag, Co, Cu, Ni elements as well as size from 1nm to 100nm – many more elements and structural variations might be added in future to significantly expand these libraries and explore the vast possible space of nanostructures for useful applications.
Analogue Computing Compiler
A new analogue computing compiler has been demonstrated for taking high-level instructions and producing low-level specifications to program the circuit connections in an analogue computer http://news.mit.edu/2016/analog-computing-organs-organisms-0620. Example applications in which analogue systems outperform digital systems include biological simulations but analogue programming has previously been time consuming, especially for large simulations. With a small number of transistors these analogue circuits are solving complicated differential equations that would otherwise take millions of digital transistors millions of clock cycles.
Atmospheric Carbon Capture
CarbFix is a new technique for effectively capturing carbon by burying it with basalt rock, the elements of which effectively react with the carbon dioxide and turn it into rock-like minerals such as calcite http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21700371-how-keep-waste-carbon-dioxide-ground-turning-air-stone. In tests it took 2 years for 95% of the injected carbon dioxide to be mineralised. Meanwhile, the latest work on efforts from last year to convert the carbon dioxide from power plants into carbon nanotubes suggests that the approach could be quite economical http://phys.org/news/2016-06-power-co2-emissions-carbon-nanotubes.html.
Metalens Can Resolve Molecular Chirality
An ultra-compact flat metalens can capture both the spectral information and distinguish the molecular chirality of a material at the same time https://www.seas.harvard.edu/news/2016/06/ultrathin-flat-lens-resolves-chirality-and-color. This is powered by two arrays of titanium oxide nanofins, which work to produce two separate images of the same object comprising left-circularly polarised and right-circularly polarised light respectively. At just 3mm wide it can be incorporated into conventional portable camera systems for sensing and diagnostic applications.
Nanoscale Remote Actuation
A new nanoscale engineering approach has developed a magnetomechanic alternative to MEMS and NEMS that involves controlling nanoactuation via applied magnetic fields http://www.nanogune.eu/newsroom/remote-control-actuation-goes-down-nanoscale. A 3D nano-assembly process creates a nanoscale cantilever that can be moved with nanometer precision and remotely controlled via an applied magnetic field. One of the key benefits here is that no physical contact is needed for control and such cantilevers might be fixed to surfaces or particles suspended in fluid and even introduced into the body to perform some pre-configured task; nanoscale cantilevers might ratchet nanoscale gears for example.
Three Artificial Kidney Platforms
Three different artificial kidney platforms are currently under development to help people better deal with kidney failure and dialysis http://spectrum.ieee.org/the-human-os/biomedical/devices/3-ways-to-build-an-artificial-kidney. First, the Wearable Artificial Kidney, a prototype belt device with filters, fluids and pumps that is worn by a patient and continuously cleans the blood; during a 24-hour test with patients it worked as well as a conventional dialysis machine but suffered a number of technical problems. Second, an implantable bioartificial kidney that uses a silicon membrane with nanopores to filter blood and a bioreactor with live kidney cells to perform various metabolic and endocrine functions. Finally, Qidni Labs is also building an implantable artificial kidney that uses a nanofiltration system to mimic kidney function.
Precise Surface Functionalisation via DNA Origami
Electron-beam lithography chip fabrication tools can create surfaces etched with photonic crystal cavity arrays, tuned to particular wavelengths of light, that contain up to seven distinct internal surface structures to which precise DNA origami shapes can bind to https://www.caltech.edu/news/dna-origami-lights-microscopic-glowing-van-gogh-51280. With fluorescent molecules (whose light emittance is chosen to match the cavity) attached to specific DNA origami shapes, each cavity can now be precisely filled with from zero to seven fluorescent molecules, and so providing a colour scale with eight shades that the group used to create a dime-sized copy of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” containing over 65,000 distinct pixels. This is an exciting platform for building precisely patterned functional surfaces; one can imagine the fluorescent molecules being replaced with sensors, quantum dots, enzymes, and other DNA origami structures, perhaps as mini production lines.


 


2. Human-Like Robotic Gait
DURUS is a robotic platform recently used to demonstrate hyper-efficient, human-like robotic gait and bipedal locomotion http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/durus-brings-humanlike-gait-and-fancy-shoes-to-hyperefficient-robots. DURUS walks nearly 20x more efficiently than the original ATLAS humanoid robot, has human-like heel-toe walking, and can wear human shoes while doing so. The most important facet here is that, while some hardware innovations were involved, the platform is mainly improved software that can be used with different hardware configurations and doesn’t suffer from the same restraints as before. More complex tests are planned for running and walking, and the platform should also prove just as useful in providing much improved prosthetics for amputees.


Fun Stuff, ey?
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