Asimo Controlled By Human Thought (Video)

April 20 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 4 Hot

We've already seen thought-controlled avatars, so it comes as no surprise that robotics represents a new frontier for brain computer interfaces (BCIs).  Still, the following video of a human controlling Honda's Asimo via BCI marks a profound socio-technological development, offering a glimpse into the future of work, entertainment and security:

Isn't it interesting that this didn't make its way through national media channels? Just a few years ago human-BCI-controlled robotics would have been perceived as revolutionary.

(this awesome link via The Future is Awesome)

Oregon Researchers Use Nano-shells of Algae to Trap Photons and Improve Solar Cell Efficiency

April 19 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 5 Hot

Oregon Diatom SolarThe Future of Energy will be based on our ability to elegantly control the interactions of light, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.  And for all our engineering prowress of extracting and blowing up ancient bio-energy reserves (coal/oil), there is still so much to learn about basic energy systems from Mother Nature.

Laying Down Algae Shells for Solar Panels
Researchers from Oregon State University and Portland State University have developed a new way to make “dye-sensitized” solar cells using a 'bottom up' biological assembly processes over traditional silicon chemical engineering.

The teams are working with a type of solar cell that generates energy when 'photons bounce around like they were in a pinball machine, striking these dyes and producing electricity.'

Rather than build the solar cells using traditional technqiues, the team is tapping the outer shells of single-celled algae, known as diatoms, to improve the electrical output. (Diatoms are believed to be the ancient bio-source of petroleum.)

The team placed the algae on a transparent conductive glass surface, and then (removed) the living organic material, leaving behind the tiny skeletons of the diatoms to form a template that is integrated with nanoparticles of titanium dioxide to complete the solar cell design.

Biology's Nanostructured Shells & Bouncing Photons?
“Conventional thin-film, photo-synthesizing dyes also take photons from sunlight and transfer it to titanium dioxide, creating electricity,” said Greg Rorrer, an OSU professor of chemical engineering “But in this system the photons bounce around more inside the pores of the diatom shell, making it more efficient.”

The research team is still not clear how the process works, but 'the tiny holes in diatom shells appear to increase the interaction between photons and the dye to promote the conversion of light to electricity... potentially with a triple output of electricity.' 

According to the team, this is the 'first reported study of using a living organism to controllably fabricate semiconductor TiO2 nanostructures by a bottom-up self-assembly process.'  So, chalk up another early win for advanced bio-energy manufacturing strategies!

 

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Virus Built Batteries? MIT Advances Bio-Industrial Manufacturing Technique to Assemble Electrodes

April 12 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 4 Hot

MIT Virus BacteriophageMIT's Biomolecular Materials Group has advanced a technique of using 'genetically engineered viruses that first coat themselves with iron phosphate, then grab hold of carbon nanotubes to create a network of highly conductive material.'

This advanced 'bio-industrial' manufacturing process, which uses biological agents to assemble molecules, could help to evolve key energy material components (e.g. cathodes, anodes, membranes) used in batteries, fuel cells, solar cells and organic electronics (e.g. OLEDs). 

Professors Angela Belcher and Michael Strano led the breakthrough bio-engineering work which can now use bacteriophage 'to build both the positively and negatively charged ends of a lithium-ion battery.'   While the prototype was based on a typical 'coin cell battery', the team believes it can be adapted for 'thin film' organic electronic applications.

Energy = Interactions
Energy and Materials Science is about manipulating the assembly and interaction of molecules like carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and metals.

Today we are at the beginning of new eras of nanoscale materials science and bio-industrial processes that are certain to change the cost and efficiency equations within alternative energy and biomaterials.  And we have a lot to learn about molecular assembly from Mother Nature's genetically driven virus/bacteria and plants. After all, the energy released from breaking the carbon-hydrogen bonds of coal (ancient ferns) and oil (ancient diatoms) was originally assembled by biology (with some help from geological pressures!).  So why not tap this bio-industrial potential for building future energy components?

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GM & Segway Unveil Personal Urban Mobility Vehicle, Demonstrate Disruptive Power of Software & Mobility as Service

April 07 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 6 Hot

GM PUMA BrooklynGeneral Motors and Segway unveiled a new type of small electric motor vehicle with advanced software that could shift how we look at mobility as a service.

In an effort to appeal to digitally connected urban audiences, GM describes Project P.U.M.A. (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) as a low-cost mobility platform that 'enables design creativity, fashion, fun and social networking.' This protoype model travels up to 35 miles per hour (56 kph), with a range up to 35 miles (56 km) between recharges (though it's not clear how urban residents will access wall sockets!)

'Smart' is the Real Revolution
The greatest opportunities to transform the human mobility experience in the next century are likely to emerge from ‘smarter software’, not cleaner energy systems.  It seems clear that the combustion engine will eventually struggle to keep cost and design competitive against the lowering 'manufacturing footprint' of electric motors powered by the integration of batteries, fuel cells and capacitors.  The real question is: Can human drivers keep up with changes ahead in software of 'smart cars'.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle communication systems that relay alerts and information to drivers to reduce congestion and prevent collisions are already being integrated into luxury vehicles. But within a decade or two we can expect low cost vehicles embedded with sensors and ‘situation awareness’ detection systems that make cars 'smarter' than drivers.

Access and Ownership (and Potential Chaos)
A compelling vision of Personal Urban Vehicles is the emergence of personal 'mobility as service' companies that connect outer hubs with urban destination points (offices, retail, recreation, et al).  In addition to owning personal vehicles, we can imagine paying for 'access' to fleets of vehicles that we don't have to park.  (Of course, adding fleets of small vehicles could mean chaos in urban areas for pedestrians! Not to mention pushback from the Cabbies in New York!)

More Images and Related Posts on The Future of Auto Industry

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[Video] GM Segway PUMA Cruising Through Brooklyn & New York City

April 07 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Transportation   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

GM & Segway are hoping to commercialize a new category of smart micro-vehicles for urban environments by 2012 (See previous post).  I love the application of Segway software, but am skeptical of a 'plug in' battery version. 

I'm not sure how many wall sockets are accessible to urban dwellers who don't have garages!  So I love the idea, but think the real potential is the 'access' business model.  Let's keep the PUMA owned and operated by mobility service companies, not urban dwellers themselves!

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'Self-Cleaning' Surface Coating Improves Solar Cell Performance

March 27 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 2

gtResearchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a unique super-'hydrophobic' (water repelling) surface coating that 'boosts the light absorption of silicon photovoltaic cells both by trapping light in three-dimensional structures, and by making the surfaces self-cleaning allowing rain or dew to wash away the dust and dirt that can accumulate on photovoltaic arrays'.

The 'self cleaning' design mimics the water repelling surface of a lotus leaf, 'which uses surface roughness at two different size scales to create high contact angles that encourage water from rain or (desert dew) condensation to bead up and run off. As the water runs off, it carries with it any surface dust or dirt – which also doesn't adhere because of the unique surface properties'.

"The more sunlight that goes into the photovoltaic cells and the less that reflects back, the higher the efficiency can be," said C.P. Wong, Regents' professor in Georgia Tech's School of Materials Science and Engineering. "Our simulations show that we can potentially increase the final efficiency of the cells by as much as two percent with this surface structure."

"A normal silicon surface reflects a lot of the light that comes in, but by doing this texturing, the reflection is reduced to less than five percent," said Dennis Hess, a professor in the Georgia Tech School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. "As much as 10 percent of the light that hits the cells is scattered because of dust and dirt of the surface. If you can keep the cells clean, in principle you can increase the efficiency. Even if you only improve this by a few percent, that could make a big difference."

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A brain implant for artificial motivation

March 30 2009 / by iPlant / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Biotechnology   Year: General   Rating: 7 Hot

I recently blogged and vlogged about Medtronic starting a clinical trial where deep brain stimulation (DBS) would be applied to the ventral striatum (part of the human reward circuit) to treat depression in up to 200 patients. Then the article on CNNmoney that I was basing this on disappeared and I worried that the whole thing might have been a mistake or a hoax. But the article has resurfaced on the Wall Street Journal and elsewhere, and I finally got around to digging up Medtronic's original press release from 19 Feb 2009, which confirms that they are conducting a clinical trial of DBS as a treatment for depression.

reclaim.jpg

But more than that. It turns out that the entire implant procedure that they're using isn't new at all - it's the same procedure they use to treat OCD (recently FDA approved for up to 4000 patients). The implant is called Reclaim and (quoting the press release) "the anatomical target in the brain is the.. ventral striatum.. which is a central node in the neural circuits believed to regulate mood and anxiety". So it seems DBS implants have been placed in the human reward circuit since the OCD trials started, many years ago. This is good news because it means we're even better at putting DBS implants in the human reward circuit than I thought we were. Basically, DBS applied to the ventral striatum (VS) didn't just alleviate the behavioural tics of OCD patients but also improved their mood. Studies like Schlaepfer et al 2008 (3 patients) and Malone et al 2009 (15 patients), which I thought were ground-breaking, merely confirmed that DBS applied to the VS improves the mood of severely depressed patients as well.

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Suncor-Petro Merger Signal of Canada’s Expanding Global Role And Plans For Tar Sands

March 26 2009 / by Garry Golden / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Energy   Year: General   Rating: 2

Suncor Tar Sands

Canada is starting to flex its muscle as a major player in the world of energy around non-conventional hydrocarbon resources.

This week, Suncor, the number two producer of tar sands, will merge with Petro-Canada. The new energy giant Canadian company could become an expert in developing less environmentally damaging methods for utilizing non-conventional resources in North America and around the world.  

The combined company will have ‘approximately 7.5 billion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) of proved (developed and undeveloped) and probable reserves, on top of an estimated contingent resource base of approximately 19 billion boe.   It will also have significant refining capacity of 433,000 barrels per day (b/d) and a strong Canadian retail brand in Suncor.'

Preempting the Inevitable Contraction of the Hydrocarbon Sector
Energy analysts expect a wave of mergers as companies find it difficult to grow reserve assets through traditional exploration and development.  Cash rich companies might find it easier to expand reserve totals by acquisition.

Future sucess might also be based on an ability to develop non-conventional resources like carbon-heavy 'tar sands' and deep water reserves. So for Canada's leading energy companies it was important to merge before being acquired.

According to Suncor CEO Rick George "The combined portfolio boasts the largest oil sands resource position, a strong Canadian downstream brand, solid conventional exploration and production assets, and low-cost production from Canada's east coast and internationally."

Canada's Vision as a Resource Giant

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Vehicle to Grid Electricity (V2G) – Will Cars Become 100 kW Power Plants?

March 24 2009 / by MarkGoldes / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: 2010   Rating: 4 Hot

V2G.jpgRevolutionary breakthroughs will make possible the elimination of the need for batteries of every variety. These generators are expected to replace the need to plug-in a plug-in hybrid. Two kW is all the power that can be taken from a typical wall socket. A 2 kW generator is on the horizon. It will eventually demonstrate a compact, inexpensive, capability to end the need to plug-in.

If the development of these generators is put on a 24/7 footing, it may be possible to provide 100 kW systems that will fit in the space of an engine and gas tank, on a prototype basis within two years. If that occurs, since no fuel or battery recharge is required, automobile manufacturers may conclude that engines are likely to become obsolete. Consumer purchasing patterns could begin to reflect a new reality, with the market deciding most future cars must be totally electric, since they will never need any variety of fuel.

The economics are likely to prove compelling. Until now, car ownership has been an expense. V2G has been explored in a modest way for hybrids. Plug-in hybrids, equipped with a two way plug, can feed power to the local utility while parked. This is 95% of the time for the average vehicle. Professor Willet Kempton, at the University of Delaware, has stated the car’s owner could earn up to $4,000 every year.

MagGen™ powered cars are expected to be capable of generating at least 75 kW and perhaps 100 kW in the volume of a typical fuel tank. In the case of luxury cars, trucks and buses, it seems 150 kW will prove practical. Technology already exists that can wirelessly couple up to 150 kW to the grid from parked vehicles. No plug connection will be required.

Today a large plug installed in a hybrid car can allow 240 volts to be accommodated. A 240 volt connection cord can probably provide a maximum of 19 kW to the utility. If that 19 kW can annually pay the vehicle owner $4,000, imagine what the income might be with a wirelessly coupled 75 kW or larger MagGen. If the price per kW is the same as that used in the University of Delaware analysis, we could be anticipating payments totaling $15,000, or more, per year.

When a substantial number of vehicles powered by magnetic generators fill a parking garage, it will have become a multi-megawatt power plant.

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Astrophysicist Believes We'll Locate "Hundreds of Earth-Like Planets" by 2013

March 24 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Information   Year: 2013   Rating: 5 Hot

Astrophysicist Alan Boss believes Nasa's Kepler Mission will turn up "hundreds of Earth-like planets", many of which will probably be "inhabited with something."

Considered a leader in the search for planets outside our solar system, Alan Boss says we are at a turning point in our search for extraterrestrial life.  He expects we are on the verge of finding many different Earth-like planets across the universe, and he expects it will be common to find life on those planets. He shares his ideas for how the United States can be on the forefront of the next great discovery: life on another planet.

Data Compression Breakthrough Could Accelerate Virtual Worlds, Mirror Worlds, Web TV and Cloud-Based Video Gaming

March 24 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Technology   Year: 2009   Rating: 5 Hot

onlive_tall.jpgIt's rare that a broadly disruptive, industry shattering/accelerating technology sneaks up on you, much less everyone else all at the same time.  But according to Dean Takahashi at VentureBeat, a Gaming as a Service (GaaS) company called OnLive appears poised to launch services that will enable much more robust applications (the current focus is on video games) to be retrieved from the cloud in real-time. 

The secret?  A new form of robust digital compression that requires just one megabyte of additional software on the web client end.  

For years, decades, data compression has formed a frustrating bottleneck for the development and diffusion of not only rich video games, but also more broadly important communication technologies such as virtual worlds (Second Life, Multiverse, VastPark), mirror worlds (Google Earth, Open Street Map) and high definition streaming Web TV (You Tube HD, Hulu) - just to name a few.  A breakthrough in compresssion of this magnitutude (which Takahashi says owes its thanks to the discovery of smarter algorithms) is tantamount to throwing more broadband piping at the web and could result in 1) massive acceleration of VW, MW and WebTV adoption, 2) increases in the resolution of these Cloud-based systems. 

Iow, it's a big freaking deal.

DISRUPTIVE POTENTIAL: Stated super-compression could/will quickly put a damper on industries such as thin client web browser development, used video game sales, and non-rich virtual worlds.  It could/will quickly enbolden virtual video editing, online collaborative Photoshop, robust distance meetings/conferences/lectures, online video game sales (the main thrust of OnLive's efforts), graphically richer websites, and cloud computing efforts in general. 

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Cognitive Research Findings May Help Explain Social Brinkmanship

March 20 2009 / by Alvis Brigis / In association with Future Blogger.net
Category: Science   Year: 2009   Rating: 2

New cognitive research may help explain why human social systems prefer to push the envelope, creating critical "perfect storm" situations, instead of settling into equilibrium.

Ledge

If the global social brain is really just a scaled-up version of the individual brain, which in turn can also be viewed as an accelerator of existing bio-computional processes, then we should expect to uncover increasingly more parallels between individual and social cognition.  One such candidate is the phenomenon called Self-Organized Criticality, a form of inherent "brinkmanship" routinely found in advancing systems, particularly as they approach phase transitions.

Here's the more robust Wikipedia definition and links:

In physics, self-organized criticality (SOC) is a property of (classes of) dynamical systemscritical point as an attractor. Their macroscopic behaviour thus displays the spatial and/or temporal scale-invariance characteristic of the critical point of a phase transition, but without the neecliff_dont_walk.jpgd to tune control parameters to precise values.

The phenomenon was first identified by Katz in a seminal paper published in 1986 in Journal of Geophysical Research, building on earlier work by Knopoff, and later popularized by Per Bak, Chao Tang and Kurt Wiesenfeld ("BTW") in a paper published in 1987 in Physical Review Letters, and is considered to be one of the mechanisms by which complexity arises in nature. Its concepts have been enthusiastically applied across fields as diverse as geophysics, physical cosmology, evolutionary biology and ecology, economics, quantum gravity, sociology, solar physics, plasma physics, neurobiology and others.

A new U.K. study confirms that human brains do in fact rely on self-organized criticality for behaviors that may range from perception to action, reports World Science:

The re­search­ers used brain im­ag­ing tech­niques to meas­ure dy­nam­ic changes in the syn­chron­iz­a­tion of ac­ti­vity be­tween dif­fer­ent re­gions of the func­tion­al net­work in the hu­man brain. They al­so in­ves­t­i­gated the syn­chron­iz­a­tion of ac­ti­vity in com­puta­t­ional mod­els, and found that the “dy­nam­ic pro­file” they had iden­ti­fied in the brain was ex­actly re­flected in the mod­els.

Com­puta­t­ional net­works show­ing these char­ac­ter­is­tics have al­so been shown to have the best mem­o­ry and in­forma­t­ion-processing ca­pacity, re­search­ers say: crit­i­cal sys­tems can re­spond quickly and ex­ten­sively to small changes in their in­puts.

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