Archive for April, 2008

Japan’s cyborg research enters the skull

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Researchers at Osaka University are stepping up efforts to develop robotic body parts controlled by thought, by placing electrode sheets directly on the surface of the brain. Led by Osaka University Medical Schoolmind_controlled_robot.jpg neurosurgery professor Toshiki Yoshimine, the research marks Japan’s first foray into invasive (i.e. requiring open-skull surgery) brain-machine interface research on human test subjects. The aim of the research is to develop real-time mind-controlled robotic limbs for the disabled, according to an announcement made at an April 16 symposium in Aichi prefecture.  Although brain waves can be measured from outside the scalp, a stronger, more accurate signal can be obtained by placing sensors directly on the brain — but that requires open-skull surgery, making it more difficult to recruit volunteer test subjects.

The researchers, who have filed a license application with the Osaka University Hospital ethics board, are working to enlist willing subjects already scheduled to have brain electrodes implanted for the purpose of monitoring epilepsy or other conditions. The procedure, which does not involve puncturing the cortex, places an electrode sheet at the central sulcus, a fold across the center of the brain near the primary motor cortex (which is responsible for planning and executing movements).

To date, the researchers have worked with four test subjects to record brain wave activity generated as they move their arms, elbows and fingers. Working with Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International (ATR), the researchers have developed a method for analyzing the brain waves to determine the subject’s intended activity to an accuracy of greater than 80%. The next step is to use the data to control robot arms developed by the University of Tokyo’s Department of Precision Engineering.

[Source: Pink Tentacle via Asahi]

NTT Firmo transmits data through skin

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

NTT has begun selling a device that transmits data across the surface of the human body and lets users communicate with electronic devices simply by touching them, the company announced on April 23.redtacton.jpgThe new product, called “Firmo,” consists of a card-sized transmitter carried in the user’s pocket. The card converts stored data into a weak AC electric field that extends across the body, and when the user touches a device or object embedded with a compatible receiver, the electric field is converted back into a data signal that can be read by the device. For now, Firmo transfers data at 230kbps, but NTT is reportedly working on a low-cost 10Mbps version that can handle audio/video data transfers.

Firmo is based on NTT’s RedTacton human area network (HAN) technology, which is designed to allow convenient human-machine data exchange through natural physical contact — even through clothing, gloves and shoes.

NTT initially hopes this human area network technology will appeal to organizations looking to boost convenience and security in the office. Obvious applications include secure entrances and keyless cabinets that recognize employees when they touch the door handle (thus bypassing the need for card-swipers and keys), or secure printers that operate only when you touch them.

For now, a set of 5 card transmitters and 1 receiver goes for around 800,000 yen ($8,000), but NTT expects the price to come down when mass production begins.

[Source: Pink Tentacle via RBB Today]

Meet Nexi, the Media Lab’s latest robot and Internet star

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

David Chandler, MIT News Office
April 9, 2008

A new experimental robot from the MIT Media Lab can slant its eyebrows in anger, or raise them in surprise, and show a wide assortment of facial expressions to communicate with people in human-centric terms. Called Nexi, it is aimed at a range of applications for personal robots and human-robot teamwork.

Nexi has become something of an Internet celebrity after a preliminary video demonstration of its facial expressions using pre-scripted movements was posted this month on YouTube. The spot has been accessed more than 70,000 times, and viewers have reacted with comments ranging from awe and bemusement (“This robot seems more humane then most humans”) to shock and alarm (“Creepy. Very creepy”).

Created by a group headed by Media Lab’s Cynthia Breazeal, known for earlier expressive robots such as Kismet, the new product is known as an MDS (mobile, dextrous, social) robot. Unlike Kismet, which consisted only of a robotic head, the Nexi MDS is a complete mobile manipulator robot augmented with rich expressive abilities. It is designed to ultimately ride on self-balancing wheels like the Segway transporter, but it currently uses an additional set of supportive wheels to operate as a statically stable platform in its early stage of development. It has hands to manipulate objects, eyes (video cameras), ears (an array of microphones), and a 3-D infrared camera and laser rangefinder to support real-time tracking of objects, people and voices as well as indoor navigation.

The development of Nexi was led by the MIT Media Lab’s Personal Robots Group in collaboration with Prof. Rod Grupen at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and two MIT robotic spin-off companies. The project was originally funded by an Office of Naval Research Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) award to develop a novel class of robots that can engage in sophisticated forms of peer-to-peer teamwork with humans in uncertain environments. A recent ONR Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative (MURI) award, for which Breazeal is the PI, aims at developing technologies and demonstrations for teams comprised of humans and autonomous aerial robots in addition to the MDS robots. Several MIT faculty are part of the MURI effort (Nick Roy and Jon How in Aero Astro, and Deb Roy at the Media Lab) in addition to other collaborators at Stanford, Vanderbilt, UMass-Amherst and University of Washington.

Source | MIT News

Early Prostheses: The Roman Empire 300 BC

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

A roman prosthesis from 300 BC (during the Samite wars) was unearthed in Capua, Italy about 1858 and made from a wooden core, bronze shims and leather straps, it was however unfortunately destroyed by enemy bombing during world war 2 in London.

A first century Roman scholar, Pliny the Elder, (23-79 AD) wrote in ‘Natural History’ of a Roman general, Marcus Sergius who was leading his army against Carthage during the second Punic war (218-210 BC) where he sustained injuries and a right arm amputation, an iron hand was made to hold his shield and he was able to go back to the battle, he was captured and twice escaped, he served as a civil judge, he wanted to become a priest but was denied because to be a priest one needed two normal hands.

Roman artificial right leg, dating from the early Christian era, Excavated from Capua and of bronze plates fashioned a wooden core.

Roman artificial right leg, dating from the early Christian era, Excavated from Capua and of bronze plates fashioned a wooden core.

NPR’s ‘Talk of The Nation’ | April 15th, 2008 | Genetically Engineering a ‘Perfect’ Baby

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

After receiving a package at work today of new readings that I had ordered for myself ['The Buddha In The Robot: A Robot Enineer's Thoughts on Science and Religion' by Masahiro Mori, 'Love + Sex with Robots' by David Levy, 'The Prosthetic Impulse: From a Posthuman Present to a Biocultural Future' by Marquard Smith and Joanne Morra, and 'Stelarc: The Monograph', by Marquard Smith w/ a forward by William Gibson'] I delightedly took a moment to flip through the pages of some of the text before returning to the menial task of touching up frames. As is the routine case for me at work, I was listening to NPR and Talk of The Nation was on next. Todays episode? ‘Genetically Engineering a ‘Perfect Baby’, which was perfect for me as I am not only about to begin my new books but am wrapping up a reading of Ramez Naams’ ‘More Than Human: Embracing The Promise of Biological Enhancement’. Below is an outline of the program and a link to the NPR webpage you may listen to the episode on.

Talk of the Nation, April 15, 2008 · Advances in human genetic engineering may one day make it possible to design a newborn — from what he or she (your choice) will look like, to how athletic the child will be. Guests and callers discuss the ethical concerns surrounding selective genetics.


Ronald Green, professor for the study of ethics and human values at Dartmouth College; author of Babies by Design: The Ethics of Genetic Choice; author of “Building Baby From the Genes Up” published in The Washington Post

Marcy Darnovsky, associate director at the Center For Genetics and Society in Oakland, Calif.

Source | Talk of The Nation


Design and The Elastic Mind

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

To document MoMA’s wonderful, monumental exhibit spanning design, science and technology, “Design and the Elastic Mind,” we enlisted the help of the show’s esteemed curator, Paola Antonelli. Paola speaks in detail about several of the exhibits, including “The Afterlife,” a system for turning corpses into batteries, robots that act as personal climatizers and DNA origami. She also weighs in on her curatorial approach, addressing the role of the designer, her mission to shift public perception of design and how design revolutionizes our lives.As always, but especially in this case, we hope CH inspires you to experience this show firsthand. It’s up through May 2008, see details below.If you absolutely can’t make it in person, the website, designed by the renowned Yugo Nakamura, is full of information organized into an extremely pleasing UI and the book (available online from the MoMA store) is a must-have resource for designers, educators and the curious.

Design and the Elastic Mind
Through 12 May 2008
11 West 53 Street
New York, NY 10019 map
tel. +1 212 708 9400

Source |

UAVM Opening Exhibition

Monday, April 7th, 2008


The Unknown Artist Virtual Museum [UAVM] has included my work in their Opening Exhibition. View the exhibit online at the link provided below.

UAVM | Opening Exhibition

Computers to merge with humans

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

By 2020 the terms ‘interface’ and ‘user’ will be obsolete as computers merge ever closer with humans.

It is one of the predictions in a Microsoft-backed report drawn from the discussions of 45 academics from the fields of computing, science, sociology and psychology.

It predicts fundamental changes in the field of so-called Human-Computer Interaction (HCI).

By 2020 humans will increasingly interrogate machines, the report said.

In turn computers will be able to anticipate what we want from them, which will require new rules about our relationship with machines.

Table map

The report, entitled Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020, looks at how the development of technologies over the next decade can better reflect human values.

“It is about how we anticipate the uses of technology rather than being reactive. Currently the human is not considered part of the process,” said Bill Buxton, from Microsoft Research.

At the launch of the report some of the authors showed off the types of technologies that could bring the human back into the equation.

At Goldsmiths College, Professor Bill Gaver and his team have developed a Drift table, a piece of furniture which allows people to view aerial photography of their local neighbourhood and beyond.

“It isn’t really designed for anything,” explained Prof Gaver.

“People can use it for entertainment or learning. One of the people that was given the table used to check out houses in Southampton following a piece on the news about house prices going up in the area.

Someone else used it to look at the towns they lived in as a child or to visit towns where friends lived,” he said.

The table has no buttons and the small display in the middle moves as a result of pressure being put on the table.

“From central London it would take a day to navigate the table to the coast,” said Prof Gaver.

Other prototype technologies aimed at putting human need at the centre of the equation include the Whereabouts Clock.

The interface – designed by at Microsoft’s research labs in Cambridge – allows family members to see where each other are at any given time.

The categories of ‘home’, ‘work’ and ‘school’ are deliberately vague in order to maintain privacy, explained Abigail Sellen, from Microsoft Research.

Other communication devices for the home that Microsoft is working on include Epigraph, an interface that allows family members to ‘post’ pictures and messages to each other via their mobile phones.

Smart devices

The keyboard, mouse and monitor will increasingly be replaced by more intuitive forms of interaction and display, including tablet computers, speech recognition systems and fingertip-operated surfaces.


Without proper consideration and control it is possible that we – both individually and collectively – may no longer be in control of ourselves or the world around us

Being Human – Microsoft HCI report

Boundaries between humans and computers will become blurred over the next decade as devices are embedded in objects, our clothing or, in the case of medical monitoring, in our bodies.

Although paper will still be a reality in 2020, digital paper will also flourish allowing us to create, for example, social network magazines that update in real time.

Digital storage of even more aspects of our lives, from mobile phone calls to CCTV footage, could be a reality by 2020 and, in combination with an omnipresent network will mean privacy will be a key focus of the HCI community.

Our “digital footprint” – the sharing of more and more aspects of our lives through digital photography, podcasting , blogging and video – is set to get bigger and this will raise key questions about how much information we should store about ourselves.

Losing control

The ever-present network will channel mass market information directly to us while disseminating our own intimate information.

The report dubs this the era of so-called hyper-connectivity and predicts it will mean a growth in “techno-dependency”.

This ever more intimate relationship between humans and computers will be a double-edged sword, it suggests.

Eye with circuit board superimposed

Researchers predict an ever-increasing link between man and machine

The report compares the widespread introduction of the calculator – widely blamed for a fall in the standard of mental arithmetic – with what may happen as computers become more intelligent and take on new responsibilities.

“Without proper consideration and control it is possible that we – both individually and collectively – may no longer be in control of ourselves or the world around us,” the report warns.

As well as the need for language to reflect the newly expanded human/computer environment so too the concept of teaching computer science will need to be adapted.

“Not just teaching children about how computers and applications work, but about their wider impact,” reads the report.

Among its recommendations for the future direction of HCI, the report suggests there needs to be greater engagement with government and policy makers.

There also needs to be consideration for how technological developments will go forward in the developing world.

One of the report authors, Gary Marsden from the University of Cape Town in South Africa, showed off a prototype digital noticeboard.

Dubbed Big Board, the display, which is free to use, allows users to download information to their mobile phones about a range of topics including politics, health and even university lectures.

Mobile use in Africa is the fastest growing of anywhere in the world.

The display unit is currently being trialled in community centres, clinics and educational establishments in South Africa.

Source | BBC News

UK’s first hybrid embryos created

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2008

Scientists at Newcastle University have created part-human, part-animal hybrid embryos for the first time in the UK, the BBC can reveal.44531136_hybrid32cell223.jpg

The embryos survived for up to three days and are part of medical research into a range of illnesses.

It comes a month before MPs are to debate the future of such research.

The Catholic Church describes it as “monstrous”. But medical bodies and patient groups say such research is vital for our understanding of disease.

They argue that the work could pave the way for new treatments for conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Egg shortages

Under the microscope the round bundles of cells look like any other three-day-old embryos.

In fact they are hybrids – part-human, part-animal.


We are dealing with a clump of cells which would never go on to develop

Professor John Burn
Newcastle University

What are hybrid embryos?

They were created by injecting DNA derived from human skin cells into eggs taken from cows ovaries which have had virtually all their genetic material removed.

So what possible justification can scientists offer for doing what the Catholic Church has branded “experiments of Frankenstein proportion”?

The Newcastle team say they are using cow ovaries because human eggs from donors are a precious resource and in short supply.

The hybrid embryos are purely for research and would never be allowed to develop beyond 14 days when they are still smaller than a pinhead.

Scientists want to extract stem cells, the body’s master cells, from the embryos, in order to increase understanding of a whole range of diseases from diabetes to stroke and ultimately to produce treatments.

Professor John Burn from Newcastle University says the research is entirely ethical.

“This is licensed work which has been carefully evaluated. This is a process in a dish, and we are dealing with a clump of cells which would never go on to develop. It’s a laboratory process and these embryos would never be implanted into anyone.

“We now have preliminary data which looks promising but this is very much work in progress and the next step is to get the embryos to survive to around six days when we can hopefully derive stem cells from them.”

Free vote allowed

The research in Newcastle was approved by the UK’s fertility regulator, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority.

It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill


Cardinal Keith O’Brien

It acted ahead of the passing of new legislation which will specifically allow the creation of hybrid embryos so as not to hold back research.

The bill setting out the new legislation is not due to be debated in the House of Commons until next month.

It is highly controversial and last week Prime Minister Gordon Brown gave in to demands for a free vote on the issue.

Critics from the Roman Catholic Church say the creation of hybrids is immoral.

“It is difficult to imagine a single piece of legislation which more comprehensively attacks the sanctity and dignity of human life than this particular bill,” Cardinal Keith O’Brien, archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh declared last week.

Dr David King, of Human Genetics Alert, said: “For anyone who understands basic biology, it is no surprise that these embryos died at such an early stage.

“Cloning is inefficient precisely because it is so unnatural, and by mixing species it becomes even more unnatural and unlikely to succeed.

“The public has been grossly misled by the hype that this is vital medical research.

“Even if stem cells were ever to be produced, like cloned animals, they would have so many errors of their metabolism that they would produce completely misleading data.”

Not for the first time developments in science have outpaced the debate from legislators.

For supporters of embryo research the creation of hybrid embryos is a small but significant move forward.

For opponents it is a step too far.

Source | BBS News