Archive for February, 2012

Driverless cars can be licensed in Nevada

February 27, 2012

Nevada has become the first state in the US to allow self-driving autonomous vehicles on public roads.

The newly approved regulations, which come into effect on Thursday 1st March, require two drivers in every car – one in the front seat, to take back control in an emergency. The vehicles must also be fitted with a data recorder, to collect information in the event of a crash.

In creating the regulations, the Department of Motor Vehicles partnered with Google, auto manufacturers, testing professionals, insurance companies, universities and law enforcement, all with a common vision of saving lives.

Several other states currently have bills in front of their legislators that will follow Nevada into the future.

You will be able to distinguish an autonomous test vehicle by the red license plate it displays. When the technology is ready for general public use, a green license plate will be displayed on vehicles using it.

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A cheap, portable and disposable DNA sequencer

February 24, 2012

A British company, Oxford Nanopore Technologies, have unveiled their latest product – a cheap, portable, disposable DNA sequencer called the “MinION”.

DNA sequencing has been around since the 1970s. It was used in the Human Genome Project. Until recently, it was extremely expensive and time-consuming. Like Moore’s Law and other trends in information technology, however, its price performance and efficiency have been growing exponentially.

The MinION is the size and form factor of a thumb drive, and powered by a USB port. It can sequence 150 million base pairs in just six hours, using the computer’s own CPU to process the data, and costs just $900 (£570).

This portable device could allow doctors to sequence genes at a patient’s bedside, wildlife biologists to study genes in the field, or food inspectors to identify pathogens, among many other uses.

You can read more at the company’s website.

The MinION (click to enlarge)

Scientists extend the lifespan of mice by 15%

February 23, 2012

Using an enzyme called SIRT6, scientists at Bar-Ilan University in Israel have extended the life of male mice by 15%. It was found that they metabolised sugar faster than normal mice and females. Part of the reason the females were unaffected is because the basic mechanism of calorie restriction is already active in their bodies. In other words, the engineered males just caught up with the normal females.

This enzyme is found naturally in humans and has a very similar molecular structure. It is possible that drugs could one day be developed which activate genes in humans and provide a similar extension in lifespan.

You can read more here.

Artificial jaw made using 3D printer

February 12, 2012

Dutch surgeons have successfully fitted an 83-year-old woman with an artificial jaw made using a 3D printer. The patient had developed a chronic bone infection, and reconstructive surgery would have been too risky because of her age, so they opted for the new technology.

The implant replaced almost the entire lower jawbone. Its design incorporates articulated joints, polished joint surfaces and a bioceramic coating. It restored the patient’s facial aesthetics and allowed her to regain her speech within hours. This operation was the first of its kind in the world, and could herald a new era of accurate, patient-specific artificial transplants.

Credit: LayerWise

Augmented-Reality Contact Lenses

February 12, 2012

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), together with Washington-based Innovega, is reported to be developing contact lenses that enhance normal vision, by allowing a wearer to view virtual and augmented reality images without the need for bulky apparatus. Instead of using oversized helmets, digital images are projected onto tiny full-colour displays that are very near the eye. These novel contact lenses allow users to focus simultaneously on objects that are close up and far away.

In other words, this could enable the use of tiny portable displays while still interacting with the surrounding environment. Developed as part of DARPA’s Soldier Centric Imaging via Computational Cameras (SCENICC) program, the objective is to give wearers better situational awareness in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) activities – greatly enhancing their security and survivability. Innovega plans to begin low-volume production for the defence community in 2014.

Consumer versions may become available later this decade. Imagine the number of applications you’d get from such a device – especially when utilising the vast power of cloud computing. Terminator-style vision would give you access to a wealth of information about your surrounding environment. It would also enhance gaming and movie experiences.

Credit: The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)