Science, Space, Health & Robotics News - Page 164
Researchers are looking forward to the future of medical technology that could have major life-changing impact, with great breakthroughs in bionic vision. During the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference last week, medical researchers discussed everything from telescopic contact lenses to prototype bionic prosthetics.
New technology developments greatly aid patients suffering from vision impairments - and varying levels of blindness - giving them the chance to better distinguish the world around them.
"Retinal implants have moved from sci-fi into reality over the last few years," said Daniel Palanker, professor of ophthalmology at Stanford University, in a statement to the San Jose Mercury News. "Now we are in the race of improving resolution, improving image processing, dynamic range (of light intensity) and levels of gray - and will keep improving."
DARPA is constantly working on various things that we'll see in the next couple of decades, but one of them is something that started out as "supervision" contact lens for soldiers. But as things progressed, it was looking like it was better suited to age-related macular degeneration.
The latest version of the 'supervision' contact lens has bulked up a bit from its first iteration which was 1.17mm, to 1.55mm. The added thickness could have something to do with adjusting the reflective bits inside of the lens itself, or that there's a different material used in its construction.
When asked about the added thickness, researcher Eric Tremblay said that out of the five patients that have used the lens, said it was light enough and more than comfortable to wear around for daily use. The contact lens itself works as a pair of liquid crystal glasses that the user wears, where winking your right eye turns on the magnification, while winking the left eye turns it off. Blinking, does nothing. The big issue now is getting oxygen through the lens, and to the users' eye. Without oxygen to the eye, the contact can only be worn for around half an hour. The team is already working on fixing this, with current experiments leading them to use tiny channels cut into the contact that feed oxygen as well as add reservoirs of oxygen-rich fluids.
The development of robotics and big data are putting pressure on the US workforce, with almost half of US jobs facing pressure from robots, according to a report issued by Citigroup and University of Oxford researchers.
Robots and automated technology have had an impact in factories and mid-level positions, but developments could lead to increased pressure on low-skill occupations, the report notes. To make matters worse, manufacturers are adopting the use of more robots in factories and offices, with the humanoids able to better complete tasks.
"The bulk of service occupations, where the most US job growth has occurred over the past decades, are now at risk," according to the report. "Already the market for personal and household service robots is growing by about 20 percent annually - a trend that is likely to continue."
China is going to have the most robots working in production plants by 2017 when compared to other countries, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). The production facility is the main focus, but robots are finding their way into restaurants, hotels, offices, and retail stores as hardware and software develops.
South Korea has the most robots per 10,000 workers in the manufacturing industries, with 437, ahead of 323 in Japan, 282 in Germany and 152 in the United States. China currently tallies only 30 robots per 10,000 employees, but has been forced to rapidly adopt robots - and foreign automakers are building manufacturing plants in the country - helping drive adoption.
"Companies are forced to invest ever more in robots to be more productive and raise quality," said Gudrun Litzenberger, general secretary of the IFR, in a statement published by Reuters. "In the current phase it's the auto industry, but in the next two or three years it will be driven by the electronics industry."
With 1.3 million employees under their wing during peak production time, Foxconn Technology Group, the world's largest contract electronics manufacturer and maker of Apple devices, recently let slip that plans are being put into place to reduce their global human workforce, favoring a robot alternative.
Currently sitting as one of the largest private employers in the world, Foxconn reported slows in revenue growth over the last few years, coupled with rising Chinese wages. Group spokesman Louis Woo has stated that this is a concern for his company. Without mentioning a specific time frame or target for this operation, he noted that labor costs have over doubled since 2010. Speaking to media, Woo stated that "we've basically stabilized (our workforce) in the last three years. We would like to stabilize our employee headcount no matter how fast we are growing in the future."
When Woo was asked if Foxconn was looking to reduce its overall employee number, he answered that there were internal targets for long term cuts, however he was unable to disclose any figures, adding "it depends how successful we are in terms of introducing the process automation and also the robotics."
Professor Stephen Hawking and other leading experts might be concerned that artificial intelligence could pose a threat to mankind - but don't count Microsoft Research chief Eric Horvitz as one of the skeptics. Instead, Horvitz believes AI will be extremely beneficial to humans in the long-term, as AI research ramps up.
"There have been concerns about the long-term prospect that we lose control of certain kinds of intelligences," Horvitz said in a statement to BBC. "I fundamentally don't think that's going to happen. I think that we will be very proactive in terms of how we field AI systems, and that in the end we'll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life."
Microsoft has more than 1,000 scientists and engineers engaged in projects with its research department, and Horvitz disclosed a quarter of resources and focus are dedicated to AI-based projects.
Scientists from UC Irvine have figured out a method to 'unboil' egg whites, turning them from a solid back into liquid form. There is a real application to this however, as it is claimed that the process behind this can "help lower the production cost of cancer drugs and other expensive medications" as explained by Gizmodo.
Cancer drugs don't directly correlate to egg whites, however the process between the two is similar and helps show off how powerful and complex the process really is. The process shows that these scientists can now "use and recycle molecular proteins that have a tendency to "misfold" into tiny shapes and structures when produced that actually make them unusable." This basically means that the proteins produced by these scientists generally end up as a spongey-solid, similar to that of a hard-boiled egg, whereas scientists need it to be a liquid - with no easy solution previously available to make this happen, they put in the effort and produced a new method.
The scientists have laid out the process, explaining that "To re-create a clear protein known as lysozyme once an egg has been boiled, he and his colleagues add a urea substance that chews away at the whites, liquefying the solid material."
SpaceX and Boeing successfully completed milestones in their effort to launch astronauts into space, according to NASA during a press conference to discuss the Commercial Crew Program.
"I don't ever want to have to write another check to Roscosmos," said Charles Bolden, NASA administrator, during the press conference. SpaceX hopes to begin launching personnel into space starting in early 2017, and wants to fly 50 Falcon 9 missions before reaching its ambitious goal.
As NASA continues to develop its next-generation space shuttle, the US government has called upon private sector companies to help fill the void. Following political tensions, NASA stopped relying on the Russian government to ferry astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS). NASA previously relied on SpaceX launches to help resupply the ISS, as additional private sector companies try to jump into the business.
Researchers are working on a portable positron emission tomography (PET) scanner that can be worn to show brain activity throughout the day. Normal PET scanners used in hospitals are large and unable to provide a better understanding of brain function and neurological disorders - but the new device could change that.
Using a helmet that has PET detectors located in a ring, the helmet can help monitor stroke patients while they do rehab, or study when someone with autism has to interact in social environments. If released to hospitals and other researchers, there are a number of different uses for the portable PET scanner.
Tested using a brain slice tagged with a radiotracer chemical, the scanner successfully worked, despite capturing images that were a bit fuzzy - which researchers will work to improve
The European Space Agency (ESA) and Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) have announced a partnership to launch a robotic space mission that will lift off by 2021. Both programs will share proposals and development duties equally, as each proposal must be signed by a lead investigator from Europe and in China.
Proposals are due in March, peer review begins in April, and mission selection is scheduled to occur before the end of the year.
"The goal of the present Call is to define a scientific space mission to be implemented by ESA and CAS as a cooperative endeavor between the European and Chinese scientific communities," the ESA recently said in a statement. "The mission selected as an outcome of the present Joint Call will follow a collaborative approach through all the phases: study, definition, implementation, operations and scientific exploitation."