Remember the famous flying bike scene in the classic 1982 flick E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial? Well, pretty soon, if two British inventors have their way, you'll be able to soar into the clouds on a bicycle, without even having a cute little alien in your basket.
Yannick Read and John Foden are soliciting 50,000 British Pounds--about $77,000--on Kickstarter, the crowdfunding site, to finish the testing and design of the XploreAir Paravelo, which they describe as "a conventional two-wheeled bike that transforms into an easy-to-operate aircraft." According to an account in the British Guardian newspaper, It can can attain altitudes of up to 4,000 feet and an airborne speed of about 25 miles per hour.
Teen pop music hearthrob Justin Bieber has been having a rough time lately, what with getting booed at the Billboard Music Awards and having his pet monkey confiscated by customs authorities at a German airport. So it's not hard to understand why the Beeb might want to get away from it all, albeit briefly, by plunking down $250,000 to reserve a spot aboard one of Virgin Galactic's planned suborbital space tourism flights . (His manager, Scooter Braun, is also going along.) Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson revealed the news in a recent tweet. In a subsequent tweet, the singer responded that he wanted to shoot a music video in space.
Whenever I watch the classic 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, my favorite part isthe posse of winged nonkeys in little bellhop hats who are at the beck and call of the Wicked Witch of the West. In the movie the witch gives them verbal instructions, but in the novel that provided the source material, L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful World of Oz, the flying primate posse is controlled and directed via the golden cap, a sort of wireless mind-control device. As Baum described it, when the Wicked Witch needed her monkeys, she took the golden from her cupboard and placed it slowly upon her head. Then she stood upon her left foot and said slowly: "Ep-pe, pep-pe, kak-ke!" and a bunch of other similarly nonsensical incantations. What happened next:
If you think healthcare is too impersonal and bureaucratic already, I'm guessing that you may not be too enthusiastic about a future in which intelligent machines take over much of the patient care, from changing the linens on your hospital bed to performing surgical procedures. Forget about Obamacare--we're talking Robocare, and it's probably inevitable, due to an aging population that in the future will have more patients and fewer workers.
"We are just not going to have enough human hands to do all the work," as Donald Jones, a managing director at robotics company Draper Triangle Ventures explained to the Wall Street Journal last year. Already, according to the WSJ, there are about 1,000 robots in use in the nation's hospitals, and Jones predicts that in five years, there will be five to 10 times as many.
You've probably heard about the brouhaha surrounding Defense Distributed's development of a mostly-plastic gun that can be produced using a 3D printer and plans that are downloadable from the Web. Or, rather, they were downloadable, until the Department of Defense demanded that DD take down the files, claiming that they might violate U.S. laws that control international arms trafficking. DD's founder, an anarchist law student named Cody Wilson, told Forbes that his goal is to show that technology can make it possible to circumvent and negate government authority. "This is about enabling individuals to create their own sovereign space," he explained. "The government will increasingly be on the sidelines, saying ‘hey, wait.' It’s about creating the new order in the crumbling shell of the old order."
Organ transplants save lives, but due to a lack of donations and the difficulty of obtaining a suitable match, a lot of people still die while waiting for a transplant. Worldwide, the shortage has grown so dire that in Australia, the government actually has begun offering to pay potential kidney donors an upfront fee of around $3,800, just for promising to provide an organ if called upon.
That's why a lot of people are excited about the news coming out of Boston. Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston say that they've successfully transplanted kidneys grown in a lab into actual rats, and that those kidneys successfully have filtered the recipients' blood and made urine, just like the rats' natural kidneys.
Back in 2007, antiwar protesters in Washington, DC noticed they said appeared to be insect-sized drone surveillance aircraft hovering over them. As a Washington Post article reported:
"I heard someone say, 'Oh my god, look at those,' " the college senior from New York recalled. "I look up and I'm like, 'What the hell is that?' They looked kind of like dragonflies or little helicopters. But I mean, those are not insects."
The Post consulted various government agencies, none of which admitted to having deployed robotic insects. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, however, had actually tried to develop such a device back in the 1970s--the insectothopter robotic dragonfly, which contained a tiny gasoline engine that powered four flapping wings. Reportedly, the insectothopter actually managed to fly, but reported was scrapped because it could not handle crosswinds. Perhaps as a result, Pentagon researchers veered off in a different direction, and began looking at attaching micro-electrical mechanical systems, or MEMS, to insects to create swarms of tiny, remote-controlled cyborg secret agents, capable of flying or crawling into enemy territory. (Here's a blog post that I wrote on that idea, a few years back.)
For years, 3D displays have been used as a gimmick. Millions of the old red and blue 3D glasses were distributed for the 2009 Superbowl and Tupac's hologram appearance at Coachella was promised to be the next big thing. But there's always something off about current 3D implementations. Even RealD 3D movie displays cause headaches and nausea for some movie-goers -- a big enough problem that 2D Goggles were developed to counteract the 3D illusion. Why has technology continued to develop in two dimensions in our 3D world? And why is the Hollywood version of a hologram so hard to turn into reality?
As we move toward new and improved ways to interact with our 3D world new technologies will certainly change our daily lives. What are the implications on human interaction in the future? Check out the video below as Jonathan Strickland explains one possibility for the future of holograms.
If conspiracy theorists on the web had been on target, by now we'd all have microchips implanted in our bodies that would give the federal government the ability to identify us and track our movements, thanks to a loophole created by an obscure provision of Obamacare that was supposed to kick in on March 23, 2013. That arbiter of Internet fact vs. fiction, Snopes.com, has refuted the meme--though not to the satisfaction of action movie star-turned-political activist Chuck Norris, who hinted in this 2012 commentary that the tracking chips were "a bit too close" to the "mark of the beast" mentioned in the Biblical Book of Revelation.
While I've written in the past about civil libertarians' concerns about RFID chips, I was tempted to poke fun at Norris for his conspiracy-minded alarmism, and question whether he'd been conked on the head a bit too hard while fighting a bear. That is, until I saw a recent article in the International Business Times, entitled "Invasion Of Privacy? RFID Tracking Kids On School Buses." The latter describes the Gordon Counta, Ga. school district's new pilot program to keep track of students on school buses through a system called StudentConnect, IBT reports that the technology combines Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology with a "passive" RFID chip--the sort that doesn't have its own power source and will only respond to a signal from a receiver device when it is nearby, rather than broadcasting a signal. (Here's a HowStuffWorks article on how RFID tagging works.)
You've probably heard self-help gurus talk about the importance of clearing your mind, but Stanford University researchers have figured out a way to do that, literally. In a just-published paper in the scientific journal Nature, they describe a new process that they've invented for making a cadaver mouse brain transparent, so that scientists can get a three-dimensional look inside it without a computer simulation. To greatly simplify, the CLARITY process, as they've named it, involves washing away the fat that normally blocks the view of the brain's cells and replacing it with a see-through gel that holds the brain's structures in place so that they can be studied.
As a Stanford press release explains, neuroscientists no longer will have to make do with slices of brain tissue. Instead, they can examine brain's fine wiring of nerves and molecular structures, and measure and probe them at will with both visible light and chemical tests. So far, they've only tried the process on slivers of human brain tissue, but it's only a matter of time before they render a cadaver human brain transparent as well.
ALos Angeles Times story on the research predicts that it will have a massive, transformational effect on neuroscience, generating mountains of data what will enable researchers to understand the brain's anatomy and how it is altered by diseases such as Alzheimer's or schizophrenia. Already, researchers have used CLARITY to peruse a tissue sample from the brain of a person with autism, and discovered a deeply buried neuron that "looped back on itself," in the words of Karl Deisseroth, the Stanford bioengineer who led the team. Though it will take a lot more work to figure out whether that abnormality has genuine significance, there's at least a glimmer of hope that it might turn out to provide an explanation for the disorder.
Here's a video from Nature'sYouTube channel that illustrates how it all works.
Pretty amazing, huh? Probably the only thing that would be cooler would be if we could peer into a living brain. I'm waiting for transhumanist body hackers to come up with a clear plastic replacement for the skull and the skin that covers it, so that some adverturous soul can transform himself into something akin to the Revell Visible Man model that I had when I was a lad.
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