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Oct 06

Reported by Larry Hardesty, in MIT news, 4 OCtober 2013.

Small cubes with no exterior moving parts can propel themselves forward, jump on top of each other, and snap together to form arbitrary shapes.

In 2011, when an MIT senior named John Romanishin proposed a new design for modular robots to his robotics professor, Daniela Rus, she said, “That can’t be done.”

Two years later, Rus showed her colleague Hod Lipson, a robotics researcher at Cornell University, a video of prototype robots, based on Romanishin’s design, in action. “That can’t be done,” Lipson said. Continue reading »

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Sep 22

Reported by Tom Abate in Stanford News Report, 16 September 2013.

An interdisciplinary team has created a “microbial battery” driven by naturally occurring bacteria that have evolved to produce electricity as they digest organic material.

The tubular growth depicted here is a type of microbe that can produce electricity. Its wire-like tendrils are attached to a carbon filament. This image is taken with a scanning electron microscope. More than 100 of these 'exoelectrogenic microbes' could fit side by side in a human hair. Credit: Xing Xie, Stanford Engineering.

Engineers at Stanford have devised a new way to generate electricity from sewage, using naturally occurring “wired microbes” as mini power plants, producing electricity as they digest plant and animal waste.

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, co-authors Yi Cui, a materials scientist, Craig Criddle, an environmental engineer, and Xing Xie, an interdisciplinary researcher, call their invention a microbial battery.

They hope it will be used in places such as sewage treatment plants, or to break down organic pollutants in the “dead zones” of lakes and coastal waters where fertilizer runoff and other organic waste can deplete oxygen levels and suffocate marine life. Continue reading »

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Sep 01

Reported by Timothy Wall, University of Missuri News Bureau, 31 Aug. 2012.

Three of the largest and deadliest earthquakes in recent history occurred where earthquake hazard maps didn’t predict massive quakes. A University of Missouri scientist and his colleagues recently studied the reasons for the maps’ failure to forecast these quakes. They also explored ways to improve the maps. Developing better hazard maps and alerting people to their limitations could potentially save lives and money in areas such as the New Madrid, Missouri fault zone.

“Forecasting earthquakes involves many uncertainties, so we should inform the public of these uncertainties,” said Mian Liu, of MU’s department of geological sciences. “The public is accustomed to the uncertainties of weather forecasting, but foreseeing where and when earthquakes may strike is far more difficult. Too much reliance on earthquake hazard maps can have serious consequences. Continue reading »

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Aug 31

Reported by Dave Moshe,in Wired Science, 28 Aug. 2012.

Seeking a way to crowdsource better computer vision, roboticists have launched a website that allows users to record pieces of their environments in 3-D with a Kinect camera.

Called Kinect@Home, the open source and browser-based effort remains in its infancy. Users have uploaded only a few dozen models of their living room couches, kitchen countertops and themselves. Continue reading »

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Jun 30

Reported by Liat Clark, Wired UK, in Wired Science, June 27 2012.

UK mathematician has made a public appeal for people to phone a dedicated number so data can be gathered to hone a tool that can diagnose Parkinson’s disease by analyzing voice patterns.

Max Little, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, made the announcement during the opening of the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh, 25 June. While studying at Oxford University, Little developed an algorithm that identifies the unique characteristics present in the voice of a Parkinson’s Disease sufferer. He setup the Parkinson’s Voice Initiative in order to improve upon the machine learning system — the algorithm is built to adapt when new information is introduced and, by widening the pool (it’s hoped, with 10,000 phone calls form the public), it should become a more accurate diagnosis tool, able to identify specific symptoms amid numerous variants of speech. Continue reading »

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May 27

By Jerome Bonnet, Pakpoom Subsoontorn, and Drew Endy in PNAS, May 21, 2012, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1202344109.

The use of synthetic biological systems in research, healthcare, and manufacturing often requires autonomous history-dependent behavior and therefore some form of engineered biological memory. For example, the study or reprogramming of aging, cancer, or development would benefit from genetically encoded counters capable of recording up to several hundred cell division or differentiation events. Although genetic material itself provides a natural data storage medium, tools that allow researchers to reliably and reversibly write information to DNA in vivo are lacking. Here, we demonstrate a rewriteable recombinase addressable data (RAD) module that reliably stores digital information within a chromosome.

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Mar 22

Reported by Caroline McCall, MIT News Office, March 2012.

A new imaging system could use opaque walls, doors or floors as ‘mirrors’ to gather information about scenes outside its line of sight.


In December, MIT Media Lab researchers caused a stir by releasing a slow-motion video of a burst of light traveling the length of a plastic bottle. But the experimental setup that enabled that video was designed for a much different application: a camera that can see around corners.

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Feb 28

Reported by Evan Lerner, in University of Pennsylvania News, 22 Feb. 2012.

The technological world of the 21st century owes a tremendous amount to advances in electrical engineering, specifically, the ability to finely control the flow of electrical charges using increasingly small and complicated circuits. And while those electrical advances continue to race ahead, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are pushing circuitry forward in a different way, by replacing electricity with light.

“Looking at the success of electronics over the last century, I have always wondered why we should be limited to electric current in making circuits,” said Nader Engheta, professor in the electrical and systems engineering department of Penn’s School of Engineering and Applied Science. “If we moved to shorter wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum — like light — we could make things smaller, faster and more efficient.”

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Jan 13

Reported by Ari Entin and Christina Howell, in IBM News, 12 Jan. 2012.

IBM scientists create the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit using only 12 atoms. First-ever demonstration of engineered atomic-scale structures storing information magnetically at low temperatures. New experimental atomic-scale magnet memory is at least 100 times denser than today’s hard disk drives and solid state memory chips.

Punctuating 30 years of nanotechnology research, scientists from IBM Research (NYSE: IBM) have successfully demonstrated the ability to store information in as few as 12 magnetic atoms. This is significantly less than today’s disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information. The ability to manipulate matter by its most basic components – atom by atom – could lead to the vital understanding necessary to build smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices.

While silicon transistor technology has become cheaper, denser and more efficient, fundamental physical limitations suggest this path of conventional scaling is unsustainable. Alternative approaches are needed to continue the rapid pace of computing innovation.

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Jan 11

Reported by Mark Brown, Wired UK, 4 Jan. 2012.

For NASA’s Martian rovers, it seems that bigger is better. The $2.5 billion (£1.6 billion) Curiosity — which is currently whizzing towards the red planet following its November 2011 launch — is five times bigger than twin predecessors Spirit and Opportunity.

In fact it’s taller than most basketball players at 2.2 meters high, and is about the size of a small SUV with its three-meter length. Add on its humongous robot arm, which can reach out another 2.2 meters, and you’ve got only seriously huge rover.

To power such a beast needs a lot of energy and the robot packs a radioisotope power system that generates electricity from the heat of plutonium’s radioactive decay. It will fuel the enormous rover for at least 687 Earth days (one Martian year).

But at the US Naval Research Laboratory, space roboticists are researching planetary explorers at the other end of the size spectrum. While Curiosity weighs about the same as a giraffe (900kg), these autonomous micro-rovers would be lighter than a bag of sugar, at just one kilogram. Continue reading »

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