Courtesy Wikimedia CommonsUnmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are commonly used in military operations. Micro air vehicles (MAVs) are a subcategory of UAVs that are currently in development and can be as small as 15 centimeters (~ 5.9 inches); their anticipated uses include search-and-rescue, surveillance, detection of explosives, and monitoring of hazardous environments.
Two researchers from the University of Michigan researchers had an idea: instead of building UAVs the size of an insect, why not use the insects themselves? Professor Khalil Najafi and doctoral student Erkan Aktakka engineered a piezoelectric generator that converted the kinetic energy from the wing movements of a Green June Beetle into electricity (45 µW per insect). Their research was recently published in the paper, "Energy scavenging from insect flight," which appeared in the Journal of Micromechanics and Microengineering.
Courtesy Erkan Aktakka
This research was funded by the Hybrid Insect Micro Electromechanical Systems (HI-MEMS) program of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
University News Release: Insect cyborgs may become first responders, search and monitor hazardous environs
A lot of blood is shed every day. Many lives are being saved when that shed blood is replaced. Donated blood is only good for a few weeks. Also there is the worry about contamination (HIV, Aids, etc.). What the world needs is a way to manufacture and deliver blood as needed.
Our Defense Department's research division (DARPA) wants a a self-contained system that could turn out 100 units of universal blood a week for eight weeks. The system needs to withstand war front conditions and be not much bigger than a refrigerator.
That task and $1.95 million was assigned to Arteriocyte less than two years ago. (see Popular Mechanics, Dec 2008 - Bringing Stem Cells to War: Meet the Blood Pharmers). The technology, called Nanex, uses a nanofiber-based structure that mimics bone marrow in which blood cells multiply, according to the company. (cnet News)
This week an initial shipment of their pharmed blood product was sent to the Food and Drug Administration for an independent evaluation. If approved, their cost of $5000 per unit of manufactured blood will need to be reduced.
Still, given the price tag of transporting and storing donated blood, Darpa’s betting that a unit of pharmed blood will make financial sense once it costs less than $1,000. Wired
(Little Dog) methodically moves over obstacles much larger than its leg length and body size—it measures 11.8 by 7.1 inches (30 by 18 centimeters), stands 5.5 inches (14 centimeters) tall and weighs 4.9 pounds (2.2 kilograms). Scientific American
Courtesy Thomas Schultz
Even simple brains, like those in a mouse, are amazing. A brain the size of a thimble that requires almost no energy, can navigate through mazes, survive in severe weather, or escape from a cat. Will we ever create a computer capable of such adaptable and creative "thinking"? One approach is to reverse engineer the brain of a mouse, rat, or cat.
Dharmendra S. Modha is a team leader at IBM who is attempting to understand and build such a brain as cheaply as possible. Their latest achievement is a brain simulation with 1 billion spiking neurons and 10 trillion individual learning synapses.
Synapses are junctions between neurons and a key to how a brain learns. The strength of the chemical reactions within the synapses changes as the animal interacts with the environment These synaptic junctions are thought to encode our individual experience.
Regular computer architecture has a separation between computation and memory.
“Surely there must be a less primitive way of making big changes in the store than by pushing vast numbers of words back and forth through the von Neumann bottleneck. Not only is this tube a literal bottleneck for the data traffic of a problem, but, more importantly, it is an intellectual bottleneck that has kept us tied to word-at-a-time thinking instead of encouraging us to think in terms of the larger conceptual units of the task at hand. Thus programming is basically planning and detailing the enormous traffic of words through the von Neumann bottleneck, and much of that traffic concerns not significant data itself, but where to find it.”
The goal of a DARPA program known as SyNAPSE (Systems of Neuromorphic Adaptive Plastic Scalable Electronics) is to create new electronics hardware and architecture that can understand, adapt and respond to a a changing environment.
Cognitive computing is the quest to engineer mind-like intelligent machines by reverse-engineering the computational function of the brain.
There is no definition or specification of the human mind. But, we understand it as a collection of processes of sensation, perception, action, cognition, emotion, and interaction. Yet, the mind seems to integrate sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell effortlessly into a coherent whole, and to act in a context-dependent way in a changing, uncertain environment. The mind effortless creates categories of time, space, and object, and interrelationships between these.
Courtesy NeilsPhotography Engineers are trying to design machines that can "think for themselves" when on surveillance or search and rescue missions. Somehow the machines has to look at its environment and decide what to do.
Have you ever tried to catch a fly? They are pretty good at seeing your hand and knowing just how to escape your grasp.
Can we figure out how a fly is able see, and find food, and escape from our fly swatters? With today's super microscopes, I am sure that we can visualize and model every nerve connection, muscle fiber, and eye facet.
David O’Carroll, a computational neuroscientist who studies insect vision at Australia’s University of Adelaide has been studying the optical flight circuits of flies, measuring their cell-by-cell activity. In a paper published in Public Library of Science Computational Biology, O’Carroll and fellow University of Adelaide biologist Russell Brinkworth describe an
algorithm composed of a series of five equations through which data from cameras can be run. Each equation represents tricks used by fly circuits to handle changing levels of brightness, contrast and motion, and their parameters constantly shift in response to input.
“It’s amazing work,” said Sean Humbert, who builds miniaturized, autonomous flying robots,
“For traditional navigational sensing, you need lots of payload to do the computation. But the payload on these robots is very small — a gram, a couple of Tic Tacs. You’re not going to stuff dual-core processors into a couple Tic Tacs.
Secret Math of Fly Eyes Could Overhaul Robot Vision Wired Science
Robust Models for Optic Flow Coding in Natural Scenes Inspired by Insect Biology Computational Biology
We have constructed a full model for motion processing in the insect visual pathway incorporating known or suspected elements in as much detail as possible. We have found that it is only once all elements are present that the system performs robustly, with reduction or removal of elements dramatically limiting performance. The implementation of this new algorithm could provide a very useful and robust velocity estimator for artificial navigation systems.
The culmination of 3.5 years of research has led to controllable monocopter that can autorotate like a maple seed (Acer diabolicum Blume) and fly like a helicopter (hover and forward flight). The vehicle, invented at the University of Maryland, Aerospace Engineering Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory and Alfred Gessow Rotorcraft Center, is the smallest and most capable to date as it meets most of the challenges set forth by DARPA's nano-air-vehicle program.
University of Maryland web page about Proj9 Robotic Samara
Remember the four legged robotic pack animal "BigDog"? Now a two legged version called "PetMan" is almost ready to carry your stuff.
Courtesy Opabinia regalis Understanding proteins and how they work is very useful. One type of protein called an enzyme is like a nano sized factory that can take apart molecules or build new molecules out of smaller parts.
Plant cellulose can be turned into ethanol fuel. Oil slicks could be digested into non-pollutants. Custom designed proteins will soon allow "living" factories that can manufacture almost anything we can imagine. Protein "hackers" are creating synthetic antibodies — proteins designed to bind tightly to specific targets, such as tumor cells, which can then be destroyed.
To accomplish this goal, DARPA is investing in the development of new tools in diverse areas such as topology, optimization, the calculation of ab initio potentials, synthetic chemistry, and informatics leading to the ability to design proteins to order. At the conclusion of this program, researchers expect to be able to design a new complex protein, within 24 hours, that will inactivate a pathogenic organism. Protein Design Processes (DARPA)
Proteins are made from a complex chain of amino acids. Several resources are helping to illuminate the complex relationship between the sequence of a chain of amino acids, the shape into which that chain will ultimately fold, and the function executed by the resulting protein.
The Protein Data Bank is an ever growing data bank of detailed schematic protein information. Another program that is helping to understand how proteins are shaped is the Rosetta@Home project which allows thousands of home computers to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins being designed by researchers.
"Would you like to play a new computer game and help scientists analyze protein chemistry -- at the same time? Here is a fun and interesting computer puzzle game that is designed to fold proteins -- the objective is to correctly fold a protein into the smallest possible space." Grrlscientist
Watch this video to learn how to "fold-it"
BigDog has been improved. It now carries 340 lbs. on ice, through snow, over obstacles, and can even jump over things.
The high energy particles spewed out of sunspots can knock out satellites and electric power grids. To prevent this from happening the US Air Force and the US Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) have proposed using very low frequency radio waves to flush particles from radiation "belts" above Earth and dump them into the upper atmosphere over either one or several days.
This deluge of dumped charged particles would temporarily change the ionosphere from a "mirror" that bounced high frequency radio waves around the planet to a "sponge" that soaked them up, says Dr Craig Rodger of Otago University's physics department.
“Airplane pilots and ships would lose radio contact and some Pacific Island nations could be isolated for as long as six to seven days, depending on the system’s design and how it was operated,” he says.
GPS would likely also suffer large-scale disruptions, as signals between ground users and satellites were scrambled by the ionosphere, he added. Otego media release
Can people like Joe can go without geocaching for a week. Smart bombs also would need to take a breather because they use GPS to find their targets. We are seeing a minimum of sunspot activity right now. Sunspots peak every eleven years. The last memorable blast from the sun was July 14, 2000 so we need to make up our minds before 2011.