Neural Implants for the Blind

Due to various diseases including cancer, many people become blind. It really is a sad story, however, it is their eyes that cause the issue and not their visual cortex. In this way, their visual cortex which is part of the brain is completely fine and undamaged, but as there is no information coming in from the eyes, it holds no use for the person. This, however, is not the case anymore. Through an amazing medical trial, 6 people who were blind are now able to partially see. The device that helps achieve this is called Orion. It takes pictures from a camera and inputs them directly into the brain, acting as the eyes for the person.

Doctors believe that this is a ray of hope for those who are completely blind and have lost their eyesight due to a disease or accident. They believe that if the camera completely erases the purpose of the eyes, it could lead to many more opportunities for people who cannot see.

Orion is made up of 2 parts. It includes an implant within the person’s brain and a pair of glasses which contain the camera. The camera in the glasses takes pictures and sends information to 60 electrodes which are placed in the implant within the brain. These electrodes process information and present it to the visual cortex. This then shows the blind person a partial image of what is in front of them. Meaning the device removes the need for natural eyesight.

For testing the device, researchers used a computer. They first chose completely blind people and showed them a black screen on a computer with a white square, which moved within a random pattern. They would then ask them to point at the square at whatever position it was at. They pointed at the correct place, making scientists believe their invention truly worked.

It is believed that the square which was shown to the patients may just be the beginning. If they were to introduce many more electrodes within the brain, they would be able to create a proper image, which would show the blind person everything around them. What they aim to do is use the reference of a style of painting. When you paint tiny thousands of spots, they come together and represent a full picture – this could be done in the brain too. When electrodes are stimulating thousands of places in the brain while the camera is feeding the information, there is potential that a proper image may be created in the same way as a painting.

Even the way the device is at the moment, it really has the potential of changing lives.


Electronic Tattoos

Science fiction has given birth to many new technological advancements simply by inspiring curiosity. As our technological knowledge has increased we have been able to explore even more possibilities. We have now reached a point where nano-technology has merged with 3D printing and bio-MEM research to create an entirely new playground for the physicists of our time.

There have been movies alluding to advancements in meshing humans and technology; cyber-humans. Nanshu Lu began to make this sci-fi reality with her research into and development of Flexoelectricity of Nanomaterials on Deformable Substrates. Lu’s idea was that by upgrading our capabilities in the combining of electrical and mechanical technologies at a nanoscale level, we can turn mechanical action into electrical impulses.

From her research we have reached into the world of augmented humans in real life. With the aid of new developments in 3D printing, mainly being able to use mediums other than hard plastic, we are now able to create printable electronics. And what’s more, when computer scanning technology is added to the 3D printer, printing on skin becomes a viable option.

So, now we have a printable ‘tattoo’ that can perform electronic functions. These devices are referred to as tattoos because they stick to the skin the same way that a temporary tattoo does. But these polymer structures adhere and move with the skin, as well as being completely customizable on a cellular level, tailored to each individual’s needs.

In fact, this aspect of the technology is so exciting, that there is work being done to create bio-synthetic organ replacements for people needing transplants. It is already possible to match the exact size and shape of whatever body part is needed. And the implications for the medical community are countless. The printer is fairly inexpensive ($400) and fits in a backpack. Imagine being able to administer to a patient at the scene of an accident instead of transporting them to a hospital.

We already connect everything to our phones; what if you never lost your phone and it was always charged – because it was always on your wrist.  If you add a medical monitor and sync that to your doctor’s office, they can track your health in real time, allowing for faster diagnoses and shorter treatment times; and you can receive health advice just as fast.

Perhaps this is the beginning of a future where humans even have augmented senses – eyesight like an owl, or the hearing capability of a bat. A future where we can start to wipe out some of the most common medical issues we face. A technology that can grow with us and perhaps even lengthen our lifespan.

Realistically, we could be looking at bio-electrical devices in a lot of new applications very soon. The technology has already been developed enough to allow biocompatible material to engage seamlessly with skin. It seems to be only a matter of improving upon this already amazing technology and developing new ways of integrating our current systems to what are likely to become the systems of the future.

Our Body After Death – Special Ways to Rest in Peace

Most religious and spiritual groups believe that the body is occupied by a soul that lives on after death. For centuries humans have been using different methods to ensure that a body remains at peace, after the soul has departed. With the changes in the world, due to more advanced technology, the way we put our loved ones to rest is also changing and new methods of preserving our memory include:

  1. Becoming a Diamond

Cremated bodies can be made into synthetic diamonds, in a process which heats extracted carbons from a loved one’s remains to extreme temperatures. These are then placed into LifeGem’s diamond press, a 13,000-pound industrial machine. Once the diamond has been made it can be cut and polished, as well as have unique features engraved on its surface.

  1. Floating Island Burial

The Buddhist traditions observed in Hong Kong require proper respect to be shown to the bodies of those that have passed on. The country has been running out of space to store their ever-increasing number of dead. Burial plots in Hong Kong are now being reused and families often wait up to 56 months to get one. This means that most of the bodies of those that die are cremated and the country has also begun running out of space to store the urns.

To solve this problem Hong Kong has teamed up with British architectural firm, BREAD Studio, to create a floating island where the ashes of 370,000 people can now be housed. The island is called ‘Floating Eternity’ and is located alongside the harbor. Visitors can pull up by boat, place their urn in a designated niche or sprinkle the ashes overboard for a burial at sea. The circular walkway has also been designed to ensure that the view from any angle remains unobstructed.

  1. Coral Reef Burial

Eternal Reefs has revolutionized a way for deceased loved ones to become a part of the ocean’s ecosystem. Cremated remains are put inside reef balls, which are specially designed to repopulate the oceans reefs after their drastic decline in recent decades. The unique design encourages sea life to attach itself to the surface of the balls and grow outward. The reef ball can also store personal memorabilia, such as dog tags for navy veterans.

  1. An Atmospheric Release

Mesoloft is a company that takes cremated remains up in a balloon and releases them into the atmosphere, where they float around the Earth before drifting back to the planet’s surface to settle on various landforms. Other ashes will pass through clouds to become a part of rain or snow. The release is recorded and played for loved ones at the deceased’s funeral, or a special memorial service.

Stem Cell Storage – Preparing to Combat Future Ailments

One of the major quests of the human species is finding a way to prolong our lives. Unfortunately, as we age our stem cells decrease and deteriorate, making us more susceptible to age-related illnesses. Scientists believe that many of these diseases can be slowed down, or stopped entirely, using our own stem cells. Although more research needs to be conducted into ways to use them to prolong our lives, and our healthy years, one study has already shown that mice injected with stem cells began aging more slowly. The best stem cells to be used in any medical process would be the ones that we have in our youth, before the deterioration process begins.

Forever Labs has developed a system to harvest and store these ideal stem cells for future use, where necessary. The company has partnered with doctors, predominantly plastic and orthopedic surgeons, to extract stem cells which their labs will keep for an annual fee. The extraction is a fifteen-minute process, and the company’s website provides those interested with a list of doctors that do the procedure. The process is virtually pain free, with little or no recovery period. This means that you could essentially be saving your own life, with an effortless procedure, conducted during your lunch break!

The stem cells are collected from the bone marrow, near the hip, which has the highest number in the body. The bone marrow produces most of our blood, supports the immune system and the connected tissue, as well as the vasculature and soft muscle systems. Scientists at Forever Labs believe that replacing the stem cells in the bone marrow (with younger ones) as we age, can help to prolong our lives and health. Most age-related diseases are caused by problems arising at the cellular level, which then extends to the tissues. If they can be addressed at this stage they can be controlled before they become debilitating, essentially prolonging a healthy life.

The procedure is straightforward, harmless and, for most patients, risk-free. Those that may face risks will be told beforehand. Scientists continue to research the possibilities that exist with stem cell treatment including: combating Alzheimer’s, osteoarthritis, heart disease and strokes. A study conducted with rats has shown where stem cell application may even be able to treat alcoholism. Regardless of the cures that will arise, most scientists believe that harvesting stem cells at a younger age will give individuals a higher fighting chance if they find themselves dealing with age-related diseases in the future.

Biohybrid Robots – Artificial Intelligence with Human Features

The human body works in remarkable ways. Our skeleton creates a base for muscles, ligaments and joints which make it easier for us to perform intricate tasks. Although robots can do many of the same things humans can, their ability to maneuver is limited in several ways. Biohybrid robotics is a field that is rapidly expanding and consists of equipping robots with biological tissue. This will enhance their maneuvering abilities and the tasks that they can accomplish, increasing their functions exponentially. Researchers from The University of Tokyo Institute of Industrial Science have recently created a biohybrid robotic finger with the ability to bend itself up and down. They published the results in Science Robotics recording that the finger remained functional for more than a week.

Their creation began with the construction of the finger’s skeleton using 3D-printed resin, with a joint and anchors for the tissue’s attachment. Electrodes that would stimulate the living muscle, causing it to contract, were the skeleton’s final addition. The muscle was made using myoblasts, stem cells with the ability to mature into several types of muscle cells. These were housed in hydrogel sheets that had holes from which they could be attached to the skeleton. To encourage muscle fibre to grow between the anchors, some striped structures were added. The muscles in the biohybrid functioned similarly to those in our body, as a pair, with one contracting while the other expands. This prevented them from shrinking or breaking down.

Once biorobotic construction and its range of motion has been mastered, the possible uses are endless. Currently, a robot’s initial movements are jerky, preventing them from being able to undertake specific tasks. The inclusion of muscle tissue would result in smoother, steadier overall movements. Scientists are planning to use these biorobots for more detailed exploration of the human body, as well as to enhance our medical capabilities. This could be partially accomplished by performing tests on the biorobots, instead of humans. In addition, they would increase the manufacturing ability of robots, currently limited due to intricate parts and assembly necessary, and their ability to monitor certain environments.

Despite the great benefits of biorobotics, the technology does have its limitations, including the need to feed these living cells. Until a way to do this can be found, the biorobots would have a limited lifespan. The surrounding temperature would also affect the length of time they could survive for, as well as their operating capacities. As the field expands, these limitations are expected to be improved upon, and it is almost a certainty that biorobots will eventually become a part of our daily lives.

The Future of Spying – Chemically Created Passwords

The safety of many countries depends on their ability to defend themselves during times of war, which often requires transporting secret messages. Each country has their own spies that are responsible for obtaining and transferring this information securely. As technology has advanced, much of this secret information is stored in password protected systems. Computers often generate these passwords which makes it possible for them to be hacked. This has caused ongoing research to develop secure ways of hiding information physically. One of these is chemical cryptography, which involves creating passwords made from atomic structures.

Although not currently on the market, the technology shows immense potential. Messages would be secured by coding them in the form of small molecules, that would be absorbed by a napkin. They could only be decrypted using the key, which would be the molecule’s structure. The method has been developed by German company Karlsruher Institut fur Technologie. Their molecular library has at least 500,000 keys that, because of their structural diversification, would be impossible to decode without the sample. The message can also only be revealed after being scanned with the same equipment used by microbiologists to analyze new compounds in their research. Researchers plan on expanding the technology to including DNA which would increase the number of keys that could be made, making passwords even more secure.

The small size of molecular keypad locks also makes them difficult to detect. This is a form of steganography, where both the locks and keys are hidden. This technology was first developed in 2007, with the possibility of only one password being used per lock. Researchers have recently found ways to allow locks to have multiple passwords, according to a study published in Journal of the American Chemical Society. Most florescent molecular sensors generate discreet optical signals but the one used was able to generate a unique optical ‘fingerprint’ for each chemical, making it possible to differentiate between them.

This inclusion enables the system to operate like both an electronic keypad lock, which can be opened by entering the correct password, and a biometric lock, opened by recognizing a unique signature (such as a fingerprint). Electronic locks have accessible entry keys, placed on the keypad, and can be opened by anybody that knows the password. Biometric locks are more secure as each user carries their own key. The molecular keypad lock would require both a password and optical fingerprint and would increase security even more, as the key is chemical and the correct password would need to be entered.