In Almost Every European Country, Bikes Are Outselling New Cars
Krishnadev Calamur, npr.org
We know that Europeans love their bicycles — think Amsterdam or Paris. Denmark even has highways specifically for cyclists.
Indeed, earlier this month, NPR’s Lauren Frayer reported that Spain, which has long had a love affair with…
A team of specialists has designed a bionic prosthetic leg that can reproduce a full range of ambulatory movements by communicating with the brain of the person wearing it.
The act of walking may not seem like a feat of agility, balance, strength and brainpower. But lose a leg, as Zac Vawter did after a motorcycle accident in 2009, and you will appreciate the myriad calculations that go into putting one foot in front of the other.
Taking on the challenge, a team of software and biomedical engineers, neuroscientists, surgeons and prosthetists has designed a prosthetic limb that can reproduce a full repertoire of ambulatory tricks by communicating seamlessly with Vawter’s brain.
A report published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine describes how the team fit Vawter with a prosthetic leg that has learned — with the help of a computer and some electrodes — to read his intentions from a bundle of nerves that end above his missing knee.
For the roughly 1 million Americans who have lost a leg or part of one due to injury or disease, Vawter and his robotic leg offer the hope that future prosthetics might return the feel of a natural gait, kicking a soccer ball or climbing into a car without hoisting an inert artificial limb into the vehicle.
Vawter’s prosthetic is a marvel of 21st century engineering. But it is Vawter’s ability to control the prosthetic with his thoughts that makes the latest case remarkable. If he wants his artificial toes to curl toward him, or his artificial ankle to shift so he can walk down a ramp, all he has to do is imagine such movements.
The work was done at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago under an $8-million grant from the Army. The armed forces hope to apply findings from such studies to the care of about 1,200 service personnel who have lost a lower limb in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"We want to restore full capabilities" to people who’ve lost a lower limb, said Levi J. Hargrove, lead author of the new report. "While we’re focused and committed to developing this system for our wounded warriors, we’re very much thinking of this other, much larger population that could benefit as well."
The report describes advances across a wide range of disciplines: in orthopedic and peripheral nerve surgery, neuroscience, and the application of pattern-recognition software to the field of prosthetics.
Weighing just over 10 pounds, the leg has two independent engines powering movement in the ankle and knee. And it bristles with sensors, including an accelerometer and gyroscope, each capable of detecting and measuring movement in three dimensions.
Most prosthetics in use today require the physical turn of a key to transition from one movement to another. But with the robotic leg, those transitions are effortless, Vawter said.
"With this leg, it just flows," said the 32-year-old software engineer, who spends most of his days using a typical prosthetic but travels to Chicago several times a year from his home in Yelm, Wash. "The control system is very intuitive. There isn’t anything special I have to do to make it work right."
Before Vawter could strap on the bionic lower limb, engineers in Chicago had to “teach” the prosthetic how to read his motor intentions from tiny muscle contractions in his right thigh.
At the institute’s Center for Bionic Medicine, Vawter spent countless hours with his thigh wired up with electrodes, imagining making certain movements on command with his missing knee, ankle and foot.
Using pattern-recognition software, engineers discerned, distilled and digitized those recorded electrical signals to catalog an entire repertoire of movements. The prosthetic could thus be programmed to recognize the subtlest contraction of a muscle in Vawter’s thigh as a specific motor command.
Given surgical practices still in wide use, the prospects for such a connection between a patient’s prosthetic and his or her peripheral nerves are generally dim. In most amputations, the nerves in the thigh are left to languish or die.
Dr. Todd Kuiken, a neurosurgeon at the rehabilitation institute, pioneered a practice called “reinervation” of nerves severed by amputation, and Vawter’s orthopedic surgeon at the University of Washington Medical Center was trained to conduct the delicate operation. Dr. Douglas Smith rewired the severed nerves to control some of the muscles in Vawter’s thigh that would be used less frequently in the absence of his lower leg.
Within a few months of the amputation, those nerves had recovered from the shock of the injury and begun to regenerate and carry electrical impulses. When Vawter thought about flexing his right foot in a particular way, the rerouted nerve endings would consistently cause a distinctive contraction in his hamstring. When he pondered how he would position his foot on a stair step and ready it for the weight of his body, the muscle contraction would be elsewhere — but equally consistent.
Compared with prosthetics that were not able to “read” the intent of their wearers, the robotic leg programmed to follow Vawter’s commands reduced the kinds of errors that cause unnatural movements, discomfort and falls by as much as 44%, according to the New England Journal of Medicine report.
Vawter said he had “fallen down a whole bunch of times” while wearing his everyday prosthetic, but not once while moving around on his bionic leg.
He said he could move a lot faster too — which would be helpful for keeping up with his 5-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter. But first, Vawter added, he needs to persuade Hargrove’s team to let him wear it home.
Wow, this is amazing! Really hope this becomes widespread, it could give so many people a sense of normalcy after losing a limb.
Paul Higgins: Fantastic Visualisation and Communication
Wealth Inequality in America by politizane
I just wonder how some people can have that much money and not want to use it to help other people.
3D Printing of Liquid Metals at Room Temperature
Researchers at NC State have developed a way to print liquid metals into 3D structures at room temperature. The structures are stabilized by a thin oxide ‘skin’ that forms on the liquid metal. The approaches shown here represent new ways to direct write metals in 3D. In addition, the resulting components can, in principle, self-heal ( “Self-healing stretchable wires”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfAOEt1eNFU) and be ultra-stretchable ( “Ultra-stretchable wires” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QlVuIK5wAj0).
(by Michael Dickey)
I can only imagine what kind of technologies this concept can make possible.
Since its inception, crowd-funding site Kickstarter has funded more than $600 million in arts projects, and $323.6 million in 2012 alone. The National Endowment for the Arts only has an annual budget of $146 million, of which only 80 percent are grants. Individual donors have long been the backbone of the art world (arts nonprofits spent $60 billion last year), the disparity in collective action supporting the arts on Kickstarter versus the government is cause for concern—and reflection.
Image via Kickstarter Tumblr
This is the power of Kickstarter! It’s nice to feel like ordinary citizens can actually support what they want to support via crowdfunding.
03 September 2012 by Andy Coghlan
For the first time, people with broken spines have recovered feeling in previously paralysed areas after receiving injections of neural stem cells.
(Image: Medical Images/Getty Images)
Three people with paralysis received injections of 20 million neural stem cells directly into the injured region of their spinal cord. The cells, acquired from donated fetal brain tissue, were injected between four and eight months after the injuries happened. The patients also received a temporary course of immunosuppressive drugs to limit rejection of the cells.
None of the three felt any sensation below their nipples before the treatment. Six months after therapy, two of them had sensations of touch and heat between their chest and belly button. The third patient has not seen any change.
“The fact we’ve seen responses to light touch, heat and electrical impulses so far down in two of the patients is very unexpected,” says Stephen Huhn of StemCells, the company in Newark, California, developing and testing the treatment. “They’re really close to normal in those areas now in their sensitivity,” he adds.
“We are very intrigued to see that patients have gained considerable sensory function,” says Armin Curt of Balgrist University Hospital in Zurich, Switzerland, where the patients were treated, and principal investigator in the trial.
The data are preliminary, but “these sensory changes suggest that the cells may be positively impacting recovery”, says Curt, who presented the results today in London at the annual meeting of the International Spinal Cord Society.
This is one of the stem-cell news articles that I’ve been waiting for years to read. Cannot wait to see where this goes!
New antenna speeds up Wi-Fi by 200x.
Researchers in Singapore have developed a tiny antenna able to produce wireless speeds of 20-Gbits per second, which is 200 times faster than current Wi-Fi speeds.
The tiny device measures 1.6 x 1.2mm, which also makes it the smallest silicone based antenna to date. The antenna differs from previous antennas by being filled with a polymer instead of air, and the team says the technique is suitable for mass production.
Wireless power could revolutionize highway transportationA Stanford University research team has designed a high-efficiency charging system that uses magnetic fields to wirelessly transmit large electric currents between metal coils placed several feet apart. The long-term goal of the research is to develop an all-electric highway that wirelessly charges cars and trucks as they cruise down the road.
UCLA creates transparent solar cell
UCLA researchers are working on a new see-through solar cell that’s showing potential. Using a new type of polymer solar cell, the team has been able to build a device that converts infrared light into electrical current. Current prototypes boast 4 percent energy conversion efficiency at 66 percent transparency — not crystal clear, but certainly clean enough to peer through. According to a study in ACS Nano, the technology could be used in “building-integrated photovoltaics or integrated photovoltaic chargers for portable electronics.” Translation? It could one day be used to build solar windows or better sun collecting smartphones. Don’t get too excited though, the technology still has a ways to go before any of these dreams come to fruition.