Researchers are developing a mind-controlled robotic arm that does not necessarily need an invasive (possibly life-threatening) brain implant to work efficiently for patients with disabilities or, as they say, for “everyday practical use.”
The robotic arm is a project by a team from the Carnegie Mellon University, in collaboration with the University of Minnesota. The team is working on a robotic arm that could benefit people with paralysis and other disabilities or movement disorders.
Robotic arms have been in development for quite some time now due to the benefits it poses for people who need them the most — people with disabilities. The most effective and most practical way to come about with robotic arms is through brain-computer interface (BCI) technology. In other words, the robotic arms can be controlled by the user’s mind as if it is their regular arm.
“BCIs have been shown to achieve good performance for controlling robotic devices using only the signals sensed from brain implants. When robotic devices can be controlled with high precision, they can be used to complete a variety of daily tasks,” Carnegie Mellon University said in a post.
Currently, there are two significant ways of approaching BCI: one of which involves an invasive procedure, where doctors have to surgically place a brain implant that allows the user’s thoughts or consciousness communicate with the arm. However, this procedure often poses health and side-effects due to the complexity of the procedure. That is already on top of the expensive costs (which only a very few can afford) for the entire operation and the robotic arm.
The other, more desired approach is through less-invasive or, even, non-invasive BCIs. This technology can be attached to the skin to detect the brain’s signals. However, this kind of BIC technology is still far from being considered as effective since based on previous evidence, it does not pick up brain signals as fast as invasive brain implants do. It results in jerky, delayed, or even stops during motion while in use.
Fortunately, researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Minnesota have developed the technology to bridge the gap between the benefits of invasive and non-invasive BCI robotic arms.
Bin He, the Trustee Professor and Head of the Biomedical Engineering Department at Carnegie Mellon, sees that non-invasive BCIs is the best approach to achieving efficient and highly precise robotic arms.
“There have been major advances in mind-controlled robotic [arm] using brain implants. It’s excellent science,” He said. “But noninvasive is the ultimate goal. Advances in neural decoding and the practical utility of noninvasive robotic arm control will have major implications on the eventual development of noninvasive neurorobotics.”
The Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Minnesota research team developed a breakthrough, where a system can deal with the lower signal quality that comes from using sensors that are used outside of the body or are applied to the skin instead. They were able to employ a combination of new sensing and machine learning technologies to grab signals from the user that are from deep within the brain and process through “dirty” signals often associated with non-invasive sensors.
In a paper published on Wednesday in the journal Science Robotics, it details how the researchers were able to demonstrate smooth operational functions by letting a set of participants wear EEG head caps that monitors brain activity and a simple test run.
During the testing of the system, they asked the participants to try and control the arm with new sensors and follow a mouse cursor displayed on a computer screen. The robotic arm was able to continuously track the cursor in real-time with no jerky movements — an exciting first for a noninvasive BCI system.
In the past, non-invasive BCI robotic arms used to appear like it was playing catch-up on similar tests all the while, lagging and moving sporadically. Today, researchers announced that it follows a “smooth, continuous path.”
“Despite technical challenges using noninvasive signals, we are fully committed to bringing this safe and [economical] technology to people who can benefit from it,” He said.
“This work represents an important step in noninvasive brain-computer interfaces, a technology that someday may become a pervasive assistive technology aiding everyone, like smartphones.”
Currently, the team behind the project is looking to push with more clinical trials. The technology has been tested on 68 able-bodied human subjects (up to 10 sessions for each subject), including virtual device control and controlling of a robotic arm for continuous pursuit.
Dropping ‘Artificial Snow’ Could Stabilize Glaciers In Antartica, Study Suggests
However, the geoengineering project is very expensive and could take up to 10 years to complete.
The sad reality is that the ice sheets in Antartica are melting, but a group of scientist has proposed an ingenious but costly and rather ambitious solution to the problem — they want to dump tons of “artificial ice.”
A group of three scientists has recently published a study in the journal Science Advances on July 17 and proposes that we should dump 7.4 trillion tons of snow on Antarctica, suggesting that it could “stabilize” the runaway in the region’s glaciers.
Recent studies have revealed that warmer waters are being pushed to the West Antarctic ice sheet (WAIS), destabilizing it, and speeding up the melting process of the ice sheets and glaciers in Antartica. Because of this “unnatural” rate that the ice in the region is melting, scientists estimate that it would raise sea levels by approximately 10 feet (3 meters) or more. If this happens, many cities will be endangered.
“The associated sea-level rise of more than 3m would pose a serious challenge to highly populated areas including metropolises such as Calcutta, Shanghai, New York City, and Tokyo,” read the abstract of the study.
“The real concern is that many of these glaciers have a reverse bed slope, meaning that as they retreat, it exposes deeper and thicker ice to the ocean,” explains Sue Cook, a glaciologist at the University of Tasmania. “That is a very unstable position, and causes a positive feedback effect which accelerates the retreat (and hence [contributing] to sea-level rise).”
The new geoengineering project lead by Cook and her colleagues proposes to add 7,400 gigatons (7.4 trillion tons) of “artificial snowfall” to reverse the glacier decline. The project aims to simulate real ice and snowfall and if proven successful, could potentially stabilize the temperature in the region, as well as prevent the rapid melting of glaciers.
However, this project needs an “unprecedented effort for humankind,” and estimated costs reach boundaries that make government and institutions think twice before approving it.
According to the researchers, the biggest problem that could be faced by the project is how to pump out an immense amount of water from the ocean to be used for artificial snow. The study suggests constructing a series of 12,000 wind turbines to enable this process to take place and then pumping artificial snow into two glaciers on the West Antarctic coast.
This process alone could significantly cause a two to five-centimeter drop in the water level of the oceans. The mass that will be added to the glacier would be enough to stabilize and correct the drop.
“The other part of simulations reveals a stabilizing ice sheet, which we define as being characterized by grounding line equilibration and a loss in long-term ice volume by less than 5%. Whether stabilization takes place or not depends on whether the amount of added ice is sufficient to stop the previously initiated grounding line retreat,” they added.
But aside from budgetary and technical constraints, the entire project will also take a long time to be completed. Researchers estimate that it could take them at least ten years to completely stabilize the glaciers and solve the WAIS problem.
“Here, we show that the WAIS may be stabilized through mass deposition in coastal regions around Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers. In our numerical simulations, a minimum of 7400 Gt of additional snowfall stabilizes the flow if applied over a short period of 10 years onto the region (−2 mm year−1 sea-level equivalent),” penned by the researchers.
Nonetheless, there is still a lot that needs to be ironed out in the project. The researchers are yet to explain who the project would affect the ecosystem in the West Antartic Ice Sheet, as well as how artificial snow would impact global water and ocean currents.
The researchers believe that there are other ways to mitigate the impacts of global warming and said that their proposal is just one way to do it. They encouraged people to continue their efforts in trying to stabilize the sea levels and fighting against climate change and global warming.
“Even if a geoengineering project such as this were possible, it certainly shouldn’t detract from the other urgent action which is required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Cook notes.
Note: All images and diagrams used are taken from the study manuscript
Neuralink Will Allow You To Control Things With Your Mind
Neuralink is a 100-man team of researchers that are developing cutting-edge brain implants that will ultimately allow paralyzed patients to perform everyday tasks just by simply thinking about it.
The startup company is another project by Elon Musk, who continuously breaks the ceiling on how technology can be pushed farther. Now, he’s aiming to accomplish tasks such as typing on a computer, scroll through a smartphone, and even send emails through a sensor attached within a person’s brain.
“This is going to sound pretty weird, but ultimately, we will achieve symbiosis with artificial intelligence,” Musk says at a news conference Tuesday night in San Francisco. “This is not a mandatory thing. It is a thing you can choose to have if you want. This is something that I think will be really important on a civilization-level scale.”
The year is literally 2077, like Microsoft’s upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 featuring Keanu Reeves, where people can now have the option to enhance their physical capabilities technologically. However, we’re not jumping into anything too complex. The idea, for now, is to help paralyzed patients be more adept in everyday life.
Furthermore, Neuralink won’t function as instantly as one would think. “All of this will occur actually quite slowly,” Musk says. “It’s not going to be like suddenly, Neuralink will have this incredible neural lace and start taking over people’s brains. It will take a long time, and you will see it coming.”
How will Neuralink allow people to control things with their mind?
The basic idea of Neuralink is by attaching sensors within a person’s brain, where they can effectively pick up brain signals compared to non-invasive devices. The sensor will then send the message that the brain signals are trying to perform over to the desired device, and voilá, the paralyzed is now casually scrolling through his or her phone’s web pages.
Primarily, the brain sensors are equipped with 3,072 electrodes per array that constantly picks up signals in the brain’s neurons and synapses. The device is called “threads,” according to Neuralink. Furthermore, the “threads” are thinner than a human hair at only one-third of which in width and are barely perceptible with the human eye.
Significantly, “threads” is a breakthrough technology because similar devices have tried to achieve similar results. However, others are far larger compared in size and diameter—requiring more invasive procedures to implant in the brain. As a result, most of these devices are prone to causing more detrimental side effects in a person’s brain function, which made it achieve little success in the past.
Additionally, another key factor that allowed Neuralink to achieve its success is the development of their robotic arm that provides the extreme precision and care needed to implant this extremely small device.
Particularly, the robot is about the size of a barbecue grill, and it uses high-end optics to drill 8mm holes in the skull and then place the wires precisely.
The lenses and computer vision software help the robot avoid hitting blood vessels, reducing damage to the brain and formation of scar tissue. “Because these things are so thin and flexible, the idea is that they move with the tissue instead of tearing the tissue,” says Neuralink researcher Philip Sabes.
When will Neuralink be available for public use?
As of the moment, the device Neuralink has created only been found effective in mice and even primate subjects. In a research paper released on Tuesday evening, Neuralink said it has performed at least 19 surgeries on animals with its robots, and successfully placed the “threads” about 87% of the time.
In the experiment, the test rat was able to move around a large rectangular plastic cage filled with wood shavings and Parmesan cheese. “We definitely need to address the monkey in the room,” Musk says. “This is a sensitive subject. A monkey has been able to control a computer with its brain.”
Sabes says the amount of data being gathered from the rat was about ten times greater than what today’s most powerful sensors can collect.
However, Neuralink’s scientists told The New York Times in a briefing on Monday that the company still has a “long way to go” before it can get anywhere near offering commercial service, but as early as now, Neuralink is trying to secure approval from the US Food and Drug Administration in order to allow them to conduct human clinical trials as early as next year.
“We will painlessly laser-drill the holes into the skull, place the threads, plug the hole with the sensor, and then you go home,” Max Hodak, the President and co-founder of Neuralink say. “It’ll basically be an experience like getting Lasik.”
Shortly, the company is eyeing for the technology to help not only the paralyzed but also amputees by attaching the sensor receiver to prosthetics, or it could be used to treat epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and even provide “rich visual feedback to the blind.” They also went as far as to be able to insert new languages into the brain, but then again, the technology is still has a long way to go.
India Chandrayaan-2 Postponed Due To Technical Difficulties
India’s Chandrayaan-2 lunar mission delayed but its historic first landing on the moon will still push through but at a different date
India was set to perform the first step toward its historic first moon landing with it its launch of the Chandrayaan-2 today. However, the move was otherwise postponed due to technical difficulties.
Chandrayaan-2 was supposed to launch at 02:51 local time on Monday (21:21 GMT Sunday) from Sriharikota space station in India’s eastern coast. The launch was stopped minutes at 56:24, only 36 minutes away.
“A technical snag was observed in launch vehicle system at T-56 minute. As a measure of abundant precaution,
#Chandrayaan2 launch has been called off for today,” the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) said in a tweet momentarily after media was blocked.
Furthermore, the agency told that the delay was due to an abundance of precaution. ISRO Chief, K Sivan, said this was “the most complex space mission ever to be undertaken by the agency.”
Although a new launch date is set to be announced soon, the 10-minute backup window on Tuesday would seem most likely for the ISRO to opt for the Chandrayaan-2.
So far, India’s Chandrayaan-2 is touted to be the country’s most ambitious space mission to date with its goal of making a soft landing on the moon along with a lander and orbiter aboard its most powerful rocket, the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk-III), which weighs 640 tonnes and stands at 44 meters (144ft).
To achieve such goal, India has devised its hardware and technology that would allow them to explore the moon’s hardly-explored south pole. This serves as an interesting location for space exploration since it was theorized that the craters on that side of the moon are permanently shadowed, which could hold water ice — a vital resource for future space exploration.
Through a team of nearly 1,000 engineers and scientists, the team developed their lander, orbiter, and rover aside from its powerful GSLV Mk-III launcher — a task that the United States is currently developing.
Initially, the ISRO plans to get the Chandrayaan-2 into the moon’s orbit by September by which it will deploy its lander called Vikram, named after Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who was considered as the Father of the Indian space program. Vikram is also designed to function for one lunar day.
After then, it will make a soft landing of its rover, which a 27 kilogram, six-wheeled robotic vehicle named Pragyan that can travel up to 500 meters and leverages solar energy for its functioning.
There will also be the Chandrayaan-2 Orbiter that will be able to communicate with the Indian Deep Space Network (IDSN) at Byalalu, Karnataka as well as the lander Vikram. The mission life of the Orbiter is one year, and it will be placed in a 100X100 km lunar polar orbit.
Overall, the mission costs about $150 million to complete, which is largely encouraged by the first lunar mission by the ISRO back in 2008 with the Chandrayaan-1.
Though the Chandrayaan-1 did not make a lunar landing, it was able to provide one of the most in-depth probes on the existence of water on the moon’s surface and a first using radars.
If successful, India will join the other three countries who achieved the feat, including the United States, Russia, and China. Furthermore, aside from national pride and achieving a new milestone for the ISRO, successfully completing the unmanned mission will allow the agency for manned flights as early as 2022.
Interestingly and historically, the Chandrayaan-2 is led by women namely Vanitha Muthayya, head of the mission as Project Director, and Ritu Karidhal as the mission director.
Specifically, both women have proved their capabilities in the past. Vanitha has worked with the Chandrayaan-1 with her data-handling expertise and has effective managerial skills. This time, she is overseeing the mission from start to finish. While Karidhal has worked with India’s Mars Orbital Mission in 2013 and will now oversee the spacecraft’s insertion into the lunar orbit.
On the other hand, it is quite interesting since India continues to be a very sexist country whereas they are known to have very misogynist culture. “Women power is powering India’s Moon ambitions,” Dr. Sivan said, adding that at Isro, “women and men are all equal. Only talent matters – not the gender.”
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