Science & Technology


Scientists reveal world's first "feeling" prosthetic leg

© Research Group for Arm and Leg Prostheses Linz (ReALL)
The world's first prosthetic leg which simulates the feelings of a real limb has been developed by Austrian researchers.
The world's first sensitive prosthetic leg, which simulates the feelings of a real limb, was revealed by Austrian scientists today.

The limb, developed by Professor Hubert Egger of the FH Upper Austria (University of Applied Sciences), allows wearers to tell which surface they are walking on and dramatically improves amputee's balance and coordination.

The development could wipe out the phenomenon of phantom pain, where amputees can experience severe discomfort as the brain receives no neural feedback from their missing limb.

A two-stage process was used to fit the limb to its first user, Austrian amputee Wolfgang Rangger, who lost his right leg to a blood clot and has been testing the limb for the past six months.

AFP reported that surgeons first rewired working nerve endings from Rangger's stump to healthy thigh tissue close to the surface of the skin. These nerves were then connected via stimulators in the prosthesis shaft to a foot which was equipped with six sensors.


Robot kills a worker at Volkswagen plant

© Autoblog
A machine on an assembly line grabbed a worker and thrust him against a metal slab, causing lethal injuries.

The tragedy occurred at a plant belonging to German automaker Volkswagen (VW) in Baunatal, on Monday.

A 21 year old man, who is not an employee of the plant, was assembling the robot for a new motor production line, according to the His Meissen-based company had built the machine for the automaker.

He was the only person in the proximity of the machine. Other workers were standing in the outer area. The robot grabbed the man and threw him against a metal slab. He suffered a severe blow to the chest area and died in hospital.

VW spokesman Heiko Hillwig said that human error is to blame for the incident, according to the Associated Press. He said that the machine is programed to grab auto parts and manipulate them. It operates in a restricted area of the plant.

The factory at Baunatal, 100 kilometers north of Frankfurt, is the second largest for the Volkswagen brand. It doesn't make vehicles, but assembles components for other plants.
boingboing, July 1st

A Volkswagen rep told the paper that the robot "was not one of the new generation of lightweight collaborative robots that work side-by-side with workers on the production line and forgo safety cages," and had no known technical defect.

Comment: New technology was developed just for these types of accidents in Germany in 2007:

Robots that know when they've hit you:
The arm also uses its torque sensors for more sophisticated responses. The direction of an unexpected movement allows it to differentiate a co-worker's guiding hand from an unintended collision, preventing it from stopping unnecessarily. Meanwhile the magnitude of the movement allows it to tell the difference between a big hit and a soft collision. It responds to the latter with a gentle nudge that signals "get out of my way" to its human co-worker. A commercial version of the arm will be launched next year by robot manufacturer Kuka of Augsburg, Germany.

A commercial version of the arm will be launched next year - 2008- by robot manufacturer Kuka of Augsburg, Germany.

Eye 1

Hiding your face won't work: Facebook uses other identifying cues to find out who you are

It's highly likely your friends could spot you in a crowd, even if your face were obscured or your back turned. Rather eerily, a recent report revealed that your friends aren't the only ones who can pick you out in a sea of people—Facebook can, too.

In fact, Facebook's algorithms can accurately identify an individual user from among 800 million pictures—in less than five seconds—98% of the time.

Using its artificial intelligence lab—a rather Orwellian acquisition for a social media platform—Facebook researcher Yann LeCun wanted to determine if the same algorithms already used for facial recognition could be adjusted to scrutinize other cues. LeCun, an expert in computer vision and pattern recognition who came to Facebook in 2013, explained that identifying cues—like body type or the way a person stands—could be taken into consideration by the technology the way humans already do.

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Study: Humans could be uniquely identified by "smell fingerprint"

© Reuters / Victor Fraile
It's a well-known fact that no two fingerprints are the same - but apparently no two "smellprints" are the same, either. Scientists have discovered a way to characterize our sense of smell, and the unique labeling may reveal genetic information about us.

Every human has about six million smell receptors of around 400 different types. The distribution of those receptors varies from person to person, resulting in unique senses of smell - referred to by the study's researchers as the "olfactory fingerprint."

The study, conducted by researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested 89 participants on how strongly 28 odors matched 54 adjectives. Those adjectives included "nutty," "pleasant,""lemony," "masculine,""fishy,""citrus," and "sour," among others.

Based on those descriptions, the researchers developed a complex mathematical formula for determining how similar any two odors are to one another in the human sense of smell.


Scientist generate light from turmeric spice

Can you imagine a computer or handheld device backlight or display of the future being lit up by a turmeric or pomegranate mixture? Imagine if an entirely edible source of white light could be generated with minimal environmental and human health impacts? The good news is that we no longer have to rely on our imagination. We now have the science to show it is indeed possible!
What could be more unnatural and yet indispensable in the modern world than a light bulb? Made from metal, glass, and a variety of petrochemicals, who would even consider looking for a "green" alternative? And if so, what would that be?

Now, a groundbreaking new study published in Scientific Reports seems to have found exactly such a green solution. Amazingly, Indian researchers discovered that a mixture of two commonly consumed edible plants, red pomegranate and turmeric, when exposed to light wavelengths just below the visible threshold (380 nm), produced almost pure white light emission (WLE).

Comment: Turmeric really is a wonder herb!

Turmeric is the Anti-Aging, Anti-Oxidant, Anti-Inflammatory Super Spice


Threat from Artificial Intelligence not just Hollywood fantasy

© The Telegraph, UK
Ex Machina 2015.
From the dystopian writings of Aldous Huxley and HG Wells to the sinister and apocalyptic vision of modern Hollywood blockbusters, the rise of the machines has long terrified mankind.

But it now seems that the brave new world of science-fiction could become all too real.

An Oxford academic is warning that humanity runs the risk of creating super intelligent computers that eventually destroy us all, even when specifically instructed not to harm people.

Dr Stuart Armstrong, of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University, has predicted a future where machines run by artificial intelligence become so indispensable in human lives they eventually make us redundant and take over.

And he says his alarming vision could happen as soon as the next few decades.

Dr Armstrong said: "Humans steer the future not because we're the strongest or the fastest, but because we're the smartest.

"When machines become smarter than humans, we'll be handing them the steering wheel."

He spoke as films and TV dramas such as Channel 4's Humans and Ex-Machina, - which both explore the blurred lines between man and robot - have once again tapped into man's fear of creating a machine that will eventually come to dominate him.


SpaceX rocket to ISS explodes two minutes after launch

© John Raoux/AP
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon spacecraft stands ready for launch at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Nasa said on Sunday morning that "something went wrong" with the launch of a SpaceX supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS), and confirmed that "the vehicle has broken up".

A video posted to Instagram appeared to show the vehicle exploding. Reports said pieces could be seen falling into the Atlantic.

Cargo on the unmanned Dragon SpX-7 rocket included food and care packages, systems hardware, "science materials", computer resources and spacewalking equipment. It also carried a docking adaptor for the station as part of operations to prepare for future commercial missions. At the end of a five-week mission the rocket was due to return 675kg of goods to earth.

On Sunday morning, ISS astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted: "Watched #Dragon launch from @space_station Sadly failed Space is hard Teams assess below @NASAKennedy #YearInSpace".

At 10.22am on Sunday, Nasa tweeted a picture of the launch of the rocket with the traditional phrase: "We have liftoff."

Comment: See also:


Dormant monster black hole just woke up

Black hole with stellar companion.
What you're seeing is V404 Cygni, a binary system consisting of a star and a black hole, some 7800 light-years away. It has laid quiet for the last 25 years, but a week ago, NASA's Swift satellite noticed a burst of new activity.

V404 is a binary system, consisting of a star and a black hole orbiting one another. Matter flows from the star to the black hole, where it heats up and lets off all sorts of x-ray and gamma-ray waves, before vanishing into the black hole.

The last time V404 was active was way back in 1989, but NASA's Swift satellite started picking up renewed bursts of gamma rays on June 15.

Fireball 2

Meteor to mark your birthday? Japanese start-up hopes to launch its own shooting stars

© South China Morning Post
Lena Okajima, chief executive of space technology venture ALE.
Fancy a meteor shower racing across the night sky to mark your birthday? One Japanese start-up is hoping to deliver shooting stars on demand and choreograph the cosmos.

And, say scientists, it's not just about painting huge pictures on the night-sky that would be visible to millions of people; artificial meteors could help us to understand a lot more about Earth's atmosphere.

Lena Okajima, who holds a doctorate in astronomy, says her company, ALE, is intending to launch a micro satellite that can eject shooting stars at exactly the right time and place to put on a celestial show. "I'm thinking of streams of meteors that are rare in nature," Okajima said in an interview. "It is artificial but I want to make really beautiful ones that can impress viewers."

In collaboration with scientists and engineers at Japanese universities, the ALE team is developing a satellite that will orbit the Earth and eject dozens of balls, a few centimetres in diameter, at a time.


GMO wheat trial failure: No statistical difference in number of aphids infesting GM and conventional wheat

The project, including developing the crop and installing security, cost almost £3million, which was funded by the taxpayer and the Government through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council
A trial to create a genetically-modified wheat that would drive away insects without the need for powerful insecticide sprays has failed.

Millions of pounds of public money was spent on the trial of a crop that GM scientists and supporters hoped would win over consumers sceptical about the technology.

The wheat was genetically modified to release a scent that would supposedly drive away aphids or pests, so allowing the crop to flourish.

However, while the idea worked in the laboratory, it did not when it came to growing the wheat in field conditions at Rothamsted Research Institute in Harpenden, Hertfordshire.

The trial was hailed by the former Environment Secretary Owen Paterson in a major speech promoting GM technology given at the Rothamsted site in June 2013.

At the time, he condemned critics of GM, describing them as part of the 'Green Blob', and praised the trial of the aphid resistant wheat as 'cutting edge'.

The minister declared: 'It is precisely the type of pioneering science that we are famous for.'

Now the research team has published the results, which reveal the wheat did not repel the insects as expected.

Comment: Despite industry marketing propaganda, the truth is that GMO crops are being ravaged by the very pests they were designed to resist. Repeated studies have also shown that GMO crop yields are not consistently higher than non-GMO crops. Arrogant scientists who continue to believe they can outwit 'mother nature' are simply using the earth's population as guinea pigs where everyone will experience the devastating environmental, economic, and health consequences of their hubris.