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The human brain can be backed up like a hard disk

ottobre 25, 2010 Biotechnology No Commenti

The name Raymond Kurzweil, for the majority of the general public may not mean that much, but he is one of the great gurus of modern technology, able not only to invent the first music synthesizer which could perfectly imitate the sound of the piano, thus overcoming one of the major limitations of electronic keyboard instruments, but also to predict, back in the eighties the development of the Internet as we know it now.

In addition to this, Kurzweil has contributed to progress with the inception of technologies such as voice recognition, but also with theories that bear witness to his visionary talent, such as when he envisioned the advent of a modern society in which all information could be obtained through computers connected in a worldwide network, a vision that at the time raise more than an eyebrow …

So when Kurzweil talks about the future, you should listen to him. According to his last prophecy, in twenty years from now it will be possible to make a copy of the data in our brain, a sort of backup copy which, just like the contents of today’s hard drives, could be easily saved on USB drives, and brought safely to consult it when needed, not only by the “owner” of the copied brain, but by others, and possibly also by his heirs after his death, to relive his memories and access to any knowledge that the deceased may have left behind, by reading the data through a search engine.

Theoretically, thanks to nanotechnology, this scenario is already possible today. Again, because of microscopic technologies, it will be possible, according to Kurzweil, to have micronized robots implanted in the human body, which would flow in our blood vessels to detect and cure any diseases, and to give us advice on habits we should follow, foods we should eat and medicines to take. In a few words, it will be a sort of Big Brother inside us, but (apparently) well-meant.

Who knows, maybe in the future, once the technology to make a backup copy of our brain is found, there could be a way to restore it, that is, to reinstall the data of a deceased person’s brain into that of a younger one, thus rendering eternal, if not his life, at least his knowledge and his memories.

The scenario is not exactly reassuring, but who knows, maybe in twenty years we will find a way to use all this knowledge in constructive ways.

A helmet for remotely controlled soldiers

settembre 14, 2010 Biotechnology, Technology No Commenti

The latest technological gizmo which comes out of the DARPA research labs seems to come straight out of a science fiction movie, but it is actually real and military authorities are planning to use it on soldiers in war zones to improve their efficiency.

Stemming from a simple concept, according to which our feelings are ruled by brain activity, researchers came to the conclusion that the human brain can be provided with the “right” stimulations to induce it to reach optimal performance. In this specific case we are obviously talking about battlefield performance.

This performance is achieved thanks to a helmet, which contains several electrical stimulators, connected to a computer placed at safe distance and capable of interacting with its wearer’s brain. The sensors mounted inside the helmet would send electrical pulses to the computer, each impulse corresponding to a sensation, and the computer would respond by sending back micro stimulations which can generate induced feelings.

Thanks to these stimulations it will be possible, for example, to reduce the level of stress, improve cognitive and reactive capabilities, or even increase the level of tolerance to pain, thus inducing a soldier to keep on fighting even if he is not seriously wounded. Basically, all this amounts to a remote control of the soldier’s mind, which turns him into a war machine.

Of course, along with questions on whether this will work or not, this project arises questions from an ethical point of view, as it would completely get rid of the human factor, turning soldiers in real flesh and blood robots, programmed to follow orders verbatim without realizing when they are passing the limit which gets them into a dangerous situation. At this point, it would be better to send REAL robots, thus saving human lives in war.

An almost invisible Bluetooth hearing aid

When you need to resort to a hearing aid to improve your hearing conditions, often the biggest problem for those who use it is of a psychological nature, as it may be revealing its wearer’s conditions to the people around them, with unpleasant consequences.

To provide assistance to people with hearing loss problems wishing to keep their condition as confidential as possible, Beltone has created True, a hearing aid of an extremely small size which, aside from working just like any other similar device, also features some technologically advanced interesting capabilities.

In fact, True sports a Bluetooth connectivity, which makes it possible to connect it automatically to any other Bluetooth devices around it, and to carry out a conversation without stress, simply by clipping its microphone on your clothes; at this point, true’s wearer will be able, for example, to talk through a cellphone while listening to his counterpart’s voice directly inside the ear, even if the phone is physically a few meters away.

Along with this, thanks to its 2.4 GHz wireless capabilities, it can pick up sounds from electronic devices such as a TV set or stereo, and have them transmitted directly into the ear canal. By adjusting the volume as you please, you will be able, for example, to listen to music in background while talking to your friends, with no problem caused by loud music disturbing the conversation. Volume and sound quality can be adjusted via a handy remote control.

All this is made possible by a circuit which is two times faster than other normal hearing aids, with a four times larger memory capacity, which is able of maintaining a high speed wireless connection, allowing to carry on a conversation without any transmission gaps.

An almost human prosthesis for those who lost a leg

According to a report recently published on the New York Times, war veterans who have lost a limb due to wounds, or patients who suffered an amputation after an illness such as diabetes, might soon be able to come back to an almost normal life.

This would happen thanks to a prosthetic knee, called X2, which is equipped with an array of high profile technology, which allows for more realistic movements, and most of all allows the bionic leg to react properly when it encounters obstacles, such as stairs, uneven terrain or stones, all things that have always posed a serious threat to those who are forced to walk with an artificial leg.

In fact, the X2 prosthetic knee is equipped with an array of motion sensors, gyroscopes and micro processors, which give the patient the opportunity of enjoying a wider variety of movements, helping him to distribute his weight more evenly between the artificial leg and the real one, which for obvious sensitivity reasons tends to be overloaded. Thanks to X2 it will then be easier to walk down a slope, up a flight of stairs and, in general, enjoy a higher precision of movement.

Compared to similar models, X2 is lighter and smaller in size, and the battery that powers it is capable of a longer life. The cost that the Department of Defense should cover is of approximately 30000 dollars for each item; they are planning to supply some 200 pieces within the next year to veteran in need.

This figure is just a drop in the sea if compared to the 5000 new cases of people finding themselves in this situation every year, and to the 45000 who are already suffering, but certainly it is a first step forward, most of all under the point of view of morale.

Silk and gold for an implantable biosensor

agosto 19, 2010 Biotechnology No Commenti

Silk and gold are two valuable materials that one hardly associates with the idea of medical care, as they rather bring to mind images of wealth and luxury, at least for those who are not aware of results of a research project going on at the Tufts University.

In fact, a team of researchers from the prestigious Massachusetts-based athenaeum have just created a biosensor, which is made up exactly of these two materials, and can be implanted inside the human body to detect a wide range of elements. The sensor is capable of analyzing the presence and level of certain proteins, or measuring the level of glucose in the human body to monitor a diabetic patient’s health conditions.

In this case, as soon as it detects a level below the minimum value, the sensor might for example be used to transmit an alert signal via wireless network or Bluetooth, to the doctor or directly to the patient, in order to take the proper measures in time and avoid further trouble.

This is possible thanks to the fact that the meta-material used by the researchers can pick up the frequency of terahertz magnetic resonance of any chemical agent present in the patient’s body. Once this resonance, unique for any material, has been picked up, its characteristics are analyzed and it will be possible to determine whether the presence and level of these chemicals poses a threat, and send the relevant alert in case of need.

The next test run on its antenna will be carried out with different proteins, implanting the sensor deep below several layers of muscle tissue, to verify that all works well and follow chemical reactions in real operating conditions

A chip to detect neurodegenerative diseases in early stages

agosto 11, 2010 Biotechnology No Commenti

Scientists from the Faculty of Medicine at University of Calgary (Canada) have just disclosed the result of a research project which could represent a real milestone in the history of the struggle against neurodegenerative diseases, such as for example Parkinson’s or Alzheimer.

In fact, the Canadian research team, lead by Naweed Syed, has created a microchip which is capable of detecting small changes in micro electric communication between brain cells, and therefore analyze how these changes may be a sign of the first symptoms of serious diseases.

These neurochips can also be installed in a cultivation of brain cells, which will use it to communicate with each other while, in turn, the chip would analyze the communication between human brain cells. Initially this was only possible for a few cells at the time, while now, a newer and improved version of this neurochip can work even with large groups of cells.

In this way, extracting a sample of brain cells from a patient, it will be possible to examine the way they connect to each other, matching it with how a perfectly functioning group of cells would work. Detecting any imperfection in the transmission of ions between cells, it is possible to detect the early stages of a neurodegenerative disease.

Neurochips are automated, so anyone can implant brain cells. For doctors this means no need for complicated training programs on brain scanners that must anyway be operated under the supervision of a specialized technician. Now, the doctor can be a technician as well, with obvious improvements in terms of flexibility of the analysis work, as well as time saving, hopefully meaning a good result for patients suffering from diseases such as Alzheimer or Parkinson.

A dental camera for modern dentists

Miniature video technology and video surveillance are our specialties, but this does not necessarily mean that the two things must always be walking hand in hand. The increasing miniaturization of video systems has possible applications in a plethora of other possible occasions, not only thanks to hidden cameras which record footage secretly, but also thanks to miniature cameras which, when teamed up with instruments of a completely different kind, improve their efficiency.

For example, this is the case with Dental Cam, that is, an intraoral camera, suitable for being used in a dentist’s studio for a better documentation of their patients’ health conditions, especially in hidden corners of their oral cavity. The same procedure can also be carried out by anyone who wants to check first hand that their teeth are in good conditions.

Thanks to its small size, it can be used not only to explore the oral cavity, but also for several other uses, at home, scientific or professional, for example to take a closer look at printed electronic circuits, or to study small animals or insects in a laboratory, and much more than this, all with a 1.3 megapixel resolution and a sensitivity level which makes it suitable for being used also in low lighting conditions.

Its ease of use is further enhanced by the presence of an USB cable, which along with powering it, allows you to connect the Dental Cam directly to your computer, to view its videos in real time, and conveniently save them for later viewing, for example for a general check-up of the patient’s conditions.

For more details about operation and prices of the intraoral camera, we suggest that you visit the Endoacustica website and contact our experts, who are at your full disposal for any clarification you may need.

A sensor to detect head injuries

When one receives a blow to the head, it may happen that they do not realize how serious its effect are before it’s too late and there is unfortunately nothing to do. In order to assess the level of harm caused by underestimated impacts, especially to the head of soldiers on a battlefield, BAE Systems has just developed the second generation of a system that allows to evaluate the effect of such impacts.

This system is called HEADS, standing for Headborne Energy Analysis and Diagnostic System, it is made up of sensors mounted inside the soldiers’ protective helmet and is in use with the Marines since a couple of years already.

In the new version of HEADS, which has just been introduced at the Farnborough Air Show and will be available as of next April, a small LED display is mounted on the front of the helmet, and it would glow in case of impact, with different colors depending on severity of the blow, thus visually signaling the possible presence of an undetected brain injury, which can be caused for example when the head rebounds following to an explosions nearby.

Furthermore, HEADS sensors are equipped with a radio transmitter, which can send an immediate alert to its control center. Thanks to this technological equipment, medical personnel in the area can promptly intervene if necessary.

These sensor do not only detect the explosions or a trauma, but can also measure the direction of impact, its strength and duration, as well as the pressure that the head has been going through, and the number of relevant impacts suffered. The relevant data can be downloaded to a PC by USB cable or transmitted wirelessly, to be analyzed by medical personnel.

A new rifle scope makes snipers even deadlier

The US weapon giant Lockheed Martin has just won a tender for a contract approximately 4 million dollar worth, with the US Department of Defense agency DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency), to develop a highly technological laser beam rifle scope for high precision rifles.

The laser rifle scope, called Dingo (Dynamic Image Gunsight Optic) contains a small ballistics computer, teamed up with a laser pointer and an array of sensors which are used to measure the effect of wind and other environmental factors and obstacles on the shot trajectory.

Dingo calculates the trajectory using the information it receives from the sensors and the pointer, thus giving soldiers a tool to hit targets at long distance, with a great level of resolution and, most of all, without having to change the scope each time that they have to shoot at different ranges.

In fact, the current pointing devices are optimized only for a certain range of distances, therefore when you are on a mission and have to shoot targets located at different distances, you would have to change the scope at every shot or every distance change, increasing the risk. Dingo solves this problem by eliminating this risk, improving operation speed and minimizing the time between one shot and the next, with obvious consequences on performance and mission effectiveness.

In fact, the first run of tests, carried out in December 2009, has shown that the snipers were able to double their shooting speed, and also to double the odds of hitting long distance targets (at over 1000 meters) with the first attempt.
In the first application phase, Dingo will be mounted on M-4 and M-16 rifles, and once the tests are completed and it starts it work, it may soon become the standard of reference for high precision shooting systems.

A video camera which follows our eyes

Everyone would, at a certain point, like to have a camera in their eyes, to record what they see, maybe to do it while their hands are busy (for example on a computer keyboard), or for surgeons and scientists who would need, for educational reasons, to record what they see and what their hands are doing during a surgery or a scientific research.

Nowadays all this, and more, is possible thanks to Eye See Cam, an eye camera which is controlled by movements of the human eye and is capable of recording what its user’s eyes are really looking at.

In fact, Eye See Cam is made up of 4 small cameras: one for each eye, mounted on the side ant pointed towards a lens placed at an angle of approximately 30 degrees, which reflects the movement of the eye. The third one is in the middle and works as a “third eye” while the fourth is above the other three and works as a pointer.

The eye camera is based on the principle of video oculography (VOG), used to measure eye movements in patients suffering from vertigo or from ocular bulb motion problems. Thanks to its four different points of view, Eye See Cam can analyze movements and torsion of the eye in 3D, in real time with a response time of just 4 milliseconds.

The videos recorded, with a resolution up to 752 x 480 pixel, can be stored on a PC, and the camera can be wirelessly controlled from a distance, for example via an iPod or iPhone.

To have an idea of how it works in a small demonstration, you can watch the video at the beginning of this post.


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