Physical Interaction, Virtual Worlds: Microsoft Unveils ‘IllumiShare’ – Megan Garber – Technology – The Atlantic

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Physical Interaction, Virtual Worlds: Microsoft Unveils ‘IllumiShare’

By Megan Garber

Feb 28 2012, 9:57 AM ET

illumishare.png

In his 2008 book The Physics of the Impossible, the physicist Michio Kaku predicted that teleportation — along with telepathy and human invisibility — will be among the scientific advances we can expect to see within the next 100 years.

And while a Star Trek-esque matter-Transporter humanity does not yet have, we’re finding new ways of transferring elements of our physical environments nearly every day. Microsoft Research just unveiled a technology that is pretty much the visual version of the Transporter: IllumiShare, “a remote device that allows remote people to share arbitrary physical or digital objects on any surface.”

It’s virtual interaction brought to a newly physical — well, “physical” — level. IllumiShare (which looks, in its current proof-of-concept form, pretty much like an IKEA desk lamp) uses a linked camera-and-projector set-up to share video between remote workspaces, be they across the room or across the world. Place objects in the device’s field — a note, a drawing, a toy, your hands — and those objects’ images will be instantly sent to your collaborator. You could use the system to co-create drawings, or take notes, or play cards (or, hey, as in the example below, tic tac toe) — in other words, to improve the way we go about education, amusement, business, or artistic creation. 

And it could do that, actually, very soon. As The Verge’s Tom Warren puts it, “The IllumiShare project is a working research concept right now but it clearly shows the potential for physical interaction using relatively simple virtual technologies.” As collaboration becomes an increasingly virtual affair, Microsoft’s newest device could bring back some of the value of the analog. 

Image: Microsoft Research/YouTube.

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Redesigning People: How Medtech Could Expand Beyond the Injured – David Ewing Duncan – Health – The Atlantic

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Redesigning People: How Medtech Could Expand Beyond the Injured

By David Ewing Duncan

Feb 27 2012, 8:06 AM ET 16

Radical human modification is coming, like it or not, by the end of this century—if not earlier. How much are you willing to alter yourself?

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This is my first column on TheAtlantic.com, which will regularly cover the interface between new discoveries in the life sciences and how it impacts people and society — and other random topics.

Last fall at the TEDMED meeting in San Diego I watched a man walk who was paralyzed from the waist down. Injured a year earlier, Paul Thacker hadn’t been able to stand since breaking his back in a snowmobile accident. Yet here he was walking, thanks to an early-stage exoskeleton device attached to his legs.

This wasn’t exactly on the level of “exos” we’ve seen in sci-fi films like Avatar and Aliens, which enable people to run faster, carry heavier loads, and smash things better. But Thacker’s device, called eLEGS — manufactured by Ekso Bionics in Berkeley, California — is one harbinger of what’s coming in the next decade or two to treat the injured and the ill with radical new technologies.

Other portents include first-generation machines and treatments that range from deep brain implants that can stop epileptic seizures to stem cells that scientists are using experimentally to repair damaged retinas.

No one would deny that these technologies, should they fulfill their promise, are anything but miraculous for Paul Thacker and others who need them. Yet none of this technology is going to remain exclusively in the realm of pure therapeutics. Even now some are breaking through the barrier between remedies for the sick and enhancements for the healthy.

Would you take a daily pill that not only stimulated your brain to help you do your best on a test, but also boosted memory?

Take the drug Adderall. A highly addictive pharmaceutical prescribed for patients with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the drug works as a stimulant in people without ADHD — and is now used by at least one out of five college students to bump up their energy and attention when they want to perform well on tests or pull all-nighters.

Saying that college students are popping pills is like Claude Rains in Casablanca saying to Humphrey Bogart: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.” Yet the widespread use — and acceptance — of Adderall and other stimulants by students to enhance their academic performance is bumping up against something new. It’s pushing us into a realm where taking powerful pharmaceuticals that boost, say, attention or memory is becoming acceptable beyond pure recreation.

Can we be too far from a greater acceptance of surgically implanted devices that increase our ability to hear or see? Or new legs that allow us to run like cheetahs and scramble up walls like geckos?

Or that allow us to run in the Olympics like Oscar Pistorius, the South African sprinter who may qualify for the games in London this year despite missing his lower legs? He runs using two sleek, metallic “legs” that combine with his natural speed and skill to do far more than overcome a disability.

Which leads us to the crucial question for the approaching age of human enhancement: How far would you go to modify yourself using the latest medtech?

Would you replace perfectly good legs with artificial ones if they made you faster and stronger?

Would you take a daily pill that not only stimulated your brain to help you do your best on a test, but also bumped up your memory?

Would you sign up for a genetic alteration that would make you taller and stronger?

Let’s up the ante and declare that these fixes had no deleterious side effects, and were deemed safe by a newly appointed U.S. Agency for Human Augmentation. Would this change your mind? (As an aside, I’m trying to imagine what the candidates now vying for the Republican nomination for president would say about an Agency for Human Augmentation.)

And what if everyone else at work — or all of the rest of the kids in your child’s class at school — were taking advantage of these enhancements?

Currently, none of these hypothetical modifications would be ethical, and most are illegal. Yet one doesn’t need to spend too much time delving into the world of near-future medtech to understand that each of these possibilities are likely to occur in one form or another in the lifetime of those college kids now swallowing Adderall.

For now, the device attached to Paul Thacker’s legs is clunky. The apparatus is little more than a pair of sophisticated braces with whirring mechanics attached to a computer he wears on his back — which is guided by a technician walking behind him, holding a control box attached to the computer with a wire. But it won’t be too long until this 37-year-old former champion snowmobile jumper will be walking with ease using an advanced exoskeleton.

In a few more years, you might be wearing your own eLEGS to carry heavy loads around the house, or as a soldier on patrol in some distant corner of the world (assuming we aren’t using only drones). Flash forward a few more years, and you may have the option of permanently implanting in your legs the “eLEGS LXII,” an endo-skeletal implant that stays with you like a futuristic hip or knee implant does today.

Back at TEDMED, Paul Thacker wasn’t thinking about anything nearly as grandiose as this. When I asked him what he wishes for most using the new eLEGS technology, he smiled and said something refreshingly mundane considering he is a herald of the future.

“Right now I’d like to be able to stand up and pee,” he said. “I really miss being able to do that.”

Image: Ekso Bionics.

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Driverless cars can be licensed in Nevada

About a year ago, Bruce Breslow, the newly appointed director of Nevada’s Department of Motor Vehicles, was invited to Mountain View to test one of Google’s driverless cars.

“I sat in the back seat first, looking at the laptop that shows what the vehicle is seeing,” he said. “My apprehension disappeared after about five seconds. Once I felt confident that the car could see better than I could, they allowed me to get behind the wheel.”

Now Nevada has become the first state to allow driverless cars to apply for their own drivers’ licenses. The rules, which go into effect March 1, will make it possible for companies such as Google (whose lobbyist arranged Breslow’s trip) and Mercedes-Benz and maybe even General Motors to test their robot cars on Nevada’s 26,000 miles of road.

“There are two ways to bring amazing technology to market: to seek forgiveness and to seek permission,” said Steve Jurvetson, managing director at Draper Fisher Jurvetson and another one of those who’ve been in Google’s autonomous vehicles. “This gives Google and everyone else permission. And Nevada is the state to go to when you want to do things on the edge.”

To his point: The Nevada legislature gave the DMV just nine months to come up with the requirements and put them into effect. Breslow expects at least one company, which he wouldn’t name but which isn’t hard to guess, to apply right away. The companies have to prove to the DMV that the cars have already driven 10,000 miles. That makes sense in terms of safety but also seems to favor Google, which has logged 200,000 miles in California.

Other than that, the cars have to do what every teenager applying for a learner’s permit can. To operate on a state highway, the vehicle has to be able to manage a 75 mph speed limit while looking out for cows. On the Las Vegas Strip, it has to be able to avoid pedestrians, construction and debris of all kinds.

Just to be sure, two trained drivers have to be in every car, one of them in the front seat prepared to take back control. And the DMV requires the cars to have a separate data recorder to collect information in case of a crash.

“If the car is programmed properly, it shouldn’t cause an accident,” Breslow said. “But it’s possible it could still get into one.”

An application costs only $100, but companies have to put up a cash bond of $1 million to $3 million, depending on how many cars they want to put on the road. There will be no “Student Driver” banner to let others know no one’s behind the wheel. The big clue will be the license plate, which will be dark red. Instead of the Nevada sunset over a snow-covered mountain, the logo will be one Breslow designed himself.

Sometime in the future, which Breslow says could be three years from now, the cars could get full licenses. They would be green, a color that to Breslow indicates “the future is here.” Those in the car would be allowed to text or talk on the phone, but if they’re tipsy, they still can’t get behind the wheel.

“If you’re in the car, you need to be able to take over,” Breslow said. “For now, it’s a partnership between the person and the machine.”

Market data provided by Bloomberg News Susan Berfield is a Bloomberg writer. sberfield@bloomberg.net

This article appeared on page D – 2 of the San Francisco Chronicle

‘Team Frankenstein’ launch bid to build a human brain within decade | KurzweilAI

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Henry Markram, director of the Human Brain Project (credit: École Polytechnique Fédérale)

Dr. Henry Markram, a neuroscientist at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, Switzerland, has assembled a team of nine top European scientists to build a computer model of a human brain in 12 years.

The Human Brain Project is in discussion with the EU for a £1 billion grant. The project has already created an artificial neocortical column that is unique to mammals, digitally constructed using a software model of tens of thousands of neurons.

Supercomputers at the Jülich Research Center near Cologne are earmarked to play a vital role in the research. Jülich neuroscientist Katrin Amunts has begun work on a detailed atlas of the brain that involves slicing one into 8,000 parts, which are then digitized with a scanner.

‘It is not impossible to build a human brain. We can do it in just over 10 years,” says Henry Markram, director of the project. “This is one of the three grand challenges for humanity. We need to understand earth, space and the brain. We need to understand what makes us human,” Markram told Germany’s Spiegel magazine.

It could also lead to intelligent robots and supercomputers,

[ Daily Mail ]

Tiny, implantable medical device can propel itself through bloodstream | Stanford School of Engineering

For fifty years, scientists had searched for the secret to making tiny implantable devices that could travel through the bloodstream. Engineers at Stanford have demonstrated a wirelessly powered device that just may make the dream a reality.

By Andrew Myers

Someday, your doctor may turn to you and say, “Take two surgeons and call me in the morning.” If that day arrives, you may just have Ada Poon to thank.

Yesterday, at the International Solid-State Circuits Conference (ISSCC) before an audience of her peers, electrical engineer Poon demonstrated a tiny, wirelessly powered, self-propelled medical device capable of controlled motion through a fluid—blood more specifically. The era of swallow-the-surgeon medical care may no longer be the stuff of science fiction.

 

 

This 20-second animation shows how Ada Poon’s wirelessly powered device might move through the bloodstream. (Animation by Carlos Suarez, StrongBox3d)

Poon is an assistant professor at the Stanford School of Engineering. She is developing a new class of medical devices that can be implanted or injected into the human body and powered wirelessly using electromagnetic radio waves. No batteries to wear out. No cables to provide power.

“Such devices could revolutionize medical technology,” said Poon. “Applications include everything from diagnostics to minimally invasive surgeries.”

Certain of these new devices, like heart probes, chemical and pressure sensors, cochlear implants, pacemakers, and drug pumps, would be stationary within the body. Others, like Poon’s most recent creations, could travel through the bloodstream to deliver drugs, perform analyses, and perhaps even zap blood clots or removing plaque from sclerotic arteries.

Challenged by power

The idea of implantable medical devices is not new, but most of today’s implements are challenged by power, namely the size of their batteries, which are large, heavy and must be replaced periodically. Fully half the volume of most of these devices is consumed by battery.

“While we have gotten very good at shrinking electronic and mechanical components of implants, energy storage has lagged in the move to miniaturize,” said co-author Teresa Meng, a professor of electrical engineering and of computer science at Stanford. “This hinders us in where we can place implants within the body, but also creates the risk of corrosion or broken wires, not to mention replacing aging batteries.”

Poon’s devices are different. They consist of a radio transmitter outside the body sending signals to an independent device inside the body that picks up the signal with an antenna of coiled wire. The transmitter and the antenna are magnetically coupled such that any change in current flow in the transmitter produces a voltage in the coiled wire — or, more accurately, it induces a voltage. The power is transferred wirelessly. The electricity  runs electronics on the device and propels it through the bloodstream, if so desired.

Upending convention

It sounds easy, but it is not. Poon had to first upend some long-held assumptions about the delivery of wireless power inside the human body.

For fifty years, scientists have been working on wireless electromagnetic powering of implantable devices, but they ran up against mathematics. According to the models, high-frequency radio waves dissipate quickly in human tissue, fading exponentially the deeper they go.

Low-frequency signals, on the other hand, penetrate well, but require antennae a few centimeters in diameter to generate enough power for the device, far too large to fit through all but the biggest arteries. In essence, because the math said it could not be done, the engineers never tried.

Then a curious thing happened. Poon started to look more closely at the models. She realized that scientists were approaching the problem incorrectly. In their models, they assumed that human muscle, fat and bone were generally good conductors of electricity, and therefore governed by a specific subset of the mathematical principles known as Maxwell’s equations — the “quasi-static approximation” to be exact.

Poon took a different tack, choosing instead to model tissue as a dielectric — a type of insulator. As it turns out human tissue is a poor conductor of electricity. But, radio waves can still move through them. In a dielectric, the signal is conveyed as waves of shifting polarization of atoms within cells. Even better, Poon also discovered that human tissue is a “low-loss” dielectric — that is to say little of the signal gets lost along the way.

She recalculated and made a surprising find: Using new equations she learned high-frequency radio waves \ travel much farther in human tissue than originally thought.

Revelation

“When we extended things to higher frequencies using a simple model of tissue we realized that the optimal frequency for wireless powering is actually around one gigahertz,” said Poon, “about 100 times higher than previously thought.”

Penny

More significantly, however, her revelation meant that antennae inside the body could be 100 times smaller and yet deliver the same power.

Poon was not so much in search of a new technology; she was in search of a new math. The antenna on the device Poon demonstrated at the conference yesterday is just two millimeters square; small enough to travel through the bloodstream.

She has developed two types of self-propelled devices. One drives electrical current directly through the fluid to create a directional force that pushes the device forward. This type of device is capable of moving at just over half-a-centimeter per second. The second type switches current back-and-forth in a wire loop to produce swishing motion similar to the motion a kayaker makes to paddle upstream.

“There is considerable room for improvement and much work remains before these devices are ready for medical applications,” said Poon. “But for the first time in decades the possibility seems closer than ever.”

Stanford doctoral candidates Daniel Pivonka and Anatoly Yakovlev contributed to this research.

Ada Poon’s research was made possible by the support of C2S2 Focus Center, Olympus Corporation, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Andrew Myers is associate director of communications for the Stanford School of Engineering.

Last modified Wed, 22 Feb, 2012 at 9:34

An OFF switch for pain – LMU Munich

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An OFF switch for pain

Chemists build light-controlled neural inhibitor

Munich, 22 February 2012

The notion of a pain switch is an alluring idea, but is it realistic? Well, chemists at LMU Munich, in collaboration with colleagues in Berkeley and Bordeaux, have now shown in laboratory experiments that it is possible to inhibit the activity of pain-sensitive neurons using an agent that acts as a photosensitive switch. For the LMU researchers, the method primarily represents a valuable tool for probing the neurobiology of pain. (Nature Methods, 19.02.2012)

The system developed by the LMU team, led by Dirk Trauner, who is Professor of Chemical Biology and Genetics, is a chemical compound they call QAQ. The molecule is made up of two functional parts, each containing a quaternary ammonium, which are connected by a nitrogen double bond (N=N). This bridge forms the switch, as its conformation can be altered by light. Irradiation with light of a specific wavelength causes the molecule to flip from a bent to an extended form; exposure to light of a different color reverses the effect.

One half of QAQ closely resembles one of the active analogs of lidocaine, a well-known local anesthetic used by dentists. Lidocaine blocks the perception of pain by inhibiting the action of receptors found on specific nerve cells in the skin, which respond to painful stimuli and transmit signals to the spinal cord.

Neuroreceptors are proteins that span the outer membrane of nerve cells. They possess deformable pores that open in response to appropriate stimuli, and function as conduits that permit electrically charged ions to pass into or out of the cells. The ion channel targeted by the lidocaine-like end of QAQ responds to heat by allowing positively charged sodium ions to pass into the cells that express it. This alters the electrical potential across the membrane, which ultimately leads to transmission of the nerve impulse.

In their experiments, the researchers exploited the fact that QAQ can percolate through endogenous ion channels to get the molecule into nerve cells. This is a crucial step, because its site of action is located on the inner face of the targeted ion channel.

Furthermore, the lidocaine-like end of QAQ binds to this site only if the molecule is in an extended conformation. When the cells were irradiated with 380-nm light, which bends the bridge, signal transmission was reactivated within a matter of milliseconds. Exposure to light with a wavelength of 500 nm, on the other hand, reverts the molecule to the extended form and restores its inhibitory action. The analgesic effect of the switch was confirmed using an animal model.

Trauner‘s team has been working for some considerable time on techniques with which biologically critical molecular machines such as neuroreceptors can be controlled in living animals by means of light impulses. The researchers themselves regard the new method primarily as a tool for neurobiological studies, particularly for pain research. Therapeutic applications of the principle are “a long way off”, says Timm Fehrentz, one of Dirk Trauner’s PhD students and one of the two equal first authors on the new paper. For one thing, the monochromatic light used to isomerize the QAQ molecule cannot penetrate human skin sufficiently to reach the pain-sensitive neurons. The researchers hope to address that problem by looking for alternatives to QAQ that respond to red light of longer wavelength, which more readily passes through the skin. (math/PH)

Publication:
Rapid optical control of nociception with an ion-channel photoswitch
A. Mourot, T. Fehrentz, Y. Le Feuvre, C.M. Smith, C. Herold, D. Dalkara, F. Nagy, D. Trauner & R.H. Kramer
Nature Methods, 19.2.2012
doi: 10.1038/nmeth.1897

Contact:
Prof. Dr. Dirk Trauner
Department of Chemistry, LMU Munich
Phone: +49 89 / 2180-77800
Fax: +49 89 / 2180-77972
Email: Dirk.Trauner@cup.uni-muenchen.de
Web: www.cup.uni-muenchen.de/oc/trauner/index.html

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