Emerging tech

Inside the SpaceX Dragon capsule (panorama)

Get a feel for what it's like inside the Dragon capsule by panning around the panorama image below.

SpaceX CRS-2, loaded with more than 1,200 pounds of supplies, including science equipment and spare parts en route to the International Space Station, lifted off this morning aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Launch Complex 40 in Florida.

Just after the carrier rocket delivered the Dragon capsule into its target orbit, however, a problem arose. As the Solar Array was set to be deployed, which is necessary to provide enough energy to reach the ISS, a problem was … Read more

Brain implants let paralyzed woman move robot arm

Jan Scheuermann can't use her limbs to feed herself, but she's pretty good at grabbing a chocolate bar with her robot arm.

She's become the first to demonstrate that people with a long history of quadriplegia can successfully manipulate a mind-controlled robot arm with seven axes of movement. Earlier experiments had shown that robot arms work with brain implants.

Scheuerman was struck by spinocerebellar degeneration in 1996. A study on the brain-computer interface (BCI) linking Scheuermann to her prosthetic was published online in this month's issue of medical journal The Lancet.

Training on the BCI allowed her to move an arm and manipulate objects for the first time in nine years, surprising researchers.

It took her less than a year to be able to seize a chocolate bar with the arm, after which she declared, "One small nibble for a woman, one giant bite for BCI." Check it out in the video below. … Read more

Descriptive Camera shuns photos for text images

A picture may be worth a thousand words, but Matt Richardson has figured out how to make 20 words worth a picture. Richardson is the creator of the Descriptive Camera, a camera that prints out text descriptions of what it sees, rather than actual photos.

There's a human element to making this work. Point the camera (in this case, a USB Webcam) at a scene. Take a picture. The picture is sent to Amazon's Mechanical Turk outsourcing service. A human writes up a quick description and sends it back. The camera prints it out using a tiny thermal printer.… Read more

Early-warning software could reduce false alarms of seizures

Of the 50 million people worldwide estimated to have epilepsy, almost a third do not respond to treatment. Those patients must rely on implantable anti-seizure devices that detect pre-seizure electrical activity and shoot small electrical impulses to the brain to interrupt the seizures.

The downside is that the tech, still early in development, also produces false positives, causing devices to send currents to the brain when a seizure is not actually occurring. One new approach, developed by a biomedical and electrical engineer at Johns Hopkins University, appears to reduce those false alarms.

Tested on real-time recordings of brain activity in … Read more

Engineers rebuild HTTP as a faster Web foundation

PARIS--Engineers have begun taking the first big steps in overhauling Hypertext Transfer Protocol, a seminal standard at the most foundational level of the Web.

At a meeting of the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) here yesterday, the working group overseeing HTTP formally opened a dicussion about how to make the technology faster. That discussion included presentations about four specific proposals for HTTP 2.0, including SPDY, developed at Google and already used in the real world, and HTTP Speed+Mobility, developed at Microsoft and revealed Wednesday.

There are some differences in the HTTP 2.0 proposals that have emerged so … Read more

Microfluidic chip to quickly diagnose the flu

During the H1N1 flu pandemic of 2009, which spread across more than 200 countries and killed more than 18,000 people, it became clear that flu diagnosis was often taking too long and resulting in frequent false negatives.

Today, researchers from Boston University, Harvard, and the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are reporting in the journal PLoS ONE that they have built a microfluidic chip that rivals in accuracy the gold-standard diagnostic test known as RT-PCR but is faster, cheaper, and disposable.

For their four-year study, which involved 146 patients with flu-like symptoms and was funded by the National Institutes … Read more

Living 'gut-on-a-chip' to help study intestinal disorders

After describing a living, breathing "lung-on-a-chip" in Science back in the summer of 2010, Harvard researchers are now reporting in the journal Lab on a Chip on their latest endeavor: a human gut-on-a-chip.

These bio-inspired micro devices that mimic the structures, behaviors, and environments of human organs could help scientists better understand the inner workings of a variety of diseases and disorders -- in this case intestinal ones such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis -- without resorting to often less reliable animal testing.

The latest so-called "gut-on-a-chip" is a silicon polymer device whose central … Read more

4WD Permoveh wheelchair turns on a dime

Japanese researchers led by Masaharu Komori, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Kyoto University, recently demoed the Permoveh, or Personal Mobility Vehicle, as a prototype next-generation wheelchair.

The Permoveh has four wheels of the same size, and each wheel contains 32 rollers that can rotate in a perpendicular direction to the rim. As the vid below shows, the vehicle can move in any direction when the user operates a hand-held control.

When the user wants to travel forward or back, the wheels alone move; when going sideways, the rollers move. When traveling diagonally, both wheels and rollers move. … Read more

MIT study: Light alone can activate specific memories

In a famous surgery in the early 1900s, Canadian neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield, trying to treat epilepsy, found that stimulating specific neurons while patients were under local anesthesia caused them to vividly recall complex events. The mind, then, is based on matter, Penfield concluded.

Now researchers at MIT say they put this observation to the test in a rigorous study showing that the direct reactivation of specific hippocampus neurons can lead to very specific memory recall. And to do this, all they used was light.

"We demonstrate that behavior based on high-level cognition, such as the expression of a specific … Read more

Can IBM's Watson help cancer patients?

Patients at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center may receive cancer diagnoses and treatment with the help of IBM's Watson supercomputer by the end of 2013.

Watson would make diagnoses and suggest treatment approaches that take into account individual patient concerns, the Associated Press reported today.

Using its natural-language processing powers, the artificial intelligence system will study textbooks, oncology studies, and medical records if patients give permission. An advisory panel will test its assessments of increasingly complicated cancer cases. … Read more