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The Digital Age

As Trump Escalates US-China trade war, Suppliers Cut ties with Huawei

May 22nd 2019

Chinese swearing in

Following suit on Trump’s announced blacklisting of Chinese smartphone and networking equipment maker Huawei last Friday, an increasing number of components suppliers have announced they would stop supplying parts to the smartphone maker.

That is for fear of retaliation from the US administration, although the companies involved will inevitably suffer from impacting revenue cuts due to lost sales.

According to a recent report from Bloomberg, chipmakers such as Intel, Qualcomm, Xilinx and Broadcom have already taken that step, while Google is to cut off the supply of some of its software services as well as hardware to the Chinese mobile phone equipment maker.


The Edge of Space

Could There Be Life on Mars Today?

May 9th 2019

Red Planet

The search for life on Mars shouldn't focus exclusively on the distant past, some researchers say.

Four billion years ago, the Martian surface was apparently quite habitable, featuring rivers, lakes and even a deep ocean. Indeed, some astrobiologists view ancient Mars as an even better cradle for life than Earth was, and they suspect that life on our planet may have come here long ago aboard Mars rocks blasted into space by a powerful impact.

Things changed when Mars lost its global magnetic field. Charged particles streaming from the sun were then free to strip away the once-thick Martian atmosphere, and strip it they did. This process had transformed Mars into the cold, dry world we know today by about 3.7 billion years ago, observations by NASA's MAVEN orbiter suggest. (Earth still has its global magnetic field, explaining how our planet remains so livable.) Read more ..

The Race for Lidar

Underground Maps to Slash the Cost of Lidar

March 26th 2019

Broken Road

The company’s claim is that data extracted from scanning underground features (as deep as 3m underneath the road’s surface) is much more reliable than any data acquired optically by Lidars or cameras, which can be affected by fast changing weather conditions and urban landscapes.

Still, this novel sensing technology would presumably add to the costs of autonomous vehicles and data for the maps has yet to be extensively collected to make commercial sense, eeNews Europe argued when catching up with Tarik Bolat, CEO and Co-Founder of WaveSense.

Quite the contrary, thinks Bolat. “With Lidar, the upper views are dedicated to positioning. So we could reduce the laser beam count together with the field of view of Lidar systems.


The Edge of Space

Oumuamua May Have Been a Comet After All

March 22nd 2019

another protoplanetary disk

The most obvious explanation for ‘Oumuamua’s properties and behavior—particularly its anomalous acceleration—is that it is a comet from another star system, albeit a decidedly weird one. In this scenario, ‘Oumuamua would have been ejected from its home system by a gravitational interaction with a large planet, perhaps gaining its shape from the associated wrenching forces and subsequent eons of exposure to cosmic radiation. Its speedy departure from our inner solar system, then, would be due to its briefly spouting plumes of gas from its icy, light-warmed surface after its close passage by our sun. This is the explanation preferred by European Space Agency scientist Marco Micheli, University of Hawaii astronomer Karen Meech and their colleagues, who first reported ‘Oumuamua’s anomalous acceleration.


The Race for the Future Car

Battle for the Future Car is Coming to a Head

February 28th 2019

Tesla Car

The automotive industry is facing massive disruptions: Classic carmakers are increasingly competing with technology companies such as Apple, Alphabet, Baidu or Uber. This realization was not just established in the industry yesterday. The consulting and tech investment company GP Bullhound, however, is now giving precise figures based on a study of M&A activities in the automotive and technology sectors.

The report focuses on four key areas that, according to market observers at GP Bullhound, will significantly change the automotive sector over the next ten to fifteen years: Autonomous driving, e-mobility, shared mobility and connected cars. One result of the evaluation: Europe plays only a subordinate role with only 7 percent of the global M&A transaction volume - however, companies from Europe are responsible for more than a third (39 percent) of all worldwide transactions in the Autotech sector. In Europe, transactions are thus significantly smaller than on other continents.


The Digital Age

Wireless IoT sensors Can Be Built into 3D Printing

February 21st 2019

College math papers

SFU Mechatronic Systems Engineering professor Woo Soo Kim is collaborating with Swiss researchers to develop an eco-friendly 3D printable solution for producing wireless Internet-of-Things sensors. The research team is using a wood-derived cellulose material to replace the plastics and polymeric materials currently used in electronics. Image courtesy of SFU

Simon Fraser University and Swiss researchers are developing an eco-friendly, 3D printable method for producing wireless IoT sensors that can be used and disposed of without contaminating the environment. SFU professor Woo Soo Kim is leading the research team's discovery involving the use of a wood-derived cellulose material to replace the plastics and polymeric materials currently used in electronics.


The Race for Solar

Putting Solar Panels on Water Is a Great Idea—but Will It Float?

February 8th 2019

Hikers on Garfield Peak Trail, Crater Lake

Winemaker Greg Allen had a problem. As president of Far Niente Winery in Napa Valley, California, he had done the math on how much land the vineyard could possibly dedicate to solar panels, to offset energy costs. The figure—about two acres—“really hurt,” Allen says. So he compromised: Far Niente completed an array of 2,296 solar panels, 994 of which float on pontoons tethered to the bottom of the winery’s pond. The installation was the world’s first nonexperimental floating solar array.

That was in 2008. Since then floating photovoltaics have proliferated in Asia—yet not so much in the U.S. Japan has more than 60 installations, the most of any country in the world. China, a bourgeoning giant in renewable energy, claims the world’s largest array. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Ghostly Galaxies Hint at Dark Matter Breakthrough

January 26th 2019

Big Bang

Much as a ripple in a pond reveals a thrown stone, the existence of the mysterious stuff known as dark matter is inferred via its wider cosmic influence. Astronomers cannot see it directly, but its gravity sculpts the birth, shape and movement of galaxies. This makes a discovery from last year all the more unexpected: a weirdly diffuse galaxy that seemed to harbor no dark matter at all.

Even as some researchers hailed the finding, others aired their doubts, criticizing measurements of the galaxy’s distance and motion. The stakes are high: If the galaxy does in fact lack dark matter, that would paradoxically bolster the case for the material’s existence. Now the original team is back with additional evidence confirming their initial discovery, plus a newfound second galaxy that appears to show the same thing—or, rather, the lack thereof. Read more ..

The Digital Age

Battery-free Bluetooth Sticker Sensor Tag Debuts

January 18th 2019

Trendy Kitchen

With a vision to connect people with packaging and products using paper thin battery-free Bluetooth sensors, Israeli startup Wiliot has raised $30 million in series B funding with Amazon Web Services (AWS) Investment Arm, Samsung Venture Investment Corp. and Avery Dennison.

The new investors have joined Norwest Venture Partners, 83North, Grove Ventures, Qualcomm Ventures, and M Ventures to raise an additional $30 million of funding. This follows its demonstration of the first-ever sticker-sized Bluetooth sensor tag incorporating an ARM processor powered solely by scavenging energy from ambient radio frequencies.


The Edge of Climate Change

Inconvenient Truths about Climate Change

January 14th 2019

Irene hits NYC 08/29

Thousands of politicians, bureaucrats and activists joined a few dozen actual scientists in Katowice, Poland for a two-week climate extravaganza the first part of December. On the agenda were, among other topics, “Fashion Industry Charter for Climate Action,” “Gender Day,” “Young and Future Generations Day” and sessions for “review of the work of the improved forum on the impact of the implementation of response measures.”

Meanwhile, news media competed to issue frightening tales of ongoing or imminent climate doom. A U.N. report released ahead of the conference in Poland stated that three years after the Paris agreement on climate change, countries are not doing enough to limit greenhouse gas emissions and slow projected warming of the Earth. A Washington Post headline, for example, read “Study: Climate change increased likelihood of disasters; human-caused warming made at least 15 events more likely in 2017.” But a Wall Street Journal commentary took the opposite tack, questioning the assumptions of those meeting in Poland. Read more ..

The Edge of the Universe

Earth's Sand Could All Come from Star Stuff

January 11th 2019

Rub al Khali Saudi Empty Quarter

Astronomers have long argued that the phrase “we are stardust” is more than poetic language. Now new evidence adds another stanza to this great cosmic verse.

Dust from silica—a common component of Earth’s core, sandy beaches, concrete, glass and even cell phones—has been detected within the remnants of two supernovae in the Milky Way galaxy. These observations, described last October in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, provide the first evidence that silica originated within exploding stars.

“This is a rich result in that something so common on Earth has now been found to be created in the most violent explosions in the universe,” says study co-author Haley Gomez, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales. “It’s an origin story.” Read more ..

The Edge of Technology

Swarms of Tiny Robots to Monitor Infrastructure Pipes

January 2nd 2019

Keystone Pipeline

The UK government has announced a £7.2m investment to build micro robots that can help repair the underground pipe network preventing disruptive roadworks and road closures.

Researchers from four UK universities led by Sheffield University are to develop 1 cm-long robotic devices that use sensors and navigation systems to find and mend cracks in pipes. The project will have to address the power challenges of small systems to provide significant mission times and ultra low power communications links as well as algorithms for controlling the swarm of devices effectively in a pipeline.

A further 14 projects backed by the government will see robots sent to hazardous work places such as offshore wind-farms and nuclear decommissioning facilities with a total of £26.6m. Researchers will demonstrate technologies such as the use of artificial intelligence (AI) software on satellites in orbit to detect when repairs are needed, and drones for oil pipeline monitoring.


The Edge of Health

Anxiety Pathway on a Molecular Level Discovered

December 12th 2018


According to some estimates, up to one in three people around the world may experience severe anxiety in their lifetime. In a study published in Cell Reports, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science have revealed a previously unknown mechanism underlying anxiety. Targeting this biochemical pathway may help develop new therapies to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety disorders.

For nearly two decades, the lab of Prof. Mike Fainzilber in the Institute’s Department of Biomolecular Sciences has studied the neuronal roles of proteins called importins. These proteins, found in all cells, shuttle molecules into the nucleus. The lab’s previous work focused on the peripheral nervous system, comprised of all nerve tissue in the body except the brain and spinal cord. Postdoctoral fellow Dr. Nicolas Panayotis, who joined the Fainzilber group in 2012, decided to find out whether any of the importins also play a role in the central nervous system – that is, the brain and spinal cord.


The Edge of Space

Six Strange Facts about the Interstellar Visitor Oumuamua

November 25th 2018

Phoebe from Cassini

On October 19, 2017, the first interstellar object, ‘Oumuamua, was discovered by the Pan-STARRS survey. The experience was similar to having a surprise guest for dinner show up from another country. By examining this guest, we can learn about the culture of that country without the need to travel there—a good thing in this case, given that it would take us a hundred thousand years to visit even the nearest star using conventional chemical rockets.

Surprisingly, our first interstellar guest appeared to be weird and unlike anything we have seen before. By the time we realized it, the guest was already out the door with its image fading into the dark street, so we did not have a chance to get a second look at its mysterious qualities. Below is a list of six peculiarities exhibited by ‘Oumuamua. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Will NASA’s Next Mission to Venus Be a Balloon?

November 13th 2018

View of Venus

After decades of neglect, hellish and cloud-enveloped Venus—sometimes called Earth’s evil twin—is a world ready and waiting for renewed exploration.

That is the message from a new study released late last month from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, with one important caveat: The best way to return to Venus, the study’s contributors argue, may be to fly our sister world’s surprisingly friendly skies. Despite surface temperatures and pressures that would melt metal and crush heavy machinery, conditions are far more clement—hospitable, even—higher in the planet’s atmosphere. Balloons, planes and other high-tech aerial platforms could take advantage of that benign environment to glean otherwise-inaccessible data about Venus’s atmospheric composition, circulation and even its prospects for life, says study lead James Cutts, a program manager in JPL’s Solar System Exploration Directorate. “What we’re talking about here is a platform that operates in a region of the Venusian atmosphere where the temperature is benign, ‘Earth-like’ in a word,” he says. Read more ..

The Edge of Space

Michiganders Catch a Shooting Star

October 6th 2018

comet strike earth edge

Throughout her 18 years at Central Michigan University, Mona Sirbescu, a geology faculty member in earth and atmospheric sciences, has had many people ask her if the rock they had found was a meteorite. "For 18 years, the answer has been categorically 'no' — meteor wrongs, not meteorites," she said with a smile. That has changed. Earlier this year a man from Grand Rapids, Michigan, asked her to examine a large rock that he has had for 30 years. She was skeptical but agreed to meet him. When he arrived, he pulled out of a bag the biggest potential meteorite she had ever been asked to examine.

"I could tell right away that this was something special," she said. She determined that it was in fact a 22-plus pound meteorite, making it the sixth-largest recorded find in Michigan — and potentially worth $100,000. "It's the most valuable specimen I have ever held in my life, monetarily and scientifically," she said.


The Race to Mars

SpaceX Plans to Fly Humans Around the Moon in 2023

September 20th 2018


A Japanese billionaire and a coterie of artists will visit the moon as early as 2023, becoming the first private citizens ever to fly beyond low Earth orbit, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced tonight. 

Yusaku Maezawa, the founder of Japanese e-commerce giant Zozo, has signed up to fly a round-the-moon mission aboard SpaceX’s BFR spaceship-rocket combo, he and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced during a webcast tonight (Sept. 17) from the company’s rocket factory in Hawthorne, California.

The mission—which will loop around, but not land on, the moon—could be ready to launch in just five years, Musk said. Read more ..

Nature on Edge

Forecasting Earthquake Aftershock Locations

September 6th 2018

Chile Earthquake Results Credit: Mario Manzano

Researchers at Google (Mountain View, CA) and Harvard University (Cambridge, MA) are using artificial intelligence (AI) technology to try to predict where aftershocks from earthquakes might occur.

Aftershocks following significant earthquakes often not only cause significant additional damage but can also significantly hamper recovery efforts. While scientists understand and can explain the timing and size of aftershocks, forecasting the locations of these events has proven more challenging.

In an effort to better predict where these aftershocks might occur, researchers at Harvard teamed up with machine learning experts at Google to see if deep learning could be effectively applied to the problem. They began by analyzing a database of information on more than 118 past earthquakes from around the world, the Finite-Source Rupture Model Database .


Healthcare on Edge

Deadly Parasite Spreads Heart Risk

August 28th 2018

Emergency Medical

A deadly parasite spread from Latin America to the United States, according to the American Heart Association journal Circulation. Deadly Chagas disease is an infection caused by a parasite called Trypanosoma cruzi (T cruzi). It causes chronic heart disease in about one third of those infected. In severe cases, death may result to infected persons. 

The American Heart Association statement shows that infection occurs when feces left behind by blood-sucking insects known as triatomine or “kissing bugs” enters the skin through the bite site or in the eye. Triatomine insects are native to Central and South America, where they infest adobe houses and in the southern United States. The disease can also be passed through contaminated food or drink, from pregnant mothers to their babies, and through blood transfusions and organ transplants. Read more ..

The Edge of Computing

Why Cold Computing Matters for Next Generation of Computing

July 3rd 2018

Oak Ridge Super Computer

Running computers at 77K and even 4K gives huge advantages in power efficiency and access to quantum computers. Nick Flaherty talks to Craig Hampel, Chief Scientist at Rambus (above), on the cold computing research projects the company is working on that will be commercialised in the next three to five years.

Power consumption is the major limiting factor for next generation computing systems, says Craig Hampel. Rambus has made its name in the development of memory sub-systems and is working with Microsoft on new low temperature memory technologies, says its chief scientist. This can lead to higher performance, lower power and extend Moore’s Law for up to a decade.


The Race for IoT

Truck Tires Become part of the IoT

March 26th 2018

Volvo truck

In a joint effort, automotive supplier Continental and mobile network provider Vodafone increase the safety level on county roads and highways: A digital data platform and smart tires are the ingredients of a system that ensures a higher safety level on the roads, especially for commercial vehicles: By monitoring critical tire parameters such as pressure and temperature via mobile radio and the ContinConnect platform, trucks and buses transmit tire temperature and pressure data to a central web portal. Fleet managers can monitor the data of all emergency vehicles at any time.

When the tire values reach a critical level, the system automatically sends an alarm to defined receivers, for example to the control center and the driver. If necessary, the platform then automatically offers corrective measures. ContiConnect thus prevents expensive punctures in commercial vehicles. It also helps to optimize the operating times of commercial vehicles. Vodafone's mobile network transmits data almost instantaneously around the world. The service is now available in the first markets and will in future operate across Europe, Asia, North America, South America and Australia.


The Digital Edge

IBM Computer the Size of a Grain of Salt Embeds in Everyday Objects

March 22nd 2018

Computer chips

IBM says it has developed the world's smallest computer – one that is smaller than a grain of salt.

Announced at the company's Think 2018 technology event, the IBM-designed edge device architecture and computing platform is a system-on-chip (SoC) with a processor, SRAM, storage, a communication module, and a photovoltaic cell for power. The micro-computer's processor comprises several hundred thousand transistors and is said to have a performance on par with an x86 CPU from 1990.

According to IBM, the device will cost less than ten cents to manufacture and can monitor, analyze, communicate, and even act on data. Within the next five years, the company says, such micro-computers will be embedded in everyday objects and devices as "cryptographic anchors" that - in tandem with blockchain's distributed ledger technology – will be used to help track and verify the authenticity of goods.


The Race for Smart Farming

Smart Farming Optimizes Transport of Perishable Crops

March 15th 2018

wheat fields

Researchers at the University of Illinois (Champaign, IL) have developed a mathematical model that determines the optimal time for transporting a grower's hand-picked crops from the field to cold storage.

Growers of such high-value perishable fresh produce, such as strawberries, face greater challenges than other producers looking to employ 'smart farming' technologies. Currently, most such technologies - which help growers harvest their crops faster and more efficiently - focus primarily on row crops like corn and soybeans.

"The large machines used to harvest row crops such as wheat, corn, and soybeans provide a natural platform for improving efficiency," says Richard Sowers, a professor of industrial and enterprise systems engineering and of mathematics at the University of Illinois. "However, the story is radically different in high-value, hand-picked crops like strawberries, which may be many times more valuable per acre than corn. With hand-picked crops, precision agriculture lags significantly behind."


The Digital Era

Cheap Breathable Electronic Tattoo Sensors

March 2nd 2018

Woman Finge/Handr manicured

Experimenting with a cut-and-paste method they had developed a few years ago for epidermal electronics (more commonly known as electronic tattoos), a team of researchers from the University of Texas has managed to fabricate low-cost, breathable e-tattoos only 1.5μm thick.

They had initially developed the cut-and-paste method (whereby sensors and circuits are simply cut out of commercially available metalized polymer sheets using a benchtop programmable mechanical cutter plotter) as a low cost alternative to lab-based photolithography circuit patterning and transfer printing to tattoo paper.

A 1.5μm-thick multifunctional e-tattoo transferred
on a human chest, connected for data acquisition. The original cut-and-paste method, although cheaper and faster to implement than conventional microfabrication and transfer printing methods, was limited by the thickness of commercially available metalized polymer sheets (at least 13μm) and also required a medical-grade tape onto which the electronic tattoo sensors had to be pasted, further increasing thickness and reducing their breathability.


The Edge of History

Byzantine Church Discovered in Tunisia

February 22nd 2018

Sfax, Tunisia

A church dating from the late Byzantine period (5th - 7th century AD) was discovered at an archaeological site dubbed "Castilia," located between the cities of Tozeur and Degache in the Tozeur region of Tunisia. The archaeological excavations were carried out at the site by the National Heritage Institute (INP) of Tunisia and began in January and continued until the first week of February.

According to the first results of this discovery presented by the research team led by Mourad Chtioui of INP, and urban archeologist Bassem Ben Saad, the architecture of the church consists essentially of a main entrance or narthex, two secondary entrances, two annexes, and a circular monument. The area of ​​the church covers more than 465 square feet and measures about 10 feet high.


The Edge of Nature

Stronger Than Steel, Super Wood Can Cheaply Transform

February 10th 2018


Some varieties of wood, such as oak and maple, are renowned for their strength. But scientists say a simple and inexpensive new process can transform any type of wood into a material stronger than steel, and even some high-tech titanium alloys. Besides taking a star turn in buildings and vehicles, the substance could even be used to make bullet-resistant armor plates.

Wood is abundant and relatively low-cost—it literally grows on trees. And although it has been used for millennia to build everything from furniture to homes and larger structures, untreated wood is rarely as strong as metals used in construction. Researchers have long tried to enhance its strength, especially by compressing and “densifying” it, says Liangbing Hu, a materials scientist at the University of Maryland, College Park. But densified wood tends to weaken and spring back toward its original size and shape, especially in humid conditions. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Taking Extreme Steps to Help Corals Survive

January 24th 2018


Coral reefs are bustling underwater cities that lie beneath tropical, sunlit waves. Thousands of colorful creatures click, dash and dart, as loud and as fast-paced as the citizens of any human city.

Built up in tissue-thin layers over millennia, corals are the high-rise apartment buildings of this underwater Gotham. Their calcium skeletons represent generations of tiny invertebrate animals. Jacketing them is a living layer of colorful coral polyps. Their complex structures offer shelter. And for some 114 species of fishes, and 51 species of invertebrates, those coral skyscrapers are lunch.

Important as they are, corals are in jeopardy.


The Edge of Space

Aliens Don't Exist—Or Do They?

January 12th 2018

Black hole pulling gas from nearby star

What do a strangely fading faraway star, an oddly shaped interstellar interloper in the solar system and a curious spate of UFO sightings by members of the U.S. military all have in common?

They are all mysterious, for one thing—eye-catchingly weird, yet still just hazy outlines that let the imagination run wild. All have recently generated headlines as possible signs of life and intelligence beyond Earth, of some mind-bogglingly advanced alien culture revealing its existence at last to our relatively primitive and planetbound civilization. Yet their most salient shared trait so far is the certainty they provoke in most scientists, who insist these developments represent nothing so sensational. Ask a savvy astronomer or physicist about any of these oddities, and they will tell you, as they have time and time before: It’s not aliens. In fact, it’s never aliens. Read more ..

The Cyber Edge

The Story Behind the Meltdown and Spectre Threats

January 6th 2018

Hacker keyboard

THe latest revelations that Intel,  AMD and ARM microprocessors have major security  
 IBM's first PC, 1981
vulnerabilities should have surprised no one. In 2004 IBM sold its PC group to the Chinese Lenovo, and Intel opened its first chip manufacturing plant in China in 2007, and other US-based companies, have been outsourcing the development and production of their technologies to foreign companies. So, while we shouldn't be surprised, we should demand to know why it took so long for those companies to admit that all the computers and other electronic devices we use are vulnerable and pose a direct threat to our national security. Read more ..

Weather on Edge

Mini Ice Age Could hit by 2030

January 2nd 2018

Washington Blizzard


The Rise of Man

Tibetan Plateau Discovery Shows Humans May Be Tougher Than We Thought

December 29th 2017

Potala Lhasa Tibet

The first humans venturing onto the Tibetan Plateau, often called the “roof of the world,” faced one of the most brutal environments our species can endure. At an average elevation of over 4,500 meters, it is a cold and arid place with half the oxygen present at sea level. Science has long held that humans did not set foot in this alien place until 15,000 years ago, as suggested by archaeological evidence of the earliest known settlement on the northeastern fringe of the plateau 3,000 meters above sea level. But now new genetic data indicate this may have occurred much earlier—possibly as far back as the last ice age, 62,000 years ago.

A better understanding of modern Tibetans’ genetic mix and diversity could help reconstruct the history of migration and population expansion in the region, and may help unravel the mystery of the ethnic origins of Tibetans—and of how humans have adapted to low-oxygen conditions at high altitudes. Read more ..

The Edge of the Internet

Google To Use Light Beams To Bring High-Speed Internet To India

December 18th 2017

Laser burst

Google’s moonshot factory, X Development LLC, is working with AP State FiberNet, a telecom company in Andhra Pradesh, India, to roll out two thousand Free Space Optical Communications (FSOC) links as part of a collaborative effort to bring broadband to 12 million households.

Born out of the Loon project where Google aims to use high altitude balloons as base stations in the sky to enable internet access everywhere, especially in hard to reach or underdeveloped regions around the globe, FSOC links are based on light beams that deliver high speed connectivity over long distances without using fiber-optic cables.

Project Loon needed a way of transmitting data between balloon base stations to work. Engineers used FSOC links to achieve this over distances of over 100 km. The results of this work in the stratosphere brought the technology to ground to solve connectivity problems where fiber is too expensive or impractical.


The Race to AI

Self-taught Google AI Achieves 'superhuman' Chess Proficiency in Hours

December 14th 2017

Terminator Robot

Google's (Mountain View, CA) AlphaZero artificial intelligence (AI) program has achieved within 24 hours a "superhuman level" of play in the game of chess within hours of teaching itself the game from scratch, knowing only the game rules.

The algorithm was tested against Stockfish 8 , an open source computer chess engine considered to be among the strongest available. In a paper on the research, Google's DeepMind division reported that in 100 games played against Stockfish 8, AlphaZero won or drew all of them.

The AlphaZero algorithm is a generalized version of Google's AlphaGo Zero, which itself was an evolution of AlphaGo - the first computer program to defeat a world champion at the ancient Chinese game of Go. The original AlphaGo trained on thousands of human amateur and professional games to learn how to play Go, while AlphaGo Zero was able to teach itself to play Go from scratch, starting from completely random play.


The Health Edge

How Malaria Tricks ther Immune System

December 9th 2017

mosquito biting

Global efforts to eradicate malaria are crucially dependent on scientists’ ability to outsmart the malaria parasite. And Plasmodium falciparum is notoriously clever: it is quick to develop resistance against medications and has such a complex life cycle that blocking it effectively with a vaccine has thus far proved elusive. In a new study reported in Nature Communications, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science, together with collaborators in Ireland and Australia, have shown that P. falciparum is even more devious than previously thought: not only does it hide from the body’s immune defenses, it employs an active strategy to deceive the immune system.

among transmittable diseases, malaria is second only to tuberculosis in number of victims, putting at risk nearly half of Earth’s population. More than 200 million people become infected every year; about half a million die, most of them children under five years of age. “Malaria is one of the world’s most devastating diseases – it’s a true bane of low-income countries, where it kills a thousand young children every day,” says Dr. Neta Regev-Rudzki of Weizmann’s Department of Biomolecular Sciences. “To fight malaria, we need to understand the basic biology of Plasmodium falciparum and figure out what makes it such a dangerous killer.” Read more ..

Understanding Autism

Israeli Dad Shows How Newborns Can Be Screened For Autism

December 6th 2017

Black infant

Thirty years ago, a leading autism expert at UCLA diagnosed Raphael (Raffi) Rembrand’s four-year-old son – too late, at that point, for critical early-intervention therapies.

Three decades later, the Israeli father is fulfilling his dream of offering a simple noninvasive way to screen newborns for signs of autism, which is diagnosed in some three million children every year.

“One out of every 45 newborns this year will be diagnosed later in life with autism. The problem is that diagnosis is too late and based on behavior observations. SensPD is going to change all of that,” vows Rembrand, founder and CTO of a one-man startup based in the northern Israeli Arab village of Bosmat Tab’un.

The SensPD diagnostic process, now ready for clinical trials, uses the same instrument currently used in newborn nurseries and well-baby clinics to test infants’ hearing by measuring otoacoustic emissions (OAE). Rembrand’s novelty is using OAE measurement as an indicator of the baby’s overall sensory perception. Read more ..

The Edge of Nature

Scientists Unearth Revealing Details about the World’s Biggest Mud Volcano

November 17th 2017

Lava flow at Krafla

In May 2006 boiling mud, gas, water and rock started gushing out of the ground in northeastern Java, one of the islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The massive mud volcano—nicknamed “Lusi”—has continued to spew its hot contents even today, more than 11 years later. Experts say Lusi is the largest mud volcano in the world, now covering seven square kilometers of land. Since 2006 Lusi has dislocated some 60,000 people and caused more than $4 billion in economic damages.

Mud volcanoes are not actual volcanoes—their temperatures are much cooler, and they erupt a mix of rock, clay and mud rather than lava. Some say Lusi is a combination of these two systems, although others debate this. In fact, Lusi remains a mystery to scientists in many ways. One of the biggest and most contentious questions about Lusi concerns what triggered the eruptions: an earthquake or natural gas drilling? Now, in a new study, researchers have imaged the subsurface plumbing system of Lusi. Their work reveals that—regardless of what triggered the eruption—Lusi likely connects at deep depths to a nearby volcanic system. Read more ..

The Virtual Age

Perfecting Virtual Touch

November 10th 2017

Woman Finge/Handr manicured

Until recently largely focused on the design and manufacture of medical devices, 30-year old company Morgan Innovation & Technology Limited (MIAT) is now expanding its horizons, making others benefit from its inventions beyond the medical world.

One of the latest projects the company is pursuing for its diversification is the design of a glove-based touch simulation technology, dubbed RealSim. 

With RealSim, the company aims to provide the most realistic sensation of touch available in the market for virtual reality applications, ranging from gaming to training emergency services and hospital doctors to rehab or for military simulation exercises.

Based in Petersfield (Hampshire, UK) MIAT is not a huge company, having only about 38 employees. But as well as designing, manufacturing and commercializing its own medical devices, MIAT also helps others turn their ideas into products, with consultancy and a complete idea to manufacture service, in effect acting as an incubator. Although the company was originally founded in 1987 to market radio frequency (RF) lesion generators for back pain relief, it has taken a promising new turn.


The Edge of Disaster

Will Italy’s Ominous Supervolcano Erupt Soon?

October 14th 2017

Volcano erupting

Tragedy struck at the Solfatara volcano crater north of Naples a few weeks ago. An 11-year-old boy climbed over a low, wooden fence, ventured onto the chalky moonscape, and fell into an open fissure. His parents frantically tried to pull him out, just as the hollow floor of the crater crumbled, sending them all to their deaths in a gaseous pit of boiling gray mud, as the family’s seven-year-old boy watched in horror. The accident was a freak occurrence, responsible for the only recorded deaths on this crater in centuries. But those hot gases hold an ominous story: Solfatara is part of the massive Phlegrean Fields, a threatening supervolcano experts agree could begin erupting anytime. Read more ..

The Digital Age

Smart Phone Cameras Will be Able to See Behind Corners

October 12th 2017

Smart phone

Researchers at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (Cambridge, MA) have developed a system that can let smartphone cameras spot moving objects hidden from view around corners.

The researchers' imaging system uses light reflections to detect - in real time - objects or people in a hidden scene and to measure their speed and trajectory. The system, which could be used with smartphone cameras, holds promise for applications such as self-driving cars and search and rescue, say the researchers.

The system works by analyzing video of the shadow - called a " penumbra" - cast on the ground in the line of sight that is reflected by an object around a corner. Using imaging from the video, the system generates a series of one-dimensional images that - when stitched together - reveal information about the object(s) around the corner.

"Even though those objects aren't actually visible to the camera, we can look at how their movements affect the penumbra to determine where they are and where they're going," says Katherine Bouman, the lead author of a paper about the system. "In this way, we show that walls and other obstructions with edges can be exploited as naturally-occurring 'cameras' that reveal the hidden scenes beyond them."


The Race for Autonomous Cars

GM Unveils First 'Real' Self-driving Car

October 11th 2017

car door

General Motors-owned Cruise Automation (San Francisco, CA) has unveiled its 3rd-generation self-driving car prototype.

Acquired by General Motors last year, the company - which operates as an independent unit - says its latest prototype represents "the world’s first mass-producible car designed to operate without a driver." The prototype is based on a Chevrolet Bolt EV and features "airbags, crumple zones, and comfortable seats."

"The car we’re unveiling today is actually our 3rd generation self-driving car, but it’s the first that meets the redundancy and safety requirements we believe are necessary to operate without a driver," says Cruise Automation CEO and founder Kyle Vogt. "There’s no other car like this in existence."

According to Vogt, the new 3rd-generation vehicle has almost completely new and fault-tolerant electrical, communication, and actuation systems that are unique to a driverless vehicle. In fact, he says, its core system architecture "more closely resembles that of a commercial airplane or spacecraft."


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