Feb 19

And then there were two….Atlas robots.

Atlas RobotBoston Dynamics has recently revealed the latest member of its evolving line of robot creations in a brand-new video of a new Atlas robot. At 1.75m in height, the latest Atlas is much shorter compared to its previous version, however it is a far more capable machine. Not only is the new Atlas able to operate under its own steam, but it can also operate well both indoors and outside due to its significantly enhanced balancing systems. Compared with its older sibling the new Atlas has new sensors in its body and legs to assist it in balancing, along with LIDAR and stereo-sensing units which make sure that the robot does not bump into any obstacles along the way.  The company’s latest video clip reveals the brand-new Atlas walking about confidently inside as well as outside even in rugged snowy terrain. It does stumble about a bit especially on unstable ground but managed to stay upright remarkably well even after completely losing its balance. The new robot also demonstrated its the ability to pick up heavy objects off the ground and place them on adjacent shelving while moving around in an incredibly human way. However, some of the most inspiring scenes centred around how the new Atlas deals with humans making life for it more difficult. In the video, a human is seen using a ice-hockey stick to dislodge a package from the bot’s hands, and then forcing the package away so the Atlas has to go after it. Needless to say the robot performs flawlessly and patiently even with all their annoying human antics!

Jan 11

A New Understanding of the Influenza Virus

VirusIt’s challenging enough for the bird flu virus to move to humans to make the emergence of new strains of the human influenza relatively rare. However, once the virus has managed to cross the species barrier, it is often able to do significant damage, with many strains causing a high mortality rate. Recently, researchers have zeroed in on what turns out to be a very limited route through which avian influenza is able to cross from birds to man, a discovery that might one day prevent the species-crossing altogether. The research study conducted by scientists at Imperial College London looked into just what changes to the virus mediate their ability to infiltrate mammalian cells, with the aim of pinpointing a new pharmaceutical target that could potentially prevent the influenza infection from replicating in humans. The study involved the insertion of various fragments of chicken DNA into mammalian hamster cells to try and discover exactly where as well as how the infection was able to replicate. By observing in which cells the virus was able to take hold, the team were eventually able to identify the ANP32A protein as a potential candidate. ANP32A is a protein that also exists in a slightly different form in mammals including people. What the researchers discovered was that only when the bird influenza viral ANP32A-binding protein changed its molecular structure to a form that can also bind to mammalian form of ANP32A was the virus able to replicate within mammalian cells. This provides an important new target for the pharmaceutical industry to go after to combat the emergence of new strains of avian influenza and might also one day prevent the spread of the more common human influenzas that infect 800 million humans each year.

Dec 07

Smart Padlocks

Master_Lock_smart_lockThe well-known padlock company, Master Lock, has recently jumped onto the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) bandwagon with its Bluetooth-enabled smart padlock range. The company says that its smart locks can improve safety and security, streamline sharing amongst several users, and even dispatch intruder notifications to the owner. Unlike other competitors in market space, Master Locks’ padlocks can also be put to use right out of the box and can even be used like a traditional padlock by tapping in 7-digit code on a clever keypad of 4 ‘directional’ keys. But downloading the iOS or Android app lets your phone be the passkey for the locks and really allows the padlocks to work to their full potential. Once set up, your phone can be can easily used to open the padlocks by touching the padlock itself, or via a swipe within the app depending upon your preference. Sharing access is also where the Master Lock Smart Padlocks truly come into their own allowing one to send digital ‘passkeys’ to anyone with a smart mobile device and give them either complete access or access at certain times of the day. It also allows one to withdraw access at any time, and importantly keeps track of padlock access history by keeping detailed records of whenever it is opened and also by whom. Unlike its less-intelligent brethren, the smart locks also records foiled attempts to open them. So if you’ve already jumped onto the IoT bandwagon then Master Lock’s new smart padlocks might be one more necessary tool to add to your ‘smart gadget’ armoury.

Dec 04

Killing cancer cells ….Terminator-style

Nano-terminatorsResearchers are more and more relying on nanotechnology to develop new strategies in the fight against cancer, but one such technique under experimentation at North Carolina State University (NCSU) takes its cue directly from Hollywood. The NCSU scientists have produced “Nano-Terminators” which are liquid metal particles that specifically attack tumour cells. The procedure starts with gallium indium alloy, a liquid metal the group have previously shown capable of changing its shape through changes in its surface tension. In this study, the team combined the metal alloy with 2 kinds of ligand molecules and used ultrasound to split the liquid metal into small 100nm beads which then bound to the two types of ligands. An oxidised layer of metal formed around the liquid metal beads preventing them from binding back together again. Following this, doxorubicin, a drug used in cancer therapy, was then blended into the mixture. One of the ligand molecule types attached to the cancer medicine, while the other ligand was responsible for pinpointing the tumour cells so that its toxic contents can be delivered to the intended target. Using mice that develop cancer, the group demonstrated that the Nano-Terminators were taken in by their malignant tumours cells and were disrupted by the acidity inside the cells. This resulted in the discharge of the doxorubicin, killing the malignant tumours cells with little or no collateral toxicity. Arnold would be so proud!

Dec 02

A CNC machine for everybody

X-CarveThe X-Carve CNC machine is one of a number of CNC devices to hit the maker space in recent months. It is created by Chicago-based company, Inventables, which has had the brilliant idea of making it configurable, unlike its competitors. Inventables previously created a small CNC machine developed for the desktop which was called Carvey and which was a crowdfunding success. The X-Carve is Inventables’ latest desktop CNC machine and can produce accurate parts from a plethora of materials including plastic, cork, foam, wax, metal, timber, paper, cardboard, and many others. Developed for the home or work studio, the X-Carve is both expandable and customisable, meaning that if a maker currently owns an Inventables machine, they can simply update their current device by incorporating fresh parts to make the bigger machine. The X-Carve is supplied in two sizes, standard and large, both of which are reliable at precision-milling parts down to a resolution of 0.075mm. The Standard X-Carve has a work area of approximately 30cm x 30cm x 7cm, and for its larger brother, parts as big as 80cm x 80cm x 7cm can be precision crafted. But what makes X-Carve really special is that it can be configured into any size or shape the buyer wishes and with each one of the machine’s components available individually, creators can just buy only what they need. Go Inventables!

Nov 30

Raspberry Pi’s little brother

RPIIMore than three years have passed since the introduction of the very first Raspberry Pi electronics circuit board, and since then a DIY electronics revolution has taken place with hackers producing almost everything electronic from DIY mobile phones to DIY touchscreen tablets. And now the Raspberry Pi Foundation has announced the addition of Raspberry Pi’s smaller sibling, the Pi Zero, which comes at a extremely low price of only five US dollars. So exactly what can you expect for your $5? The CPU of the device is a Broadcom BCM2835 / 1 GHz ARM11 processor that lives on a board that measures only 6.5cm by 3cm in surface area and with a thickness of only 5mm. It is supported by 512 MB of LPDDR2 SDRAM, and microSD memory card port acts as the hard drive-equivalent storage system for the little electronics motherboard . Given its small stature, some compromises have had to be made, and it is in its I/O connectivity where the cuts have come. The Ethernet and full-sized USB slots that are present on the model B+ have been removed, but there is a mini-HDMI port for 60 frames per second video streaming, two micro-USB interfaces for USB power and data transfer, and, importantly, a 40-pin general purpose I/O header for the board’s primary purpose to connect to and be part of DIY electronics designs. The Zero runs the same Linux-based operating system as its older siblings so no new programming skills are required if you are already a seasoned Raspbarian.

Nov 28

Portable Air Compressor Anyone?

airgunMost air compressors are big noisy affairs, but not so the latest from Airman, which has settled on shrinking an air compressor into a standard drill-sized contraption called the Airgun. In fact, if you were not a keen observer, you could easily mistake it for actually being a cordless drill as the unit has been cleverly contructed to be easily held and operated in the hand as a ‘gun’. It carries its own flexible hose attached to the side that fits the most common form of tire valve, the schrader valve, and it also carries other ‘nozzles’ that are needed for inflating balls and other inflatables. As you might have guessed with it being cordless, the Airgun is battery-operated which is unusual for an air compressor, but as a result of the compactness and the battery operation, the unit is limited in its potential uses to mostly everyday ‘household’ tasks, although it is reportedly capable of inflating a small automobile tire. For the more do-it-yourself-ers (and for inflating automobile tires more robustly), they would be better advised to opt for a more full-blown air compressor which has a far greater range of uses including operating air power tools and air paint sprayers, although even then one has to choose carefully as not all air compressors are equal!

Nov 27

The new AquAdvantage Salmon species

AquAdvantage_SalmonThe United States FDA today authorised the very first genetically-modified animal species to be farmed for US dinner plates. Developed by AquaBounty Technologies, the AquAdvantage Salmon, as it is known, reduces the time it takes to grow farmed salmon to full size by half by incorporating a growth gene from the faster-growing Chinook Salmon as well as a genetic promoter from the Ocean Pout. The controversial authorisation has only come about after twenty years of evaluation by the FDA so was by no means a decision taken lightly. Following its own extensive examination as well as the publishing of the all the data for the public to review, the FDA finally decided that the AquAdvantage Salmon was as harmless to people and the environment as farmed Atlantic Salmon. In particular, the agency outlined that its nutritional profile and importantly the endocrine hormones it produces like oestrogen, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor, were no different to that of Atlantic Salmon. One of the terms of the authorisation is that the salmon be raised in land-based holdings instead of farmed in the open as with current salmon farming so as to protect against any chance of them getting into the natural environment. The FDA also decided that there was no need for the modified fish to be labelled any differently from natural salmon allowing producers to make the decision themselves. Making the decision even more controversial, the FDA decided this after determining that the fish were not physiologically distinct from wild Atlantic Salmon other than in their genetics.

Nov 23

Moca anybody?

MocaheartHypertension and Cardiovascular disease are global scourges and monitoring essential physiological characteristics like blood pressure and heart rate is one way to help prevent and treat these diseases. Mocacare brings cardio-monitoring to the masses with its pocket-sized Mocaheart device that integrates thumb scans with computer analysis to provide rapid blood pressure, heart rate, and blood oxygen tracking. It translates these measurements by means of a smartphone application into a layman’s index of cardiovascular health called the Moca Index that can be used by anyone.  The device itself  carries infrared and visible light sensors integrated with electrodes on which the fingers are placed for a reading to be taken which requires around 30 seconds to complete. With a smartphone connected to the device using its Bluetooth connection, the Mocaheart application manages the analysis of the data from the device to provide the user with a final Moca Index number.  The app even recognises when it has not been able to get a good reading and then cues the owner before repeating the scan. The Mocaheart algorithms analyse the information from the device and display heart rate, blood oxygen, a time stamp, and even documents environmental factors, like weather conditions as well as geographical position. Based on research studies carried out at MIT and Stanford University, the Moca Index ranging from 1 to 5 provides a simple scale to rank one’s cardiovascular health where 2 is healthy, 1,  3 and 4 are less than optimal, and where 5 indicates a potential clinical concern. The device makes use of a micro USB port for filling its battery, which takes approximately 30 minutes to fully charge and then lasts for up to 5 days. Mocacare highlights that Mocaheart as yet should not be considered a substitute for current clinical cardiovascular monitoring until it obtains FDA authorisation which it hopes to get in the future.

Nov 17

A cure for Alzheimer’s on the horizon?

J147 Alzheimer'sScientists at the Salk Institute in California have recently tested a developmental drug designed to combat the signs of old age which are directly correlated with Alzheimer’s disease. Using the memory-enhancing J147 compound, which was originally synthesised after examining age-related accumulations in the brain and shown to prevent memory loss in inherited Alzheimer’s, the scientists were able to also show positive effects in rodents that have a predisposition to age quickly. By determining its impact on their brain genes, in addition to its effect on several hundred molecules associated with the metabolic process, the scientists sought to uncover whether the developmental drug was as beneficial at combating Alzheimer’s caused by old age as it was in the inherited form, and they were not disappointed. According to a number of physiological measures, the J147-treated group of mice resembled younger rodents, doing much better in memory tests as well as demonstrating improved motor functionalities, while their brains revealed fewer pathological characteristics of Alzheimer’s than the control group. They even exhibited a ‘younger’ gene expression profile and had metabolic activity that were more akin to those of younger mice. The researchers now hope to begin human clinical trials in the coming year.

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