Wednesday, May 28, 2014

AirDrop: Turning Air Into Water

This simple, but brilliant, design actually pulls water from air through condensation. This solar- powered AirDrop low-tech device, takes  in air from above the soil and cools it  below ground, causing the water in the air to condense, in a passive  system of sub-surface drip irrigation.

With this AirDrop device, the water is delivered directly to the plants' roots, where it's most needed and the water has much less opportunity to be wasted, due to evaporation.

The 28-year old Australian inventor, Edward Linacre took his biomimicry cues from Australia's hardy desert rhubarb and from the Namib beetle, which have evolved to collect water from the air.

It works by using a solar powered fan to drive the hot air underground through a network of piping that rapidly cools the air and condenses the water out it. This is the most ingenious and efficient form of irrigation, since it does not rely on the bodies of water for its sources. Currently, it's in the prototype phase.

While still in the beginning stages and not available for purchase... yet, this is an idea and a project to watch closely. Very closely.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Wearable robotic suits that allow people with lower-body paralysis to walk upright again

Could you ever imagine that soon wheelchairs might become irrelevant? Well, you don't have to imagine it, since the revolutionary "bionic exoskeleton" is now making this a reality. Robotic or mechanical exoskeletons provide the possibility of offering disabled people the kind of protection, support and strength they afford in nature.  

Exoskeletons are common in nature. The name means "outer skeleton". Grasshoppers, cockroaches, crabs and lobsters have exoskeletons rather than an inner endoskeletons like humans, providing both support to the body and protection against predators. Turtles and tortoises have both an inner skeleton and an exoskeleton shell. 

Exoskeleton developers working in rehabilitation are creating wearable robotic suits that allow people with lower-body paralysis to walk upright again. Exoskeletons can help patients with neurological disabilities improve their motor performance by providing task specific practice. "In the next five years we're going to see more and more exoskeletons out there in practice," says Thomas Sugar, associate professor at the Department of Engineering, Arizona State University.

While the most common goal of an exoskeleton is to provide superhuman strength or endurance, scientists and engineers around the world are building exoskeletons with a wide range of diverse purposes. An exoskeleton suit is designed to provide support, assistance and protection for the human body. Starting from these main functions and combining several technologies, researchers are creating robotic suits for military use to help soldiers with a bit of super-human strength, medical exoskeleton suits that offer hope for paralyzed persons, and exosuits that augment human strength and speed.

Below are the different types of exoskeleton machines now being developed or marketed around the world by researchers and companies.

1. ReWalk Exoskeleton

ReWalk is one of the most advanced robotic exoskeleton suits designed for use in exploring different surfaces of terrains or at home.  Today, there is a growing number of patients who are regaining mobility with the FDA-approved 'ReWalk exoskeleton'. This technology is extremely exciting, as it will allow spinal cord injury patients to get out of their wheelchairs and walk again.

The bionic suit, worn outside of clothing, helps people with injuries walk by using accelerometers (similar to those in iPhones) to detect subtle changes in their balance. The suit moves the users’ legs in a natural gait, while the person uses crutches for stability. The manufacturer reports that the bionic suit, designed for spinal cord injury patients who retain use of their arms, may also help reduce several other disorders linked to long-term wheelchair use, including bone thinning, pressure sores, and problems with breathing, blood circulation, and urination.

2. eLEGS

eLEGS is the result of the combination between artificial intelligence and advanced technologies for gesture recognition. Designed by Berkeley Bionics, eLEGS is a lower body exoskeleton suit built for paralyzed people which allows them to walk again. The sensors are used to detect gestures and to send information to a computer in order to control movements. Patients can run at a maximum speed of up to 3 Km/hour for up to six hours of continuing use.

3. Honda Walk Assist 

Honda has come out with some variations of these exoskeleton suits including their Stride Management Assist and their Bodyweight Support. By 2024, people will be walking down the street, in the malls, and to their homes wearing robotic exoskeletons. They will make it easier for people to carry backpacks and walk for a long duration, and they will be portable, svelte, and fashionable.

4. REX Bionics

The REX powered exoskeleton has been designed to replace the wheelchair for patients with falls or mobility problems. Using a REX suit, the user can walk again and can move independently in daily routines.

5. Mindwalker 

Mindwalker is a mechanical suit prototype that has a control system with a highly advanced EEG bio-sensor that is able to read the mind of the patient. Mindwalker focuses on the patient’s mind by applying an EEG cap on the head. The EEG cap reads the signals from the brain and translates these signals into commands. This system has more control over the mobile suit parts in comparison with technologies that read the movements of human body parts. 

Rehabilitation clinics soon will have a variety of exoskeleton machines available to aid patients that have experienced spinal cord injury, stroke, and other neurological disorders.  Check out this website Intorobotic for more details.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Trophic cascades are powerful indirect interactions that can control entire ecosystems.

In the early 1900s, when wolves roamed Yellowstone, young trees such as aspen and willow were abundant. In 30 years, after wolves were hunted out, the forest stopped regenerating. Reintroducing wolves into Yellowstone National Park after nearly 70 years of absence has been controversial. However, the effects have been utterly transformative to the Yellowstone ecosystem.

A trophic cascade recently has been reported among wolves, elk, and aspen on the northern winter range of Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA.

What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers?  What happens when a species that has been hunted to extinction is introduced to its happy hunting grounds after 70 years? Find out in this beautiful little film.

Could the impact of a species on an entire ecosystem  leads us to think differently about sustainable lines for solving the global climate crisis? 

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Future for Pregnancy and Child Birth - future reproductive technology

Since the early 1990s reproductive technology has been used to help women get pregnant. However, future technology may make it so that they don't actually have to be pregnant. There is a strong possibility that one day in the very near future babies will be conceived and grow in artificial wombs that are hooked up to a placenta machine. 

Scientists have been working on creating human sperm cells from embryonic tissue, as well as manufacturing eggs and even entire embryos. In 2001, researchers from Cornell University began growing sheets of endometrial tissue; when the sheets proved too thin to accommodate embryos, they were able to construct a freestanding uterus.

In 2008, scientists made a potential breakthrough in the treatment of serious disease by creating a human embryo with three separate parents (source BBC). The embryos were created using DNA from a man and two women in lab tests.The scientists took DNA from the mother and the father, but removed the parts that could foretell a condition like blindness or diabetes. That DNA was implanted into a donor egg which had been scraped of all genetic information except for the tiny bit that does control production of mitochondria, ensuring the fetus ended up with all the genes he or she needed, minus the disease-causing ones.

With advances in genetics research, people may soon preselect their children's physical and personality traits like they pick out options on a new car. So from this scenario, will children born without such genetic tinkering end up inferior to the ones born in the lab? For now, we're left with more questions than answers, but as we wonder at the possibilities, science keeps moving forward.

It may be possible for two gay men to have a baby together without the help of a surrogate, because eggs can be made from male cells. However, sperm requires a Y chromosome, leaving lesbian couples to rely on the help of male tissue.

The advances we discussed in this article aren't really right around the corner, but bioethicists are already deliberating and pondering over the implications of future reproductive technology. Are we simply ensuring that a child has the best possible start in life, or are we playing God? How old is too old to have a baby? Will men and/or women become superseded? Will the next generation be an army of clones? Who will be able to afford pregnancy and childbirth? And will a good old-fashioned way to lovemaking become the least popular way to have a baby? How far will reproductive technology go in the future? Will women one day be able to have children whenever and however they want? Will sex even be necessary? These are the questions that scientists are pondering. Read on to find out how the birds and the bees talk might go in the future.

Read More

In the article 'Why sex could be history (Via Guardian) author Aarathi Prasad in her book 'Like a Virgin' looks at the technologies that would take intercourse out of the reproductive equation, advances that could challenge everything we know about the relationship between men and women.  The book presents a portrait of the future in which sex is no longer necessary to reproduction and women can conceive using a combination of their own stem cells and an artificial Y chromosome to not only make eggs but also sperm.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies

V2V (vehicle-to-vehicle) technology will have a large impact on all future cars and it will become increasingly important in the not too distant future. Unlike so many new technologies that can be reserved for luxury buyers, V2V technology is inherently made for the mass market. In its early stages, it will see cars talking directly to each other. This new technology is the next generation of auto safety improvements, building on the life-saving achievements we’ve already seen with safety belts and airbags.

The Car2Car Communication Consortium, the European industry group lobbying for a full set of standards covering C2C and intelligent transport systems, has already announced it wants usable vehicles on the road by 2015 or 2016. 

The US Department of Transportation has approved the use of vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies on public roads in America.

For more information about Vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies

Car-2-car communications to aid safety

Volvo joins other Euro marques in safety breakthrough

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Vision screening for children

It's really important that childhood vision disorders are detected as early as possible because poor vision can have devastating consequences in children's lives academically, psychosocially, and ultimately economically. Vision disorders, if not detected and treated early in life, can result in a condition known as amblyopia or “lazy eye” – the most common cause of blindness in persons under the age of 45. 

Fortunately most vision problems can be treated inexpensively and effectively — but the problems must first be detected. Detection of amblyopia can be challenging because often the child can see clearly with one eye, allowing them to read a book and see the surrounding while slowly going blind in their weak eye. It's not always possible to look at children and see that they are suffering with a vision problem. It would be wonderful for every child to be examined by a professional eye doctor every year, but that is not logistically or financially viable. 

Over the past decade, Vision Quest 20/20 has developed an innovative approach to assess the entire visual system of the child while they “play” a 3-minute video game.  EyeSpy 20/20™ is a school vision screener that dramatically improves the accuracy, availability and cost of vision screening for children. This new and outstanding product maximizes the interest and participation of the child through a 2-3 minute gaming interactive process.

EyeSpy 20/20 has been used to screen more than 200,000 students in three years for amblyopia, strabismus (eye misalignment), cataracts, and focusing problems (nearsightedness, extreme farsightedness, and astigmatism). It can detect virtually any vision disorder and will soon be the main form of vision screening around the world!

Independently validated by the Storm Eye Institute in Charleston, South Carolina, and the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus, EyeSpy is essentially a two-minute matching game. Using accredited age-appropriate symbols in vision screening, students ages 4 and up are seated about 10 feet away from a computer screen.

Where good ideas come from?

This is a very interesting video about 'Where good ideas come from' by Author Steven Johnson. He address an urgent and universal question:

  • What sparks the flash of brilliance? 
  • How does groundbreaking innovation happen? 

Johnson shows that with today's tools and environment, radical innovation is extraordinarily accessible to those who know how to cultivate it. He provides the complete, exciting, and encouraging story of how we generate the ideas that push our careers, our lives, our society, and our culture forward.