Archive for May, 2012

Nokia Sensing X Challenge

May 30, 2012

The X PRIZE Foundation and Nokia have announced the launch of the Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE – a $2.25 million global competition aimed at developing a new generation of health sensors and sensing technologies that can drastically improve the quality, accuracy and ease of monitoring a person’s health.

Improvements in these technologies will empower individuals to effortlessly monitor and collect their own real-time health data, providing both consumers and healthcare providers convenient access to critical information whenever and wherever they need it.

The announcement was made by X PRIZE Foundation Chairman and CEO Dr. Peter Diamandis and Nokia Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Henry Tirri during their keynote address at the Wireless Health Convergence Summit in San Diego.

“Partnering with Nokia is a natural fit for this competition. Health sensing technologies enabled by artificial intelligence, lab-on-a-chip, and digital imaging are advancing exponentially and will ultimately integrate with your phone. We need to expand sensor and sensing technology beyond disease management to areas such as public health and fitness,” said Dr. Diamandis.

“The Nokia Sensing X CHALLENGE will bring about radical innovation in health sensors and sensing technologies, which paves the way for better choices in when, where, and how individuals receive care. Ultimately, healthcare will be more convenient, affordable, and accessible to consumers worldwide through these integrated digital health solutions.”

The inefficiencies and total cost of the U.S. healthcare system (and healthcare systems around the globe) has been a pressing social and political issue for many years. In the U.S., the total spent annually on the healthcare system is more than $2 trillion, which accounts for more than 15 percent of the nation’s GDP. Health sensors have the capacity to stem this trend. Consumer use of sensors and sensing solutions has the potential to improve, extend and ease delivery of healthcare services, as well as reduce costs to the benefit of health providers and patients.

“Nokia engages in Open Innovation on many different levels; this type of ‘grand challenge’ is not only a unique method of driving significant progress in a short space of time, but one which can also help to create an entire ecosystem,” said Dr. Tirri.

“This competition will enable us to realize the full potential of mobile sensing devices, leading to advances in sensing technology which can play a major role in transforming the lives of billions of people around the world.”


“Personality genes” may help account for longevity

May 29, 2012

“It’s in their genes” is a common refrain from scientists when asked what factors allow people to reach the age of 100 and beyond. Until now, research has focused on genetic variations that offer a physiological advantage like high levels of HDL (“good”) cholesterol.

But in a new study, researchers have found that personality traits – like being outgoing, optimistic, easygoing and enjoying laughter, as well as staying engaged in activities – may also help to produce extreme longevity.

The findings are published in the journal Aging, and come from Einstein’s Longevity Genes Project. This studied 500 Ashkenazi Jews, aged from 95 to 122, and their 700 offspring. Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jews were selected because they are genetically homogeneous – making it easier to spot genetic differences within the group.

Previous studies have shown that personality arises from underlying genetic mechanisms directly affecting health. This new study was aimed at detecting genetically-based personality characteristics by developing a measure called the Personality Outlook Profile Scale (POPS).

“When I started working with centenarians, I thought we’d find they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery,” said Nir Barzilai, director of Einstein’s Institute for Aging Research. “But when we assessed the personalities … we found qualities that clearly reflect a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic and easygoing. They considered laughter an important part of life and had a large social network. They expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.”

In addition, the centenarians had lower scores for displaying neurotic personality and higher scores for being conscientious, compared with a representative sample of the U.S. population.

“Some evidence indicates that personality can change between the ages of 70 and 100, so we don’t know whether our centenarians have maintained their personality traits across their entire lifespans,” continued Dr. Barzilai. “Nevertheless, our findings suggest that centenarians share particular personality traits and genetically-based aspects of personality may play an important role in achieving both good health and exceptional longevity.”

Holograms to replace people at New York airports

May 28, 2012

As the summer travel season gets underway, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has announced new initiatives to improve customer service for passengers at the region’s busiest airports.

More than 106 million passengers use the agency’s three major airports each year, which in addition to LaGuardia and Newark includes John F. Kennedy International Airport. The enhancements will provide immediate results just as air travel starts to increase during the busiest time of the year. These initiatives are the direct result of a customer survey conducted by the Port Authority of more than 10,000 air passengers who evaluated their experience.

Among the new initiatives will be a 20 percent increase in the number of Customer Care Representatives during peak hours, with 70 new agents. Currently, 350 customer care agents provide valuable information to help customers navigate the airport and public transportation options. They staff the airport’s welcome centres and other high-volume terminal areas like checkpoint entry and exit areas, and are easily identifiable by their red jackets.

Given the huge volumes of international travellers, the Customer Service Representatives speak a total of 27 different languages, with English and Spanish most prevalent.

To expand on the program, the Port Authority has created an innovative pilot plan that will see five “virtual” customer care representatives. These will be computerised, hologram-like avatars providing automated information to travellers in LaGuardia’s Central Terminal Building, Newark Liberty’s Terminal B and JFK’s Terminal 5 when they are installed in early July, at a cost of $180,000.

The avatars are not interactive, but Port Authority Executive Director Pat Foye is quoted as saying he “hopes a future iteration of the talking machines will hold conversations with passengers.”

The technology has already been used in France and elsewhere, but this will be the first time it has appeared in North America.

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Jet-injected drugs could mean the end of needles

May 26, 2012

Getting a shot at your doctor’s office may become less painful in the not-too-distant future.

MIT researchers have engineered a device that delivers a tiny, high-pressure jet of medicine through the skin without the use of a hypodermic needle. The device can be programmed to deliver a range of doses to various depths — an improvement over similar jet-injection systems that are now commercially available.

The researchers say that among other benefits, the technology may help reduce the potential for needle-stick injuries; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that hospital-based health care workers accidentally prick themselves with needles 385,000 times each year. A needleless device may also help improve compliance among patients who might otherwise avoid the discomfort of injecting themselves with drugs such as insulin.

“If you are afraid of needles and have to frequently self-inject, compliance can be an issue,” says Catherine Hogan, a scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a member of the research team. “We think this kind of technology … gets around some of the phobias that people may have about needles.”

NASA developing concepts for future Mars missions

May 24, 2012

NASA’s call to scientists and engineers to help plan a new strategy to explore Mars has resulted in almost double the amount of expected submissions, with many unique and bold ideas.

About 400 concepts or abstracts were submitted to the Concepts and Approaches for Mars Exploration Workshop in Houston, which was organised to gather input for the reformulation of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program. Submissions came from individuals and teams that included professional researchers, undergraduate and graduate students, NASA centres, federal laboratories, industry, and international partner organisations.

NASA is reformulating the Mars Exploration Program, to be responsive to high-priority science goals and President Obama’s challenge of sending humans to Mars in the early 2030s.

“This strong response sends a clear message that exploring Mars is important to future exploration,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “The challenge now will be to select the best ideas for the next phase.”

Selected abstracts will be presented during a workshop, from 12-14 June, hosted by the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston. Selectees are now being invited to present and discuss concepts, options, capabilities and innovations to advance Mars exploration. Workshop discussion will help to formulate a strategy for long-term exploration.

Say goodbye to your mouse and keyboard

May 24, 2012

Leap Motion is a California-based startup developing advanced motion sensing technology for human-computer interaction.

This week, they publicly announced their first product – the Leap.

Leap is a small iPod-sized USB peripheral that creates a 3D interaction space of 8 cubic feet to precisely interact with and control software on your laptop or desktop computer.

Russian Space Chief: “We’re Talking About Establishing Permanent Bases” On the Moon

May 23, 2012

The Global Space Exploration Conference is taking place this week in Washington DC. The heads of space agencies for Europe, Canada and Russia – along with senior representatives from the Indian and Japanese space agencies – are meeting to discuss the benefits of international collaboration.

Vladimir Popovkin, head of Roscosmos, yesterday stated Russia’s commitment to pursuing extensive, long-term operations on the Moon’s surface: “We’re not talking about repeating what mankind achieved 40 years ago,” he said. “We’re talking about establishing permanent bases.”

Similarly, JAXA, the Japanese Space Agency, issued a clear statement about targeting the Moon. “We are looking at the Moon as our next target for human exploration,” said Yuichi Yamaura, an associate executive director.

Interestingly, NASA administrator Charles Bolden was absent from the conference. This is because he was in Florida, watching the launch of Falcon 9 to the International Space Station.

Recent evidence of water at the Lunar poles has increased interest in the Moon. Polar colonies could also avoid the problem of long Lunar nights (about 354 hours, a little more than two weeks) and take advantage of the Sun continuously.

Hearts damaged by cardiac arrest could be repaired with stem cells

May 23, 2012

Israeli scientists have turned skin cells from heart failure patients into new, healthy heart muscle cells.

The study, which was published in the European Heart Journal, took skin cells from patients and re-programmed them to become stem cells capable of becoming heart muscle. They were then shown to integrate with existing heart tissue in rats.

This opens up the possibility of literally mending broken hearts. Since the reprogrammed cells would be obtained directly from the patients themselves, it could also avoid the problem of their immune systems rejecting the cells as “foreign.”

Professor Lior Gepstein, who led the research, said: “What is new and exciting about our research is that we have shown that it’s possible to take skin cells from an elderly patient with advanced heart failure and end up with his own beating cells in a laboratory dish that are healthy and young – the equivalent to the stage of his heart cells when he was just born.”

However, the team warns that there are a number of obstacles to overcome before it would be possible to use stem cells in humans in this way, and it could take 5-10 years before clinical trials begin.

This is nevertheless an important breakthrough, and the procedure may eventually help countless people who survive heart attacks but are severely debilitated by damage to the organ.

SpaceX launches Falcon 9 on historic mission

May 22, 2012

2011 witnessed the final Space Shuttle mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and the subsequent retirement of the fleet. Two private companies – SpaceX and Orbital Sciences Corporation – were selected to provide cargo delivery services to the station until 2015, under the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services (COTS) program.

SpaceX developed the Falcon 9 – a medium-lift rocket with payload capacity of 10,450 kilograms (23,000 lb). Today, it became the first 100% commercially developed launcher to deliver a payload to the International Space Station.

NASA’s administrator Charles Bolden said: “Today marks the beginning of a new era in exploration… The significance of this day cannot be overstated; a private company has launched a spacecraft to the International Space Station that will attempt to dock there for the first time. And while there is a lot of work ahead to successfully complete this mission, we are certainly off to a good start.”

In 2013, SpaceX is planning to test a much larger rocket, with over twice the capacity of the Space Shuttle – the Falcon Heavy.

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Biodiversity declines as global consumption reaches all-time high

May 16, 2012

• We are consuming 50 per cent more natural resources than our planet can sustainably produce

Ever-growing demand for resources is putting huge pressure on the Earth’s biodiversity, threatening our future security and well-being, according to the Living Planet Report 2012, released yesterday by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF).

The biennial survey of the Earth’s health, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and Global Footprint Network, was launched from the International Space Station by WWF Ambassador and Dutch Astronaut, André Kuipers.

“We only have one Earth. From up here I can see humanity’s footprint, including forest fires, air pollution and erosion – challenges which are reflected in this edition of the Living Planet Report,” said Kuipers from his European Space Agency mission. “While there are unsustainable pressures on the planet, we have the ability to save our home, not only for our benefit, but for generations to come.”

Among the report’s key findings:

• The global Living Planet Index (LPI) has declined by up to 30% since 1970.
• It is currently taking 1.5 years for the Earth to absorb the CO2 and regenerate the renewable resources that people use within one year
• 2.7 billion people live in areas which have severe water shortages for at least one month of the year
• The per capita “ecological footprint” of a high income country such as the USA is currently six times greater than a low income country such as Indonesia
• The UK has risen four places from 31st to 27th place in the report’s global consumption ranking
• The top 10 countries with the biggest ecological footprint per person are: Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, the USA, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Netherlands and Ireland

According to the global Living Planet Index, declines in biodiversity are highest in low income countries – demonstrating how the poorest and most vulnerable nations are suffering the impacts of wealthier countries’ lifestyles and resource demands.

David Nussbaum, CEO of WWF-UK: “In the UK, rather like the calm at the eye of a storm, we don’t yet see much of the impact of our daily lives on the environment. But we can’t ignore the damage being done elsewhere in the world by the whirlwind consumerism of wealthy countries.

“We’re now in the danger zone, exceeding the planetary boundaries for natural capital. If we continue to use up our planet’s resources faster than it can replace them, soon we’ll have exploited every available corner of the Earth.”

Jonathan Baillie, conservation programme director with the Zoological Society of London said: “This report is like a planetary check-up and the results indicate we have a very sick planet. Ignoring this diagnosis will have major implications for humanity.”

This year’s Living Planet Report has been released to coincide with the Rio+ 20 Summit, taking place in Brazil from 20-22 June.

In 1992, world leaders came together to put in place systems to ensure that we tackled climate change and addressed falling biodiversity levels. Twenty years on from the last Earth Summit, this meeting is a key opportunity for global leaders to renew their commitment to creating a sustainable future.

“With every day of inaction, we limit the choices for future generations,” said David Nussbaum. “If we keep running down the stock of natural capital, we’ll hand them a world less able to sustain life and absorb environmental shocks. Since the original Earth Summit, we’ve taken some steps forward, but the pace is glacial. So Rio+20 needs to elevate the urgency of action on the scale needed: now is our chance to reflect whether the future we’re creating for our planet is the legacy we want to leave for future generations.”

WWF is calling on the public to show that they care about the planet’s future in advance of Rio+20. To join in with the campaign, visit: