December 16, 2006

Researchers demonstrate direct brain control of humanoid robot

University of Washington researchers can control the movement of a humanoid robot with signals from a human brain.

Rajesh Rao, associate professor of computer science and engineering, and his students have demonstrated that an individual can "order" a robot to move to specific locations and pick up specific objects merely by generating the proper brain waves that reflect the individual's instructions. The results were presented last week at the Current Trends in Brain-Computer Interfacing meeting in Whistler, B.C.

"This is really a proof-of-concept demonstration," Rao says. "It suggests that one day we might be able to use semi-autonomous robots for such jobs as helping disabled people or performing routine tasks in a person’s home."

The controlling individual – in this case a graduate student in Rao’s lab – wears a cap dotted with 32 electrodes. The electrodes pick up brain signals from the scalp based on a technique called electroencephalography. The person watches the robot’s movements on a computer screen via two cameras, one mounted on the robot and another above it.

Right now, the "thought commands" are limited to a few basic instructions. A person can instruct the robot to move forward, choose one of two available objects, pick it up, and bring it to one of two locations. Preliminary results show 94 percent accuracy in choosing the correct object.

Quantum dot quantum computer progress

In Physical Review Letters, Oxford student Avinash Kolli and his coauthors suggest a new way to create entanglement, by identifying two different stable states of a quantum dot (call them ‘A’ and ‘B’) and then targeting two such dots simultaneously with a laser.

A lot of work still needs to be done to flesh out this idea into a full blueprint for a quantum dot computer, but the predictions are testable with existing laboratory equipment. The team is now looking for experimentalists to collaborate on testing this proposal.

Better rotary engine

Canadian company says it has fine-tuned the design of a Wankel rotary engine and is preparing to reintroduce the technology to a broader market that includes the U.S. military.

Reg Technologies Inc. says that its Radmax direct-charge engine is based on the Wankel rotary design but can deliver up to three times the power with half the weight of a true Wankel engine of the same size. It is also lighter and more fuel efficient than regular combustion engines.

While the company has discussed licensing deals with automakers, including an unidentified electric-car maker that might use the technology for battery recharging, its best customer opportunity may be the U.S. military. Licensee Radian Milparts has built a four-stroke, 42-horsepower diesel engine based on Radmax technology to power unmanned air vehicles. The key to the application is weight: Since the engine is lighter and more fuel-efficient, unmanned aircraft could carry less fuel but fly longer.

Breakthrough in understanding type 1 diabetes

A faulty sensory nervous system could be the cause of type 1 diabetes. 85% of human diabetics are believed to have impaired sensory nerve function, but it has always been assumed to be a consequence of the disease, rather than a cause.

The team wanted to know what would happen if they gave diabetic mice a top-up of substance P, so they injected some directly into the pancreas. Astonishingly, the diabetes disappeared overnight and the mice remained diabetes-free for weeks, and even months in some cases.

If the same were to happen in humans, a single injection could keep the disease at bay for years, says Dosch.

December 15, 2006

Nano-cables convert light into electricity

The nano-cables developed by Takanori Fukushita of Tokyo Japan are 16 nanometres in diameter and several micrometres long. They resemble the light-harvesting antennae used by some bacteria and transform light into electricity in a similar way to the semiconductors in solar panels, albeit on a much smaller scale.

"This is the first example of a photoconducting nanostructure," says Takanori Fukushita of the University of Tokyo, Japan, a member of the team that built the cables.

The hollow cables can grow up to several micrometres long. To build them, Fukushita and colleagues created a compound containing hexabenzocoronene (HBC), two carbon-12 chains, and trinitrofluorenone (TNF). They placed the compound in a solution of tetrahydrofuran and bubbled methane vapour though it, causing the compound to self-assemble into hollow cables.

The HBC, which sheds electrons when hit by light, formed the inside of the cable wall, and the TNF, which readily accepts electrons, coated the outside of the wall.

At the moment, the cables cannot produce usable electricity from sunlight alone, as current does not flow well through the outer layer of TNF. The next step, Fukushita says, is to modify the outer layer, perhaps by attaching carbon-60 molecules (buckyballs), so it acts as a semiconductor and allows more current to flow.

Once this has been achieved, the nanocables could be fitted to nano-sized robots or micro-machines and power their movements, suggests Franz Würthner at the University of Würzburg in Germany. Their similarity in size and function to the antennae used by bacteria for photosynthesis means it might also be possible to connect them to such organisms, creating hybrid devices, he says.

Better investing magazine confuses molecular nanotechnology with NNI nanotechnology

An example of popular media where molecular nanotechnology and the NNI definition of nanotechnology are intermingled is Better Investing magazine. They have an article about nanotechnology today and tomorrow. It is a two page article which first starts by referencing the Engines of Creation book and Eric Drexler and then goes to mention the National Nanotechnology Initiatives definition of things from 1 to 100 nanometers in size. It then talks about large companies working on things with small dimensions in different industries.

Then they have a chart of technologies that were here in 2004 being labeled as nanotechnology, 2008 and 2012 and beyond. The 2008 and 2012 lists are pretty much hot developing or developed technologies named. Micro-fuel cells, OLED displays, quantum computers etc...

This is a clear example of something that Eric Drexler has said. Those in the development of current nanotechnologh businesses intentionally create the confusion that they want to associate with the popular meme impact of molecular nanotechnology and then divert from that promise with current products with some nanoscale dimensions. Eric Drexler and molecular nanotechnology get used as bait before switching to something else similarly named.

I think often times it is just that some people cannot be bothered to look at or understand the differences. I do not think the baiting and switching is that horrible except when it is combined with the insults and bad mouthing of molecular nanotechnology. Look this is pretty but it is impossible and science fantasy and those people are crazy and trying to scare your children, why don't you try these nanoparticles I can deliver it to you next week. Another bothersome thing is as the nanoscale field advances and the various things start to converge the current developers are still saying but this work which has similar results to what was being talked about is different. We have molecular precision and control but it is with DNA, RNA, proteins and small molecules. Drexlerian molecular technology was talking about diamondoid. All the early papers involving proteins, DNA and RNA from Drexler and the Foresight institute? I am going to ignore them because it is convenient for me and helps build my case that my stuff is important and your stuff is not.

December 13, 2006

2007 superconducting related technology predictions

‘Top-10’ forecast list released today by Elie K. Track, Ph.D., senior partner, HYPRES Inc., a leading developer of superconducting microelectronics technology.

1. Lab demonstrations that can lead to an advanced, low-cost MRI machine that leverages superconducting technology. Ultimately, this will make it easier and cheaper to screen for many serious medical conditions, such as breast cancer and brain tumors.

2. Ultra high speed Internet switches using superconducting technology to process optical signals in interconnecting circuits, leading to 100 Tbps routers.

3). High-capacity power lines that use cables made out of superconductors to efficiently carry electricity to areas that are without power infrastructure. These innovative cables carry 3-5 times more current than traditional power lines of the same size. There will be more comprehensive demos and implementations in 2007.

4). The demonstration of a wireless digital receiver, using superconducting electronics, outside of the laboratory.

5). The Food and Drug Administration granting approval for use of superconducting sensors in advanced magnetic cardio-imaging machines that will be used to more effectively screen for coronary artery disease.

6). The proven design of a 10 TFLOPS workstation computer, to replace room-sized systems. This superconductor-charged system would have a number of applications, including greatly increasing the accuracy of weather forecasting.

7). Demonstration of a superconductor-based ship propulsion motor for the U.S. Navy, leading to dramatic savings in size, weight and power needs for future transportation systems. (35 MW motor demonstration)

8). Progress in the development of an analog quantum computer, which is expected to improve the speed for processing complex mathematical computations from years to minutes.

9). The successful demonstration of the SCUBA-2 infrared camera on the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaii, the most complex demonstration ever of superconducting electronics – will provide an unprecedented view of the universe.

10). The addition of an AC Josephson voltage standard device, leading to sharp improvements in the fundamental accuracy of measurements of electrical signals. This would be an enormous breakthrough in the metrology community.

Honorable mentions: National Security Agency funding for superconducting supercomputer, demonstration of Bell’s inequalities (fundamental advancement in quantum mechanics physics), and improved superconducting materials that allow superconductivity to take place at higher temperatures.

December 12, 2006

Idle electrical capacity enough for plug in Hybrid cars

If all the cars and light trucks in the nation switched from oil to electrons, idle capacity in the existing electric power system could generate most of the electricity consumed by plug-in hybrid electric vehicles. A new study for the Department of Energy finds that "off-peak" electricity production and transmission capacity could fuel 84 percent of the country's 220 million vehicles if they were plug-in hybrid electrics.

The study also looked at the impact on the environment of an all-out move to PHEVs. The added electricity would come from a combination of coal-fired and natural gas-fired plants. Even with today's power plants emitting greenhouse gases, the overall levels would be reduced because the entire process of moving a car one mile is more efficient using electricity than producing gasoline and burning it in a car's engine.

Total sulfur dioxide emissions would increase in the near term due to sulfur content in coal. However, urban air quality would actually improve since the pollutants are emitted from power plants that are generally located outside cities. In the long run, according to the report, the steady demand for electricity is likely to result in investments in much cleaner power plants, even if coal remains the dominant fuel for our electricity production.

Finally, the study looked at the economic impact on consumers. Since, PHEVs are expected to cost about $6,000 to $10,000 more than existing vehicles - mostly due to the cost of batteries -- researchers evaluated how long it might take owners to break even on fuel costs. Depending on the price of gas and the cost of electricity, estimates range from five to eight years - about the current lifespan of a battery. Pratt notes that utilities could offer a lower price per kilowatt hour on off-peak power, making PHEVs even more attractive to consumers.

Adding "smart grid" communications technology to ensure the vehicles only charge during off-peak periods and to provide immediate, remote disconnect of chargers in event of problems in the power grid would make them attractive to utilities.

December 11, 2006

General electric wants to own nanotechnology

In the latest Fortune magazine, Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electic said to his R&D labs: "I went and said Molecular medicine- we're going to own it. Nanotechnology-we're going to own it

This was in response to the question: You've invested hundreds of millions in the R&D labs at GE, but there's more to it than just putting more money into it. What have you done to get more revenues?

Three things...Our global research center in Schenectady looked lousy. The physical plant, the amount of customers who came through every year - we'd just fallen behind. It's one of our best assets. So the first thing we did is just fix that physical plant to give it the look of a winner. Then we globalized it and opened up centers in Bangalore and Shanghai and Munich.
Third, we had a high-priced job shop. We had more than 2,000 projects being done in that infrastructure. I cut it to 80. I went and said, Molecular medicine - we're going to own it. Nanotechnology - we're going to own it. Renewable energy, energy efficiency, environmental technology - we're going to own it.

GE 2005 financial information

GE’s total research and development expenditures were $3.4 billion in 2005, compared with $3.1 billion and $2.7 billion in 2004 and 2003, respectively. In 2005, expenditures from GE’s own funds were $2.7 billion compared with $2.4 billion in 2004. Expenditures funded by customers (mainly the U.S. government) were $0.7 billion and $0.6 billion in 2005 and 2004, respectively.

Expenditures reported above reflect the definition of research and development required by U.S. generally accepted accounting principles. For operating and management purposes, we consider amounts spent on product and services technology to include our reported research and development expenditures, but also amounts for improving our existing products and services, and the productivity of our plant, equipment and processes. On this basis, our technology expenditures in 2005 were $5.2 billion.

So GE is spending in the range of a few hundred million and maybe a billion dollars on nanotechnology and molecular medicine.

FDA proposes a path to fast track investigational drugs

FDA proposes investigational drug rule to make it easier for those with no other treatment option to try drugs that have not been approved yet.

This relates to the post today about CNN's Anderson Coopers 360 weeklong question of how far will you go for health and wellbeing

Engineered Microbes Boost Ethanol

The yeast strain they made can tolerate ethanol concentrations as high as 18 percent--almost double the concentration that regular yeast can handle without quickly dying. In addition, the new strain makes about 20 percent more ethanol by processing more of the glucose, and it speeds up fermentation by 70 percent.

So far the researchers have only modified a laboratory strain of the yeast, not the type now used in ethanol plants. "The next step is to show that this technology works with industry strains," Stephanopoulos says.

If their approach can modify industrial yeast, it would drive down the cost of ethanol, Ladisch says. And eventually this research could have a wider impact, he says, because the mechanism that the researchers used to make the ethanol-tolerant yeast could be used as a blueprint to develop other wanted traits in microbes. "They now have a handle into fundamental metabolic pathways in how the yeast might be modified," he says.

Stephanopoulos believes that cellulosic-ethanol yields could be improved by tailoring certain traits in microbes using his technique. It might be possible to make microbes that are tolerant of compounds other than ethanol that are created in the fermentation process and toxic to the microbes. He also hopes to produce strains that eat sugars with five carbon atoms, such as xylose, that are produced when cellulose is broken down. The microbes used in today's processes only ferment sugars like glucose that have six carbon atoms.

A combination of things need to be developed to enable environmentally clean transportation.

Far lighter vehicles. Using carbon fiber and/or nanograined metals (aluminum is 10 times stronger with nanograin). Lower the overall demand for fuel for transportation with greater efficiency.

Develop and deploy plug in hybrids. We need better batteries for longer range on electricity. 2008-9 plug in hybrids will start to be deployed by Honda, Nissan and Toyota. 100+mpg. With far lighter vehicles could expand the battery powered range. Get the battery range significantly past regular commute distance and fuel use drops to almost nothing.

Expand clean electrical power sources. In the near-mid term, that is mainly nuclear power.

Use genetic engineering to get higher efficiency from crops or microbes to generate more biofuel as described in this article.

Have government policies geared to accelerate the early retirement of inefficient vehicles and provide support for mass transit. Also, support all electric folding bikes and mopeds which would have less of a technological hurdle for clean transportation.

A recent study says hydrogen is more inefficient than electricity as power storage.

How far for Health And Well Being

This week (Dec 11-14, 2006) CNN's show Anderson Cooper 360 asks the question how far would you go for Health and Well Being? This link is a place where you can provide feedback.

My questions are

1. What is wrong with our society that we have to go outside the United States for better, newer or cheaper treatments for Health and Well being?

A clear example of what is wrong is people like Leon Kass, advisor to George Bush, who has religious and gender biases and does not want advances to change how much death there is or how soon it happens. He even questions the advances in the 20th century extending life expectancy.

2. Why is the FDA approval and the scientific research not adjusted to achieve faster results and approvals ? The system needs to take into account the risks that an individual already faces from ineffective treatments. We should not have delays that do not result in actual increases in safety.

Updated: FDA has just today proposed a new investigational drug rule to make it easier for those with no other treatment option to try drugs that have not been approved yet.

3. We need to focus medical research guided by metrics for results in extending lifespan and improved health. There is too much money going into treatments that are not improving lifespan but which replace a marginal effective but profitable drug for treating some symptom. Too much just flows to institutions that have historically received money but which are not measured by the results that they have delivered.

4. There is also the budget tension between hospices and costs for those who are sick and research to actually cure aging and disease. The bulk of the money for medical research should be focused on impacting aging processes and resistance and recuperation from disease. The allocation should be made at the top level. Budget $X for underlying causes of aging and interventions, C$ for disease cures, Y$ for symptom management and Z$ for hospice care. The X$ amount is far too small and often gets diverted into the other buckets.

IBM has new phase change memory. Can be 500 times faster than Flash

IBM has made germanium-antimony-tellurium phase change memory. The advantage of the new material, according to the scientists, is that it can be used to create switches over 500 times faster than today's flash chips. Moreover, the prototype switch developed by the scientists is just 3 nanometers high by 20 nanometers wide, offering the promise that the technology can be shrunk to smaller dimensions than could be attained by flash manufacturers.

The meory uses half the power of flash and could have significant roll outs between 2007 (from Intel) and 2015 (for IBM)

Stan Ovshinsky's invented phase change memory which is also called ovonics unified memory. He also has invented the Ovonic Quantum Control, a unique proprietary all thin-film transistory replacement control device. It is based on new physics and has multifunctionality beyond that of transistors.

Hydrogen economy less efficient than electron economy

According to the laws of physics it would be more efficient to have our energy based upon electricity instead of hydrogen Hydrogen as an energy carrier would be less efficient than electricity.

In a sustainable energy future, electricity will become the prime energy carrier. We now have to focus our research on electricity storage, electric cars and the modernization of the existing electricity infrastructure.

Citation: Bossel, Ulf. “Does a Hydrogen Economy Make Sense?” Proceedings of the IEEE. Vol. 94, No. 10, October 2006.

The focus should be on modernizing our energy sources, which I have pointed out should have as its first priority the reduction in the usage and eventual elimination of coal power.

December 10, 2006

Near term solar sails

Centauri dreams has a couple of interesting articles about near term solar sails. Gregory Benford (University of California at Irvine) and his brother James (Microwave Sciences) have solar sail with a painted polymer layer that desorp from the sail as extra propulsion

The solar sail could be deployed in low Earth orbit by conventional rocket. It would then be launched by microwave beam, the heat of which would cause a polymer layer to desorp from the sail (think of desorption as the opposite of absorption — some of the ‘paint’ material is released to provide propulsion).

The microwave beaming cancels most of the sail’s orbital velocity around the Sun, causing it to fall toward it. The craft approaches edge-on but at perihelion, a few solar radii out, it rotates to face the Sun. Now a second layer of polymers desorps away under the intense sunlight, and the craft gets a 50 kilometer per second boost, departing the area as a conventional reflecting solar sail with its final layer of aluminum now exposed. Mission speed is approximately 10 AU per year. A parting boost from a microwave transmitter in Earth orbit could add still more delta-V.

New Scientist also covered this solar sail with painted on propulsion fuel

Wikipedia covers solar sails In 2000, Energy Science Laboratories developed a new carbon fiber material which might be useful for solar sails.[5] The material is over 200 times thicker than conventional solar sail designs, but it is so porous that it has the same weight. The rigidity and durability of this material could make solar sails that are significantly better than plastic films. The material could self-deploy and should withstand higher temperatures. Energy Science Laboratories' new carbon fiber material weighs in at 3g/m2.

There is another article about near term solar sails

Magnetically inflation could be used to expand 1 kilometer or larger solar sails